A Year On with Lauren Pereira-Greene
From authentic EDI work to fighting for diversity in the medical field
When we spoke with Lauren Pereira-Greene last year around #ThisIsBlackGenZ, she was in her second year studying medicine at UCL and was encouraging underrepresented groups to get involved in medical academia and research through her organisation, Diversity in Medical Academia (DIMA).
We’re catching up with her to see how the last year has been for her, what her views are on the progression of EDI work and where she sees DIMA going in the future.
Jemma: Well, it's nice to chat to you again! So we're doing the report again this year. Last year went pretty well but obviously, there's just so more, much more to be done and it's something we want to continue to keep working at.
So we are conducting similar research this year, but a bit more in-depth, and a bit more focused on intersectionality and how different identities overlap and how that affects things.
What were your initial thoughts on the report last year?
Lauren: I would say that it generally reflects how I feel about everything. I don’t disagree with anything from the initial report, but I think there are definitely things missing.
It was quite general, but that’s to be expected because it's the first step. I really liked the mention of emotional labour; it was nice for that to be acknowledged because people don't talk about it very much. It would've been valuable to hear more about internalized racism. How racism is not only something that happens between people in a system but actually you can kind of inflict it on yourself in a way. You internalize these ideas. Particularly in the workplace, people can feel that they are not good enough, despite their accomplishments.
Jemma: So one of the people I interviewed last year, Tiana Holgate, she's working with us now and leading the project which is really amazing.
But I think one of thing first things that stuck out to her from the research was the statistic about Black students not feeling like they have the same opportunities to get promoted and progress. And while it can be cultural, she also felt like it could come from imposter syndrome. But also it is hard to expect people to talk about that.
Lauren: Talking to my family members as well - a lot of them just constantly undermine themselves and their achievements when they talk about work which is really frustrating. But also a lot of the people I've spoken to in the workplace are dealing with microaggressions. When microaggressions happen often, you may begin to wonder if the aggressor is right about something, and this can lead to a lot of self-doubt.
I guess it ties into the idea of ‘Black excellence’ and people racialised as ‘black’ feeling like they're, I guess, lucky to even be there. It's like they have to work at a higher standard than anyone else but then if they don't meet that standard, they're more likely to be criticized. And I think when you're in a space that's not diverse, you feel like you're ‘representing,’ and that you have to convince everyone else that people like you deserve to be there.
Jemma: Yeah of course.
Lauren: And you have to think about intersectionality. I know for myself, when I was at school, in a lot of classrooms I was the only woman racialised as ‘black’ in a space dominated by men. I feel like a lot of women I know are a lot more conscious about voicing their ideas when they are in a majority-male space. But then also as the only ‘non-white’ person as well, I felt under a lot of pressure to say the right thing, in case my mistakes would justify doubt about my right to be there.
It's also hard because, in all of these conversations, I think there needs to be a balance between acknowledging the impact of racial discrimination, but also decentring race in a way. Don’t just engage in conversations with people because they're racialised as ‘black’ and let their racialisation overshadow everything else. People's identities are so complex and you can't reduce someone to a single category. You can acknowledge their experiences and support them through those experiences, but it is also important to understand there's a lot more to them.
Jemma: One of the things we’ve done with the survey this year is focus on intersectionality. Because obviously everyone is all these different things and I think companies tend to be like, ‘Cool, this is a Black person, they need a Black network.’ But she's also a woman. Maybe she's queer. Maybe there are other parts of her identity she resonates with more. So hopefully companies can understand that yes, it's important to have the support, but you shouldn't put people into boxes like that. It needs to be more holistic than that and focused on the individual.
Lauren: Yeah, for sure. It's kind of weird because I feel like, in some ways, the solution is so simple. You just need to treat everyone as a unique individual and be caring towards them.
A lot of it for me is about dialogue. It's about working with people and hearing what they want because everyone will want different things. And I think the risk with telling companies about intersectionality is, they'll think ‘Okay, cool, all Black women, you guys can go together. You'll have similar experiences cause you're Black and a Woman.’ It goes back to like putting people in boxes. You have to be able to recognize that every single person has a completely different experience of identity. And that everyone has their own culture. Sometimes, we kind of render some people's identities as being neutral and I think that's why so many people feel disengaged from equality, diversity, and inclusion work because they think it's not relevant to them. They don't see themselves as having race and culture in the same way that people racialised as ‘black’ do, for example.
And so they don't think it's a conversation about them, but it's about all of us and including all of our perspectives and listening to each other. And valuing each other.
Jemma: Yeah, I agree, I think conversation is such an important part of it.
Lauren: And I think it’s also important to realise it’s such a structural thing. Too many of these conversations are personal and focused on individual experiences. While that’s obviously important, even if those individuals were having a great time, the institutional structures themselves are still unfair. And that's what companies have the power to change, whereas its harder for individuals to impact that alone. So there needs to be more pressure on companies to change. And it will benefit them! From a financial standpoint and everything. It's just interesting how reluctant people are to change.
Jemma: I was just wondering if, over the past kind of year, there's been anything in the D&I space that you liked? I mean, how do you feel about Diversity and Inclusion in general?
