Building Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Communities in TAB

“As advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), we lead by the philosophy that if someone is the smartest person in the room, they are in the wrong room,” says Dalma Novak, Chair of the IEEE Technical Activities Board Committee on Diversity & Inclusion (TAB CDI) and Division X Director. “It is only by ensuring diverse representation on all levels – including, but not limited to, age, gender, geographic region, professional sector – that we build successful technological communities.”

Novak, who has led TAB CDI since the beginning of 2021, has been a proponent of the DEI activity in TAB from its early beginnings as a 2016 TAB ad hoc committee addressing Women and Underrepresented Groups, led by then-Vice President, Technical Activities, Jose M.F. Moura. “It has been rewarding to see how DEI has evolved over the past 5+ years, from mostly gender-focused activities to promote women in STEM, to fully realized (and still evolving) activities in IEEE, TAB, and Societies/Councils (S/Cs).”

TAB CDI, which was approved in February 2017, has grown from a simple vehicle launched to collect demographic data from S/Cs to a valuable resource covering many facets of DEI. Designed to support TAB’s advocacy efforts in making progress toward a diverse, equitable, and inclusive technical community, the committee has been tasked with an especially broad charter. “We like to view DEI not as a program or initiative, but a reflection of our values and leadership” says Novak, who notes that TAB CDI’s ultimate responsibility is to ensure that TAB policies, procedures, and practices are conducive to creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive environment that is valuable for all members.

To address the growing interest around DEI, in 2021, the committee identified and approved a number of focus areas by which to prioritize and structure its activities ongoing:

  • Promotion: Celebrating the IEEE and TAB DEI mission and showcasing best practices
  • Education: Raising awareness and developing tools to advance DEI within TAB
  • Accountability: Collecting and analyzing DEI data for benchmarking and tracking impact
  • Communication: Sharing information and resources through outreach to the community
  • Engagement: Building support and increasing participation to further DEI goals

“The objective of these focus areas is for the committee to not only celebrate and reward the Societies, Councils, and organizational units of TAB that are already doing exceptional work, but to educate and raise awareness among those who are looking to get started on their DEI journey(s),” says Novak. “Ultimately, TAB CDI should serve as a valuable resource to them: a unit that builds bridges and creates opportunities for all to learn together.”

One of TAB CDI’s most recent accomplishments was the creation and pilot of a training module on Understanding & Mitigating Implicit Bias. This activity is unique as it came out of many separate requests from volunteers for development material that could be delivered to their respective organizational units. This resulted in the first implicit bias training designed specifically for IEEE volunteers, by IEEE volunteers. Nearly ¼ of S/Cs have opted in to the training to-date, choosing to learn more about why implicit bias occurs, how to identify it, and how to disrupt it. Of particular interest to the TA volunteer groups for whom it was created are targeted action-item checklists that present suggestions for various IEEE volunteer activities, including Nomination & Appointments (N&A), Fellow, Awards committees; conference audience and organizers; and communications and outreach. The presentation also includes a brief overview of accessibility guidelines for volunteers to consider.

One of the greatest strengths of TAB CDI has been its ability to bring together many different individuals and organizational units for the purpose of sharing knowledge, learning about successes, and unpacking challenges. To this effect, the committee requests that each Society and Council identify a point of contact to liaise with the committee. This not only allows the committee to call on these individuals to collaborate and fulfill the DEI mission; it also provides TAB CDI with a steady flow of information about the many activities and initiatives taking place across TA.

The culmination of this desire for info-sharing led to the May 2021 launch of a new virtual roundtable series. In each of the three sessions that have taken place to date, Society/Council presenters shared their respective activities around DEI and discussed best practices to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture in TAB by responding to the following questions:

  • What is your S/C’s vision of DEI?
  • What are your S/C’s top 3 practices for DEI?
  • Please share your experience working on DEI initiatives in your S/C.
  • Please share a success story from your S/C’s DEI efforts.

In putting each roundtable together, the committee was meticulous in ensuring that the sizes and scopes of all S/Cs, as well as varying resources and levels of support, were represented. It was particularly insightful to understand more about where each of the presenting S/Cs were in their respective DEI journeys, how they support these initiatives, how they plan to measure impact, and how they are building sustainable DEI activities that also have adequate pipelines to carry them forward. To learn more about how S/Cs are addressing DEI, recordings of the roundtables conducted to-date are available here:

To further acknowledge the S/Cs that are “moving the needle” via their DEI activities, TAB CDI recently launched a new award that will honor an IEEE S/C that has had a significant impact driving DEI efforts within their S/C. The S/C must demonstrate a strategic approach that encourages DEI for its volunteers, members, and the wider technical profession and support that strategy through the development of DEI-focused activities, programs, and services. The nominations period for the first awardee recently concluded, but the selection committee is excited to share more about the significant impact S/Cs are making in DEI.

As the field of DEI evolves, and we learn more about the needs of the members and volunteers the committee supports, TAB CDI will continue to be flexible and evolve with it.  Says Novak: ”A number of S/Cs have already started the process to create sustainable DEI strategies within their OUs.  TAB CDI is working to support these efforts and help transfer the knowledge to other communities to keep building the DEI culture within TAB.”

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