President’s Desk

INFORMS membership – diversity, equity and inclusion

Prez-Desk-Brian-Denton

Brian Denton
INFORMS President
president@informs.org

I like to think that our INFORMS community is highly inclusive, diverse and welcoming, attracting people from all backgrounds. Unfortunately, statistics about our membership tell a somewhat different story. Based on recent estimates from our membership database, about 20 percent of our members identify as women and 7 percent report they are underrepresented minorities. These statistics do not capture the full diversity of our membership regarding a variety of institutional affiliations, culture, sexual identity, disability status, educational background, and the many aspects that define us as individuals or professionals. However, these statistics do raise questions about the diversity of our membership and whether we are doing all that we can to be an inclusive and welcoming organization.

Many people, myself included, are motivated to act because they believe it is the “right thing to do.” There are also important practical reasons to act. For example, research suggests that diverse organizations are better at making decisions because individuals from a broad range of backgrounds are often collectively more creative and generate more ideas. To put this in an optimization context, becoming more inclusive is akin to relaxing unnecessary constraints and expanding our feasible region. My colleague, Scott Page from the University of Michigan, has an excellent book that nicely lays out the evidence regarding the benefits of diverse teams and organizations [1]. Another practical consideration is that attracting more people from diverse backgrounds to our field will create a greater supply to meet the growing demand for people in our field.

Identifying the reasons for lack of diversity in our society and our field is challenging. However, there are many activities underway to shed light on why this is so, and ways to mitigate this problem. Approximately one year ago INFORMS funded a strategic initiative to begin examining diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in our society and our field. At the summer board meeting, the INFORMS Board approved a new DEI Committee that reports to the president-elect of INFORMS. This committee, chaired by Michael Johnson, includes members from Women in OR/MS, the Minority Issues Forum and the Junior Faculty Interest Group, as well as members of the INFORMS Board and members-at-large.

The committee has a broad charge that includes monitoring the diversity of our membership and seeking out, creating and maintaining best practices for INFORMS to improve diversity and inclusion-related performance. One of the first actions of the committee was to create the following INFORMS diversity statement that was approved by the INFORMS board earlier this year that defines INFORMS’s position on diversity, equity and inclusion:

“INFORMS values and seeks diverse and inclusive participation within the membership and profession it represents. To achieve this goal, INFORMS is committed to providing an environment that encourages and supports equal opportunity, free expression, freedom from discrimination, harassment and retaliation, full participation in all activities and leadership, and collaboration among people of different backgrounds.”
INFORMS also has a new Diversity Community on INFORMS CONNECT that you can join by going to the INFORMS connect page, clicking on “Communities,” and then clicking on “Groups I can Join.” I encourage you to join the discussion.

I am proud to say that INFORMS recently became among the first of hundreds of professional societies to participate in a first-of-its-kind National Science Foundation research project to study the experiences of professionals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce. The study’s goal is to expand basic knowledge about the experiences of people across STEM disciplines, industries and work environments. The study team compiled a detailed report about the results of the survey that we are now making available to all INFORMS members [2]. The INFORMS Board and the INFORMS DEI Committee have reviewed the report and will be using the evidence and recommendations it provides to help advance our goal of being an inclusive organization that is welcoming to all members of our field.

There are many reasons for INFORMS to work toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive society, and there are many reasons to be optimistic that we are on a path to achieve these goals. In addition to some of the recently launched programmatic activities within INFORMS, there are numerous ways you can help. One specific thing I encourage you to do is to seek out “unconscious bias training” to help understand biases that may unintentionally affect your decision-making. Many of you might have access to professional training at your institutions, and you can also find excellent resources online, including a study by psychologists at Harvard University, University of Virginia and the University of Washington [3]. One of the most important things you can start with is understanding your own unconscious bias.

References

  1. Page, Scott E., 2008, “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,” Princeton University Press.
  2. “NSF STEM Inclusion Study: Organization Report: Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS),” principal investigators Erin A. Cech and Tom Waidzunas, 2017: http://connect.informs.org/HigherLogic/System/DownloadDocumentFile.ashx?DocumentFileKey=6ee47a50-1850-4475-94ac-7f026593678d.
  3. “Test Yourself for Hidden Bias”: https://www.tolerance.org/professional-development/test-yourself-for-hidden-bias