Colorful beads of various shapes and sizes on a white background

Reconsidering Who We Are

How employee-led initiatives are influencing the institute’s culture.

How often do you think about the characteristics that define you? Take a moment to assess which points below apply.

  • I do not have to think about the message my wardrobe sends.
  • People from my country are visible and positively represented in politics, business, and the media.
  • I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays I observe.
  • I have a savings account with at least a month’s rent and bills set aside in case of emergency.
  • I can do well in challenging situations without comments about what an inspiration I must be to other people.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or closely watched by store employees.
  • I can move about in public without fear of being harassed or physically attacked.

For each point that applies to you, add a bead to an imaginary string. How many beads did you collect? Each reader’s collection will vary. This activity is designed to highlight the fact that everyone possesses multiple identities and may have or lack privilege based on those identities. The beads illustrate the privilege that someone may have based on aspects of their identity. Having many or few beads—indications of privilege—is not meant to induce guilt or resentment, but to build awareness.

Intrigued by what you just learned? These are highlights from a workshop conducted by our Diversity in Astronomy group for staff at the institute and attendees of a 2018 American Astronomical Society meeting. The workshop covers many more points about privilege that pertain to gender identity, nationality, religion, class, ability, race, and sexual orientation—issues that permeate our lives.

Its goal is to heighten individuals’ awareness of their own identities. The objective is for each person to focus on empathy, discuss how to be more inclusive, and leave with ideas to take back to their colleagues. This project is an example of the work our staff has led in 2018 to encourage diversity and inclusion at the institute and throughout the field of astronomy. Upcoming plans include additional workshops at astronomy and engineering conferences, more training opportunities, and discussion groups.

Perhaps most importantly, this work reflects the institute’s active, employee-led diversity initiatives. Our staff members are empowered to act as advocates for diversity and inclusion issues, which will not only contribute to our employees’ professional successes, but also positively influence the astronomy community.

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Interested in collaborating to share resources or request support? Email the details to: