The tech and life science industries have a racial diversity and inclusion crisis. Can Kendall Square play a part in changing that?

Nationwide, the numbers are bad. But, if anything, they’re worse in Greater Boston.

Boston came in dead last in a recent survey measuring how welcoming eight major cities are to people of color. This feeling of exclusion explains why the region loses black professionals to cities such as Atlanta, Chicago and New York, where the black middle class and professional communities are more vibrant.

So why do we think that Kendall Square, of all places, can lead change in this area?

Kendall’s leaders believe that diversity is vital to excellence. They know that achieving significant, measurable progress in representation and practice will have to be at the core of Kendall’s identity if it is to remain the global epicenter of innovation.

Significantly improving diversity and inclusion would unlock a huge competitive advantage for Kendall’s innovation ecosystem.

Beginning a Long, Purposeful Journey Toward True Inclusion

This March, the Kendall Square Association — made up of 175 organizations including MIT, Google and Biogen — used our Annual Meeting to establish some baseline data on our diversity problem. We did so by inviting The Boston Globe Spotlight Team to discuss their recent findings on racism in Greater Boston.

The talk made a big impact on our members. To capitalize on that energy, we invited all attendees to continue the conversation in small groups. In all, over a third of attendees gathered to talk about racism and racial inequity in greater intimacy and depth.

The Boston Globe Spotlight Team members (l to r) Adrian Walker, Patricia Wen and Andrew Ryan began our conversation about racism in Greater Boston at the Kendall Square Association Annual Meeting.

The ideas that came out of these discussions ranged from the small and concrete — placing the world’s biggest picnic table in Kendall Square to encourage conversations among strangers — to the large and ambitious — creating a public dashboard of Kendall companies’ diversity statistics.

Formal ideas emerged: asking business executives to make D&I pledges to which employees and customers could hold them accountable. So did playful ways to get at serious ideas: assessing bias levels via street-level pop-ups, or posting facts about the problem around the Square.

As a side note, we know that “diversity” covers far more than race. Discriminatory forces are a threat against many of our friends, colleagues and neighbors. These include worsening legal difficulties for immigrants at the federal level, a proposed ballot initiative to repeal protections for transgender people in Massachusetts, and the continued lack of gender equity in STEAM industries, among many others. (Meanwhile, you will be seeing the KSA’s President and members of our Board of Directors speaking on these issues, such as the Yes on Three campaign.)

Nevertheless, focus enables results so we’re focusing our initial diversity efforts on race. We believe it to be a particularly urgent area, and we think we’ll make faster progress if we stay focused on solving one important issue, rather than many.

Kendall’s Assets

Kendall Square is the most innovative square mile on the planet. It has a long history to prove it, stretching back to the first phone call in 1876 and the first email in 1971. It’s been the site of breakthroughs involving the Human Genome Project, radar technologies and much more in life science and drug research, while simultaneously incubating countless tech and biotech startups.

Examples of Kendall’s current ambitions include curing America’s deadliest cancer, and making private space travel affordable.

Kendall Square excels at translating its theories and lab experiments into applied solutions. What if we turned inward and focused on the problem of racism as it negatively affects each of us, our institutions and our ecosystem?

Maybe a colorful truck that gets people asking the right questions is part of the D&I solution in Kendall Square. (photo credit: A Better City)

Building Lasting Change

In tackling these ambitions, our only certainty is that no one person has all the answers. Rather, answers will come by enabling the smart, passionate and impactful people of Kendall Square to collaborate purposefully together.

Currently, we’re working to make that possible.

Based on what we learned in our discussion groups, we’re assembling a Diversity & Inclusion Learning Community made up of Kendall Square leaders who’ve chosen to devote at least a year to improving racial equity within our organizations and spheres of influence.

The people we’re recruiting are interested not just in transforming themselves and their companies, but in radically changing a system that continues to be fundamentally unfair and unwelcoming into one that includes and rewards all talent.

We’re also hiring a paid, expert facilitator to guide this group, and to ensure that we give this effort the resources that it needs to succeed.

In fact, that’s where you come in.

Help Us Get Kendall Right

If you know someone with experience in D&I and the ability to effectuate real change, please let them know about our hiring process. We’re taking applications through August 31st.

We’d love your help finding the person who will guide and amplify the work of the Learning Community. Don’t keep them to yourselves.

We’re ready to begin the long journey to true inclusion in Kendall and the wider world of innovation. Let’s go there together.

More where this came from

This story is published in Noteworthy, where thousands come every day to learn about the people & ideas shaping the products we love.

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