By Frances Brooks Taplett
On October 1 and 20, 2020, we held a Broad-wide symposium, Belonging@Broad, which featured a variety of speakers and workshops centered around the idea of building a more inclusive culture within the Broad. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite’s keynote on October 20, “Moving from Trauma to Hope: Building an Anti-racist Organization,” was a highlight. I kept replaying the mosquito video she shared in my head, thinking of the story of Dr. Nicole needing tights for her school uniform but not being able to find them in a color that matched her skin tone. Her keynote highlighted, for me, my immense privilege, and how the tiny cuts—otherwise known as microaggressions—add up. I recently sat down with Kate Bazile, Broad’s Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Program Specialist, to talk a bit more about microaggressions and what Broad is doing to become more inclusive.
Frances: What stood out to you the most in Dr. Nicole’s talk?
Kate: What stood out to me the most was when Dr. Nicole said that if “we [BIPOC] were to address all of the microaggressions we’ve experienced, we would be burned out by lunch.” As a Black woman, it doesn’t necessarily surprise me the toll that microaggressions have on BIPOC. However, what shocked me (and quite frankly frightened me) was how the impacts of these often daily microaggressions can literally shorten a person’s lifespan. It is important that, as a community, we Broadies educate ourselves on what microaggressions are, and the harmful impacts they have on people, so that we can do right by marginalized communities. Frances, what stood out the most to you?
Frances: I really loved the clear way Dr. Nicole talked about what racism is, and the action steps we can take at all levels (personal, team, organizational) to make a change. Some actions were more obvious to me, like not asking to touch a Black woman’s hair, but I’ll be honest: there were others that we all need to keep in mind, like the impact that photos of a hospital’s founders can have in creating a sense of exclusion, as well as Dr. Nicole’s salient point that racism builds up over time from childhood. As an ally, it underscores my responsibility to call out racism (whether we call it that, or the less sinister-sounding “microaggression”) when we see it. Dr. Nicole mentioned that she sometimes lies awake at night for several days if she doesn’t address a specific microaggressive/racist act, and I and other white Broadies have a responsibility here.
Kate: Yes, I hope one consequence of Dr. Nicole’s talk is that there is a reckoning, or at least a heightened awareness, for white Broadies regarding certain behaviors that may be quite harmful to BIPOC. Dr. Nicole made very valid points about how, because microaggressions are subtle and happen every day, they have an especially harmful effect on BIPOC. It’s also important to note that microaggressions don’t only show up in the workplace. Like Dr. Nicole, I’ve had to remove myself from social media and the news because of how normalized it is to see footage of Black people grieving or being harmed. From George Floyd to Ahmaud Arbery to Tony McDade to Breonna Taylor to Riah Milton … unfortunately, the list goes on.
Dr. Nicole’s points about racism as a form of trauma make absolute sense. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of managers and team members staying informed on current events. There is an immeasurable burden on your BIPOC peers who experience racial trauma—and reaching out to them makes a world of difference. When you reach out, be prepared to actively listen and be prepared to hear, “I don’t want to discuss this with you right now.” Either way, don’t let your fear of how to show up keep you from showing up.
What did you take away from Dr. Nicole’s discussion about the 24-hour news cycle and doom scrolling?
Frances: I am acutely aware of the impact that doom scrolling has on me, so Dr. Nicole’s point about how, given that trauma builds up over time, the constant news cycle is even harder to grapple with and even more painful for the BIPOC community—that resonated with me. As managers and co-workers, we need to be more thoughtful and supportive of that.
This is such an important step for our whole institute. We need to start to understand how we all experience the news cycle differently, and we need to be more thoughtful about what we can do differently. This is sustained, hard work. And I like your point about not letting your fear of how to show up keep you from showing up—that’s good advice!
Kate, I was excited to see some of Broad’s BIPOC community talking actively on Slack during Dr. Nicole’s keynote, and I wanted to show my support, but I also didn’t want to take up space since this is not my lived experience.
Kate: I think, for many BIPOC Broadies, we felt that our experiences were being validated. Dr. Nicole’s talk shed light on the issues we often face but don’t address. It was refreshing that these issues were being raised to the extended Broad community. It is important for allies to understand certain challenges we face as BIPOC Broadies and, in some cases, how their actions may have been unintentionally harmful. The story about not finding the right stockings to match your skin tone, or people asking to touch your hair, or someone asking you where you are from: these are a few of the many examples of challenges we face in the BIPOC community at Broad and beyond.
I appreciated that you didn’t take up space in that Slack conversation because it was important, in that moment, for us as BIPOC Broadies to have that dialogue. Shades@Broad, an employee resource group for the BIPOC community at Broad, sometimes holds spaces for BIPOC Broadies specifically because it is important that certain discussions are reserved for people to debrief and reflect on their lived experiences together. This is not to say that BIPOC and allies should not hold spaces for meaningful conversations together, but, in the pursuit of being effective allies, we should actively listen and be mindful not to guide the conversation in a direction different from what might have been intended by the marginalized group(s) in the discussion.
Frances, you mentioned a commitment to change our recruiting processes during the breakout session on the “Assessing Our Workplace” report, which is something you and I have been working on. Is there anything more you’d like future and current Broadies to know?
Frances: Absolutely! As an executive leadership team, we agreed that for every search at the Associate Director level or above, we will ensure that at least 50 percent of both the candidates we interview and the panel that interviews them contribute some element of diversity to the group. Diversity in our panels and interview slates is one of the biggest impacts we can have—especially on our leadership roles. Kate, can you say more about what we’re doing at the entry- and mid-level?
Kate: We are currently assessing our current recruitment efforts and are building out a diversity recruitment strategy. We’ve made some progress at the research associate level, but we need to think about how we continue that progress and then translate our learnings into postdoc and senior-level hiring. As we discussed in the recruitment panel discussion on the first day of the Belonging@Broad Symposium, these are some areas we plan to assess further:
- Requiring a diverse slate of candidates and a diverse panel for all searches we do: We will work with hiring managers to ensure we have a diverse set of candidates on every slate and a diverse panel for every set of interviews. This is one of the best ways to increase diversity within our teams.
- Reducing barriers to entry: Seek to better understand barriers, such as cost of living, moving from other parts of the country to the Boston area, and finding community at Broad.
- Job descriptions: Remove gender-coded and culturally exclusive language to ensure our job descriptions are inclusive of non-binary, gender non-conforming, and BIPOC candidates.
- Flexible working models: COVID-19 has required us to experiment with new work from home models. What have we learned, and how can we offer more flexibility (role-specific) to expand our reach and be more inclusive?
- Optimize technology to reduce bias and increase ease of engagement with candidates: According to a recent Handshake survey, more than six in 10 university staff surveyed believe that virtual career fairs will become commonplace, even when in-person engagement resumes.
- Create a formal internship program to seed early-career talent and continue engagement efforts.
Frances: Kate, that’s really exciting, I’m so impressed with all you are doing on recruiting! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today. I hope we can keep having these conversations as we continue to develop our inclusion, diversity, equity, and allyship strategy. It’s a pleasure to chat (even virtually)!