Diversity in research is much more than a good idea; it can be the key to survival, says Dyhia Belhabib, Principal Investigator at Ecotrust Canada.
“Diversity matters; otherwise it can be deadly,” she says. “We’re in the midst of the climate crisis. It’s happening now. We need solutions and strategies to become more resilient now.” She suggests some of the best solutions will be brought by diversity.
“People often ask me how I got into this field, and I tell them I understand what it stems from. I don’t look like most others who study the ocean,” Belhabib explains her passion for diversity in STEM fields.
For example, as a child growing up in Tazmalt, Algeria, she and her family dealt with droughts for decades. “I’ve carried water from the well. I know how to be resilient, how to save water,” she says.
Belhabib will be the NORDP 2022 conference plenary speaker at 1:00 p.m. on Tues., Apr. 26, discussing minorities and equity in STEM research. She will share experiences working at the intersection of sustainability and ocean criminality. A highly published scholar and devoted advocate for social justice in conservation, elimination of illegal fishing, inclusive science, and empowering minorities in research, she founded spyglass.fish, an online platform for monitoring illegal fishing worldwide, and Poplar and Ivy, a magazine that supports underrepresented voices in science and conservation.
She shared a recent experience consulting with an academic institution on diversity issues. “We were shut down the moment we asked for diversity of perspectives,” she recalls the moment when she was first introduced to an all-white panel. “I wasn’t surprised to see such a panel, but I was shocked at the reaction.”
To her, diversity represents a matter of life and death. “Lack of diversity can be deadly,” she says. For example, death can arise when doctors don’t understand what measles look like on a black person’s skin. She emphasizes the importance of bringing diversity to science and learning how to open STEM careers to minorities.
“We all have biases we need to uncover,” she says as she turns her attention to her NORDP plenary presentation. “It’s very important to be aware. We tend to export what we perceive to be the best solution, regardless of the situation and context. Perhaps we need to be a bit more creative, to circumvent the political climate and accepted narratives to pursue effective change.”
Research development professionals have tended to be colonial, what Belhabib equates to hindering local expertise and supporting ill-adapted solutions in areas where minorities prevail. In other words, from Belhabib’s perspective, RD has tended to support established researchers and pre-existing solutions.
“Research development professionals might consider how they transfer bias from individuals to the system, essentially preventing people from getting into the system. It’s a matter of strategy,” she suggests.
The reward can be great: diverse perspectives and diverse thoughts challenge scientific research, which needs to be challenged, Belhabib says. “As a result, those proposals have more meaningful outcomes.”
NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.