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Taking a Minute to Honor Diversity in the Workplace

Welm Lab Group Photo

Each week during their team meeting, the Welm Lab at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) holds what they call the Minute for Diversity, where lab members can volunteer to do a short presentation about their background and cultural traditions. Postdoctoral fellow Jaime Fornetti, PhD, and graduate research assistant Pavitra Viswanath initiated the effort based on an idea from James Fraser’s lab at UCSF.

“Our lab has voluntary discussions every other month where those of us who are interested discuss topics related to racism, diversity, and inclusion,” says Jaime. “One of the recurring themes is that feeling valued as an individual can go a long way toward fostering a sense of belonging. We hoped the Minute for Diversity would enrich the feeling of belonging in our lab.”

“Being a person of color myself, I wanted to create a safe space and a judgement-free zone for people to talk about racism, diversity, and inclusion,” adds Pavitra.

Principal investigator Alana Welm, PhD, says the discussions often lead to larger ongoing conversations in the lab, and “as people get to know each other better, fewer assumptions, stereotypes, and biases take place.”

What is it like hearing about your coworkers’ backgrounds and culture?

Alana: “It is so much fun! We usually know a fair amount about our colleagues’ current interests but not much about their background. It’s been really great to learn more.”

Jaime: “I’ve learned a lot of new things about the people in our lab and enjoy hearing about topics that we don’t typically discuss during our work day.”

Pavitra: “Learning about people’s cultures is wonderful. We’ve had zoom cooking sessions learning to make focaccia and Indian food!”

Have you learned anything that surprises you?

Alana: “It’s sort of surprising how, even for people who are not from international locations, how different cultures and traditions can be in families. People who we might assume have similar backgrounds actually don’t.”

How have these discussions affected you and your team?

Alana: “I think it’s allowed our lab to discuss things more openly, bringing our group closer together.”

Jaime: “The things that are shared during the Minute for Diversity catalyze further discussions within the lab, which help us get to know and appreciate one another better on a level beyond just our science.”

Cancer touches all of us.