INESC TEC's Diversity and Inclusion Commission (D&IC), led by Ana Sequeira. In this interview, Ana Sequeira highlights D&IC’s pioneering initiatives in promoting gender equality, supporting disabilities, and fostering intercultural understanding within the research institute.
What role do you play in your organization?
Ana: The Diversity and Inclusion Commission (D&IC) of INESC TEC was founded in September 2021. The D&IC has five members, although since its creation, only two of the initial team remain. Currently, the D&IC is composed of Ana Sequeira (Coordinator of the D&IC and Senior Researcher), Ana Lopes (Human Resources), Rita Costa (Communication Service), Tiago Gonçalves (PhD student and Research Assistant) and Tiago Silva (Management Control). None of us work exclusively for the D&IC, but we all contribute daily to accomplish the D&IC's objectives. Our team intends to raise awareness towards representation and diversity, and each of us tries to make contributions considering our life experience, training, and the roles we have in the institution. Additionally, the D&IC has autonomy in the initiatives it promotes and has its own annual budget to carry out its functions.
Why do you think it is important to promote inclusion and diversity in research institutes and universities?
Ana: INESC TEC is a private, non-profit association dedicated to scientific research and technological development, technology transfer and advanced consultancy and training. As an institution that operates at the interface between the academic world and the business world, bringing academia, companies, public administration, and society together, INESC TEC enhances the knowledge and results generated within the scope of its research and technology transfer projects, seeking impact through both value creation and social relevance. Literature shows that a diverse institution is more competitive than a non-diverse institution, and this is especially relevant in institutions with high research intensity and an umbilical connection to universities, such as INESC TEC.
As a research centre pursuing excellence, INESC TEC simultaneously welcomes university professors, doctoral and master's students, research fellows, and has many employees working in management and research support services. Moreover, as we live in a globalized world, where scientific research is competitive, INESC TEC is a paradigmatic case of an institution that welcomes both national and non-national researchers: INESC TEC has 1517 active members spread across 43 different nationalities (with most nationalities being Portuguese, Brazilian and Iranian). The only continent not represented by active members of INESC TEC is Oceania, but we can see that our institution is a multicultural space. It is very important, as a research institution that aims for social impact, to provide a safe and inclusive environment for everyone, as it is this safe environment that will serve as an incubator of true excellence in research and foster good ethical practices in science and towards each other.
Can you briefly explain some initiatives that your organization has started to promote diversity and inclusion? Any initiative that you are particularly proud of?
Ana: In the initial phase, D&IC diligently dedicated itself to the development and implementation of a plan for gender equality. Although it was a legal imperative, it was also a necessity for an institution like ours to have this document approved and published. On the other hand, our focus in the last two years was by no means dedicated solely to gender issues. We put a lot of effort into promoting initiatives related to interculturality and inclusion. Regarding inclusion, specifically for people with disabilities, we have developed several initiatives in this area. We made a diagnosis of how many people with declared disabilities were at INESC TEC, as a legal imperative, but also as a policy of the institution since there is a need to recruit more people with disabilities. This recruitment can only happen if there is awareness of our own fragilities and consciousness towards different disabilities. In this sense, it was decided that INESC TEC must have at least 5% of its workforce made up of people with disabilities and that in the application phase, candidates who have some disability and who decide to declare it will have an increase in the evaluation of their curriculum vitae (CV), with the aim of the institution demonstrating a willingness to welcome more and more people with disabilities.
Also, within the scope of disability, we have developed some guides on good practices for digital accessibility so that the internal and external communications of the institution are increasingly accessible and universalDiversity and Inclusion for its stakeholders. We had several disability awareness activities, such as the celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities or Louis Braille Day (with a workshop entertained by a member of Portuguese blind association to teach INESC TEC employees what Braille is). We had two Portuguese Sign Language workshops, among other initiatives, dedicated to the theme of inclusion and raising awareness of the community towards disability and people with disabilities and how these people can be important for the future of the institution. We also invested heavily in interculturality. Given that INESC TEC is composed of researchers of multiple nationalities, where the turnover of researchers is enormous, we began to realize that non-national members felt particularly in tune. This cultural inclusion initiative involves sharing information and testimonies about special international dates and cultural holidays, including Portuguese national holidays for foreign employees, in partnership with the International Relations Service (SRI) through email and social networks.
Furthermore, in close collaboration with the communication service, all initiatives developed or co-developed by D&IC were disseminated through social networks and internal communication channels. For example, there was a strong campaign developed by the communications service on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which culminated in several posts on social media and the publication of the “Bold” series on INESC TEC’s YouTube channel.
All those efforts culminated this year with an intercultural celebration in which ten nationalities participated. The main results, visible in employee testimonials, are cultural awareness, reinforced collaboration between colleagues from different backgrounds, and increased cultural exchange. INESC TEC had also made available for all community a new brand prayer room, which gives more privacy and dignity for all users.
Still subordinate to the domain of interculturality and with the sponsorship of SRI, the organization of a month dedicated to interculturality at INESC TEC, which included two training sessions: one on Intercultural Communication and the other on International Negotiation. Whether we're discussing intercultural inclusion or disability inclusion, INESC TEC's D&IC is trying to promote good practices to make this workplace a safe and comfortable ground for everyone.
Have you faced any challenges in promoting inclusion and diversity?
Ana: In general, the creation of the D&IC was well-received by the entire community. We made several public presentations and made sure to raise awareness in the community about the objectives of the D&IC. During our mandates, we have always had support and autonomy from the INESC TEC Board of Directors. The main challenges we face are promoting initiatives consistently and captivating or motivating employees to participate in these initiatives. The awareness towards the D&IC and the contacts made by the institutions' ecosystem has increased and developed very good feedback.
Is there any “mistake” that is important to avoid?
Ana: We have not faced any particular difficulties. In fact, even people who do not fully understand the usefulness of D&IC remain respectful and do not jeopardise our work. The biggest challenge is when we are faced with discussions or comments such as: "this is gender ideology", "men and women are equal, and if they have merit, they reach the same place". We have been receiving all kinds of feedback, and this feedback is crucial on how we develop our initiatives and lines of action. Whether this feedback is aligned with our objectives or not, we try to foster discussions and debates that are constructive and that build a critical approach to each subject. Our short experience as a D&IC does not allow us to advise anyone regarding these topics: we are still in a learning phase. However, there are two aspects that we think can be important and we would like to share. The first aspect was the launch of a survey to gauge what the community thought about gender, diversity and inclusion issues and to assess their perceptions. The results served as a starting point for our action plan, and we had a more accurate idea of the perception of our community. This survey also revealed which topics the community considered most important to tackle. This was very valuable for us. Another aspect also arising from the result of this survey was about the feeling of belonging, where non-nationals reported feeling less sense of belonging than nationals (for non-national women the results were even lower). To address this challenge, in collaboration with the SRI, we started an email initiative in the following format: SRI sends an email explaining national holidays, and D&IC sends an email about holidays or other non-national ephemerides, but which are very relevant to non-nationals, such as Hanukkah, Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. The non-national community gave very positive feedback: they told us they felt they were not invisible anymore. For us, one of the highest moments was the celebration of the end of Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr), which was attended by a few dozen collaborators in an event marked by moments of relaxation, learning, a moment of worship and emotion. At the end of the day, the only advice we can give is to be attentive, with a special concern for what is invisible. Just being empathetic to what we see may not be enough.
Tiago André Silva, INESC-TEC, Portugal
Andreia Passos, NESC-TEC, Portugal