Our Commitment to Dismantling Racism in our Workplace and Community

We at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society cannot ignore the recent killings of Black people by police in the United States. These events, the subsequent social movement and aggressive, sometimes brutal, response by police impact our staff and our work.

We are outraged about these events, and stand with the people and communities suffering from the violence and racism. We also understand that simply expressing these sentiments is not sufficient. We also need to make real and meaningful commitments to institute change in our workplace. We spent much of last week meeting as a staff, listening to and challenging each other. The statement and set of actions expressed below are the result of these meetings: only a first step in a long process we are committed to maintaining.

The IRI is an academic institution with a staff from both the US and around the globe. Our mission is to enhance society’s capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of climate in order to improve human welfare and the environment. As an organization working at the intersection of climate and society, we have a responsibility to see what is happening around us as something inseparable from this mission. We have started on a deep reflection and examination of how and where we may have failed in this regard, and how we might grow.

Racial injustice is an obstacle to our mission in that it makes Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) systematically more vulnerable to climate impacts and limits the precious contributions of BIPOC researchers and scientists. While racism affects all BIPOC, it is important to note that the events of the last two weeks have centered on pervasive and systemic anti-Blackness in the United States.

While we’re proud of the staff diversity at the IRI, we can do better, and we will do better. We must more closely reflect on the nature of our diversity and recognize our racial blindspots in order to embrace and promote true diversity as well as maintaining a safe, supportive environment for our colleagues. Black people are integral to the IRI, but they have been underrepresented, and their systemic burdens have not been adequately considered. We at the IRI have a responsibility to establish a participatory culture of feedback and structural change without creating additional emotional labor for our Black staff.

The IRI publicly commits to examining our internal structure and strengthening our efforts to have a more diverse staff. This effort includes evaluating the ways that our institute has been complicit in the lack of racial diversity in the earth sciences. We commit to using our voice and influence as a Columbia institution to help ensure that racial diversity, equity, and inclusion be a cornerstone of the new Climate School being proposed.

Anti-racism is not a box to be checked. Reading books and attending seminars is only the beginning of a long process. We all must learn to unlearn, and this work must be ongoing. Our commitments are listed below, and we expect to add more as we investigate, reflect, and listen. Black lives matter.

–The International Research Institute for Climate and Society*

*This statement was drafted by IRI staff through a deliberative process and approved and published by IRI management.

IRI commits to improving the work environment for our staff. IRI leadership will:

Recognize that events that stem from systemic racism/racist acts impact our BIPOC staff members disproportionately. As such, it will take measures to reach out in a timely way to accommodate staff needs for more time on work deliverables, and time to reflect on or participate in societal activities such as volunteering, donating, protesting
Create channels for anonymous feedback related to workplace bias
Mandate attendance for racial (and other) bias awareness training
Develop materials on the culture and history of the countries where IRI works to help staff have a greater, nuanced awareness of the context in which we are working

In order to build a stronger IRI for the future, we will:

Assess and improve career path guidance in the list of responsibilities of supervisors and managers
Review and improve our record on retention and promotion of BIPOC staff
Increase recruitment attention and outreach effort to networks and communities of prospective Black students and professionals
Engage college and highschool students about studies and careers associated with climate science in local underserved communities