10 September 2018

A Voice for All Part II: Creating Space for All Voices

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Jane Wolken

Mindful Leadership co-organizer and session leader Jessie Young-Robertson. Photo: Heather McFarland

In 2017-2018 I accidentally found myself in a position of co-organizing two workshops focused on imparting leadership skills to women and other underrepresented groups. I set out on this journey with co-organizers Joanna Young (PhD Candidate), and Jessie Young-Robertson (Research Assistant Professor). The positive experience of working with these two scientists opened my heart and mind to listen, and motivated me to become an advocate for others.

The overwhelming success of these workshops was due to three keys: creating a safe environment, sharing personal experiences, and intentional presentation techniques.

The creation of a safe environment – Difficult conversations related to diversity and inclusivity may only be fully explored when people feel safe. “We can’t have a diverse and inclusive environment without psychological safety,” said Jessie Young-Robertson, as she shared how feeling psychologically unsafe impacted her life. “Being treated like a person, someone showing they cared enough to finally listen to me was critical to feeling psychologically safe at work.” To help create this safe environment, workshop organizers and participants established six community agreements (Statements modified from the First Alaskans Institute):

Workshop Community Agreements (modified from the First Alaskans Institute).

  • In every chair, a leader
  • Be present; be engaged
  • Be inclusive; make space for all voices
  • Speak to be understood; listen to understand
  • Grace, respect, fairness
  • Take care – of yourself and each other 

The sharing of personal experiences – Contrary to the format of most scientific conferences, the presenters each shared very personal information about themselves, which established a sense of vulnerability and trust amongst the workshop presenters and participants.

Presentation techniques – The presenters created space within their sessions for hands-on activities that included self-reflection, shared experiences, and listening/discussion pairs.

In reflecting on how to create space for all voices in academia, I realize that you begin by listening. “The quality of our thinking is determined by the quality of the attention we offer each other,” said Libby Roderick, Associate Director for the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence and Director of the Difficult Dialogues Initiative at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “Good leaders listen more than they talk.”


Workshop participants engaged in group discussion. Photo: Heather McFarland

– Jane Wolken is a Voices for Science Advocate and Program Coordinator of the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center. Her workshop co-organizers are Joanna Young and Jessie Young-RobertsonCheck out the related post here