Many studies have shown that the scientific and medical communities benefit from diversity and inclusivity. Despite evidence of this value, women, workers with children, and minorities still face direct and unconscious bias. Fortunately, there are actions that all of us can take to help reduce the impact of these biases.
On Monday, the session, “Women in Laboratory Medicine: A Panel Discussion on Diversity and Inclusion,” provided a platform for three panelists, M. Laura Parnas, PhD; Octavia Peck-Palmer, PhD; and Lakshmi Ramanathan, PhD, to openly speak about their experiences and to discuss ways to promote inclusive practices. This session was a follow-up to a 2021 article in The Journal of Applied Laboratory Medicine “The Toll of Pre-Conceived Notions”— written by the moderators, Nadia Ayala-Lopez, PhD, and Zahra Shajani-Yi, PhD — that explores the effects of bias and microaggressions.
The panelists showed courage in telling their stories of how they have faced bias, especially when it comes to family and work. “Assumptions were made that since I had to go home by a certain time, I couldn’t be part of a committee,” Ramanathan said.
Microaggressions are a barrier that can be detrimental to psychological well-being, mobility across science contexts, add pressure to prove ability and competence, and contribute to a sense of social isolation. When asked whether the panelists have dealt with microaggressions, Peck-Palmer shared that she felt it most strongly when she had to constantly defend her space and explain why she was the best fit. At the same time, when she asked her male counterparts, they told her they did not have similar experiences.
The good news is that culture can change, and an institution can become more inclusive in a short period of time. Parnas said that she noticed the difference when she moved from one organization where most of the leaders in the lab were women, to a new company where the executive team mainly consisted of men. However, in the past few years, she noticed a dramatic increase in the number of women in the leadership of her company.
The panelists also discussed their strategies for overcoming bias. All three panelists pointed out the importance of being a good listener, showing empathy, and trying to understand where biases come from. When being treated unfairly, Peck-Palmer said it is essential not to carry around the negative feelings. Instead, look for mentors who can provide support, work with allies that can be your advocate at work, and find female role models—all strategies that have proven to be effective.
Diversity and inclusivity also bring new opportunities for improving patient care. One of the examples is the development of reference intervals for transgender persons. In addition, in the past decade, there has been a lot more emphasis from organizations such as the FDA and the NIH on having more diverse representations in clinical trials.
Participants in yesterday’s session left with insights from women leaders in laboratory medicine and practical tips for success that can be employed in academia and industry careers.