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Edwina Wong: 'achieving both diversity and inclusion is difficult'

Date:28 January 2020
Edwina Wong hopes to evaluate commonly used workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Edwina Wong hopes to evaluate commonly used workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Good for the balance sheet, and the right thing to do: a new generation of researchers in the faculty are studying the topic of diversity in business. They are taking on questions like: how can diverse teams best work together? Does diversity in the boardroom alter decision-making? These are matters of vital interest in economics and finance, and results increasingly indicate that the best talent and the best ideas come from having a broadly diverse and balanced workplace.

This is the second in a series of Q&As with a selection of researchers who work on the topic at the Faculty of Economics and Business.

Edwina Wong is a PhD student who studies diversity management, intersectionality, gender diversity interventions, and women of color.

Q. Can you introduce yourself and your work?

A. I come from an island called Sint Maarten, where many different ethnic groups are represented with very different migration trajectories and histories. I have always been interested in social inequality as a subject of research and as a phenomenon to reduce in society in whatever way and magnitude that I can contribute to. This interest has been informed by my own history as a second-generation migrant in Sint Maarten, and as an educational migrant in the Netherlands. It is because of this interest that I gradually shaped myself into a researcher into diversity and inclusion issues with a focus on the workplace. What we do for work and the spaces that we occupy at work are often very crucial to how we see ourselves and how we (come to) see others. In that regard, work is pivotal in both shaping and reproducing social patterns that we see on a societal scale. 

I am also currently dedicating a lot of effort in bringing more focus into incorporating intersectionality as a praxis when we talk and research about social inequality. I would like to help make invisible assumptions visible to get a comprehensive outlook on what social inequality looks like, what are our solutions for it, and if there is a differentiation between who is benefitting from those solutions and who isn't because of these invisible assumptions.

Q. What drew you to the topic of diversity?

A. I think everyone recognizes social inequality from a rather early stage in their life, and I became very absorbed in advocating to reduce these issues before I attended university. When I did attend university in the Psychology program here at the University of Groningen, it became clearer and clearer to me that this was a way that I wanted to make my own contribution to reducing social inequality issues as an academic. There are known rhetoric on how academic culture becomes an ivory tower that becomes very restrictive for many pockets of society as you grow as a researcher. As I continue in my journey as a researcher, I am more and more motivated to make this space more accessible especially as a diversity and inclusion researcher. 

Q. Why is this issue important, and what societal implications does the area have?

A. My current Ph.D. project is important because a lot of workplaces and a lot of organisations implement diversity and inclusion initiatives, often with intentions to contribute to an environment where people who feel marginalized or excluded feel less so. However, many of the approaches in these initiatives are often not systematic and unfortunately miss out on implementing monitoring and evaluation plans to check not only if the initiatives are working, but for whom they are working for. Diversity management and a lot of diversity research frequently consider their targets in very simplified social categories defined by one characteristic (e.g., gender, ethnicity,  sexual orientation), and they run the risk of missing out on how people can experience multiple and interacting sources of marginalization that are very unrealistic to consider independently. When initiatives overlook how people experience an interaction (not to be mistaken for statistical interaction) of multiple sources of marginalization, they become less relevant and ultimately less effective for targets who occupy various intersections of social categories.

Q. Can you give an example of an illuminating or exciting discovery you came across in your research?

A. Since I conceptualized my Ph.D. focus a couple of years ago to now, there has been an upsurge in interest in incorporating an intersectional praxis both in academic research and in academia as a workspace. Knowing that there is a community of interested researchers who want to achieve related goals in research as I do is very validating and reassuring, and it makes me very hopeful for how we are progressing towards more inclusive research practices and more inclusive academic settings.

Q. Are there implications that the faculty itself should take into account as an organisation?

A. In general, achieving both diversity and inclusion is difficult. Apart from taking the issues of the disadvantaged into account, a lot of what contributes to an inclusive environment is the culture that people find themselves in, and the power structures that are in place where some groups of people are systematically disadvantaged over others. This I think is very difficult to 1) conceptualize, and 2) come up with "quick-fix" solutions to. I think it's important for these efforts to be open to constructive feedback and take people's experiences of feeling excluded or feeling disadvantaged seriously, because these perceptions do ultimately affect overall performance and health. Only by taking these accounts seriously can these initiatives identify what in the set-up of certain protocols or cultures are making people feel this way and consequently, what needs to be changed.

Q. What's next for your research?

A. I would like to evaluate commonly used workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives and see if there are certain conditions by which these initiatives are perceived to be more helpful to people who are marginalized. I would also like to see how certain set-ups of such interventions may actually be affecting how people experiencing multiple sources of marginalization cognitively represent these overlapping stigmatized identities to lead to mental health and work outcomes.