Beki Grinter

Relationships: A Diversity Issue?

In academia, women on July 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

In the continuing adventure called “so you have a blog, what are you learning” I’ve managed to have another blog experience. In a post, ironically about a previous blog learning experience, I added an observation that also invited commentary. I said…

The only thing that happened afterwards was that I went through a phase where I started to get the distinct impression that my relationship choices (although distilled to my assumed sex life) was of more interest to gossips than those of my male peers.

I stand by this. And it was most pronounced when I was dating anyone who was in a different place in their career than I was. I’ll spare folk the details, but while some people were pleased for me, the word couch was also used (not positively). Hopefully things have changed.

So, why do I think having personal relationships is connected to diversity? Well to my mind, diversity is more than just a commitment to an individual, it’s a commitment to all the possibilities that a diverse environment can create.

Lets start with me. If I represent a commitment to bringing women into STEM, then that commitment begins with me as a person, but it also includes allowing me to have a life. What type of diversity would it have been if my attempts to be human were choked? Part of my life was about relationship forming. Some might say that the workplace is not the right place to do that. I would assert that the research workplace demands so much time that it can cut into non-workplace opportunities to form relationships. It also happens to be a place where you can meet, in a diverse environment, people who share similar interests. Not just work ones, but ones that extend beyond that.

Indeed, since I am part of a dual body opportunity, and I know many others who are also dual body opportunities it’s clear that the workplace has been and continues to be a place where people do form relationships. I think that that’s part of diversity, it’s an embracing of and a commitment to sorting through new experiences because you have a diversity of people who are participating in your culture. Dating and marriage are a normal part of everyone’s lives, and by changing the workplace we make it more possible for it to be an experience that happens to intersect with the work environment in more ways. Is that so terrible? I don’t think so.

What I will say, and I’ve said it before, is that these relationships require some special thought. The most important questions usually turn on whether there’s a conflict of interest. It requires consideration of all the potential stakeholders beyond those in the relationship itself. For example, it would have been a conflict of interest for my husband to sit in on the discussions of my tenure case, it would have affected not just us, but also our colleagues. In fact, from what experience I have with diversity in the workplace, most of the things that need to be handled with care turn on when person A by virtue of their role/position has access to the examination/review of person B, and A&B are in a relationship. (If anyone can think of anything else, I’d be grateful).

To go one step further. I’d argue that broadening the workplace to be tolerant of, and thoughtful about, these possibilities actually improves the workplace. Not only does it make it more diverse, it makes us think more carefully about all the relationships that exist and how we manage them all with fairness and good will. I’d like to hope that diversity brings about a permissive while thoughtful culture, open to all possibilities while careful to preserve fairness.

That sounds like a good place to work doesn’t it? I think it is.

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  1. […] Relationships: A Diversity Issue? « Beki's Blog (there's an … So, why do I think having personal relationships is connected to diversity? Well to my mind, diversity is more than just a commitment to an individual, it’s a commitment to all the possibilities that a diverse environment can create. … Read more here: Relationships: A Diversity Issue? « Beki's Blog (there's an … […]

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