Introduction to Diversity and Inclusion

Now more than ever, it is important for all iGEM members to recognize the importance of building an open and welcoming scientific community. Take action with the D&I committee to create a more diverse and inclusive iGEM.

Why are diversity and inclusion important?

The ability to participate in research across disciplines in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has historically been an exclusive privilege. Simply put, many people have not been allowed to have a voice in science on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability status, or other personal identities. Over time, this exclusion has led to the critical lack of diversity and representation across the international scientific community today.

Not only does being exclusive limit our current knowledge and capabilities, but it also defines our path moving forward. When research is undertaken by only a privileged few, it often reinforces the prejudices and systems that benefit those individuals, while failing to represent the needs and views of the broader population. How will we as a society work together to approach and think about our common problems, our future discoveries and creations, and the people who will ultimately be allowed to have a voice in these matters?

It is important for all of us - as members of the iGEM and STEM communities - to recognize the importance of building an open and welcoming scientific community. A more diverse community involved in creating knowledge and technology is more likely to produce a more equitable and representative system. Every individual, regardless of background or experience, should have an equal opportunity to engage with scientific knowledge and technological development. Everyone should be able to share their opinions on the societal implications of research.

iGEM seeks to be a truly diverse and inclusive community, one that invites all members of society to represent and participate in the future of synthetic biology. This goal has been a part of iGEM from the very beginning, both through the organization’s name (“i” = international) and its mission (“the development of an open community and collaboration”). As Randy Rettberg, President of iGEM, frequently describes, “iGEM teams are comprised of local people empowered to solve their own local problems.”

Over the years, members of the iGEM community have strongly embraced the spirit of diversity and inclusion. From iGEM teams identifying issues of access and inclusion through their projects, to iGEM judges and Headquarters investigating ways to boost diversity among participants, our members have challenged the status quo by asking, “Is iGEM as representative as it can possibly be?” It is through these critical reflections that we are able to move towards building an open and equitable community.

While values of inclusion are now being considered more thoughtfully across the scientific community, we are only just scratching the surface. There remains much more work to undo institutional barriers that have prevented STEM research from being widely accessible. We must continue to acknowledge where we fall short and work together to bring about necessary change.

On behalf of the iGEM Diversity & Inclusion Committee, we look forward to collaborating with the iGEM community to proactively investigate and eliminate barriers to participation, both within iGEM and the broader STEM community. Working to include those who have been excluded will not only enable us to achieve balanced representation in iGEM, but will also set an inspiring example for others on what a truly diverse and welcoming scientific community looks like.