Lauren: I feel like I'm becoming a bit cynical - every time I see anything, I'm kind of rolling my eyes a bit. Bear in mind, my understanding of the workplace is limited. I'm sure there are a lot of people actually doing effective D&I work but from the initiatives I've seen, and also the ones at university, it still seems to be performative. And I think in a way, people are almost tired of hearing about it. Diversity and inclusion have become these buzzwords and they're tossed around constantly. And when I've been in meetings, people are constantly talking about it, but it feels very shallow. What has actually changed? Like what's actually happening? We can talk about it, not saying the conversations aren’t important, but at the end of the day, we need actual action and real change.
I have seen some positive things. I like when effort is put into engaging local communities. Also, when people who are excluded from the workplace are helped. So not just about creating inclusive workspaces, but also looking at who doesn't even have access to that space in the first place. And I think you can get a lot of valuable insights from people who are outside of, I mean, any space. Who's not here? And why aren't they here?
Jemma: Yeah I completely agree. And then I wanted to talk about your organization Diversity in Medical Academia (DIMA). I see you have volunteers now, and a YouTube Channel going. I just wanted to know how it’s been and what’s changed in the last year?
Lauren: Yeah, it's been good! We are doing more regular events, which has been really nice. I think before it was a bit messy, a bit sporadic, but we've now got regular and consistent events.
We've also just started a podcast, which is really exciting – check it out on Spotify! We're still just trying to really increase reach. But I do think it links to what I was saying earlier because it’s interesting who turns up to our events. A lot of the time it's people who personally feel out of place. But it concerns me because there are a lot of quite privileged people from privileged backgrounds or identities with more social power who don’t come to our events. And this has been an issue I've found with all the EDI work that I've done. It says a lot about who doesn't feel the need to come to these events, you know? And it can be really frustrating.
I also do some stuff with the curriculum at my medical school. At my university, we have these talks about gender and race and all of these things which are really important for doctors to understand. And 20 people will turn up out of a year of like 400, and those 20 people already have a good insight on the topic. And I find it interesting so many people don't feel personally engaged or interested in EDI work. And even if they do get involved with it, it's like tick boxy, to just make themselves feel a bit better, but they don't personally feel like it affects them. There's a lack of engagement emotionally. And I think for me a lot of this stuff is very personal and emotional. It's not just about these professional things, it impacts my experience of life every single day and I feel very passionately about it.
So yeah, it's great to see more people attending our events, but also I'm always thinking about who doesn't come and how we get them to care, which is a bit of a struggle
Jemma: That's really amazing. And no matter what your numbers are it's still people that are coming in and you’re having an impact. Has there been any change in the response in the last year? Because I remember you saying the University wasn’t exactly supportive.
Lauren: I think a lot of people do agree. But then there’s no radical action. A lot of people do care and want to get things done, but it's like, can we sit down and just do it then? I understand there’s a lot of paperwork, admin and bureaucracy and it will be long to do. But I do feel it’s always dropped to the bottom of the agendas because it’s not seen as urgent, and realistically a lot of these power hierarchies benefit the institution of the university.
And I get there are other issues that seem easier to handle because they are more acute and haven't been persistent for so long. I think because these issues have always sort of been there, they don't seem as urgent as something that's just started.
Jemma: Almost like we’re functioning with them?
Lauren: Yeah. And people feel it's not that bad at the moment, so we can just continue. So it's just that sense of urgency that I feel is missing. And for me, I'm also very focused on impact rather than intention. I think a lot of people mean well and care, but you have to do things that are impactful and beneficial.
I think that's the main issue I have with like a lot of equality, diversity, and inclusion work. I understand the good intentions are there and people are trying, but is the impact meaningful? And I think it's hard cause I don't wanna like run down people's efforts or discourage people from even trying, but it's not enough just to mean well, you have to think things through properly.
So yeah, I don't think that much has changed in a year, but I also wouldn't expect that much to have changed. This is gonna be a slow thing and I don't think rushing through things is a good idea. This is not something that needs a quick solution but rather is something that needs slow but meaningful change over time. I think we're heading slowly in the right direction.
Jemma: So if people wanted to support DIMA, outside of going to events, is there any way to do that?
Lauren: Yeah of course. What we are really looking to do is increase our reach. We've got a lot of free resources, and we want to share them with as many people as possible. If you are interested in research or academia (or if you have never thought much about it), give us a follow, come to our events, and listen to our podcast on Spotify!
We are looking for university ambassadors, or even at workplaces or at schools. It would be great to have people who are just sending our events around. It wouldn't be a lot of time commitment, but just anyone who can promote would be really helpful.
Beyond that, we're always looking for new people to join our team. Or if people wanna speak at our events or even on our podcast that would be amazing. Basically, If people wanna get involved, they can kind of do that in whatever capacity they want.
They just need to get in touch with us and we can see what kind of thing they would be interested in doing. We are also looking for any companies who could sponsor us.
If you want to keep up with what Lauren is up to, or get involved with Diversity in Medical Academia (DIMA), you can do so through the following ways:
DIMA’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dimafoundation/
DIMA’s Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/@dimafoundation
DIMA’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/dimafoundation
Lauren’s LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/laurenpgreene