On the Path to Inclusivity, Even Small Steps Keep Us Moving Forward  


Narjes Achach, PharmD, LLM
Intellectual Property Analyst, IRICoR (Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer Commercialization of Research)

Chair Elect, AUTM EDI Committee


In this column we often hear from people who have done big things to support diversity and inclusion in technology transfer and the innovation ecosystem. Their stories are impressive, but they can also be intimidating. You may feel that you, by yourself, can’t make a difference unless you can fund a scholarship, launch an awareness campaign or create a new policy for your office or university. But let me assure you that even the smallest actions do have impact.

It's not unusual to feel helpless when thinking about how much work still needs to be done to improve diversity and inclusion, especially in these times of adversity and uncertainty when it comes to restrictive policies and politics. But even small efforts to support your fellow professionals, neighbors and humans are important contributions to making the world a better place for all of us. Many world leaders—as well as ordinary individuals, like Rosa Parks or Jadav Molai Payeng—have changed the world with actions that may have seemed small at the time.

Small steps do make a difference.

I also sometimes am frustrated when thinking about national and global forces that seem as if they will never change. But I’ve found that when I feel that so much is beyond my control, it helps to remember that there ARE things we can control—ourselves, our actions and our thoughts—even if that is not obvious all the time. I try to think about small ways I can make a difference within three areas:


First and foremost, educating yourself is always key for compassion and inclusion. Take every opportunity you can to learn more about other cultures, new topics, different food, new people, new ideas and so on. Pick a random book or movie at your library; books by Yasmina Khadra and Giuseppe Catozzella, for example, have taught me some great life lessons.

You will find plenty of opportunities to learn within the AUTM community, which is rich with professionals with a range of experiences you can learn from. Take advantage of the many educational resources available through AUTM, such as the EDI toolkit, webinars, surveys and podcasts.

Even if you’re familiar with the latest EDI topics of discussion, there is always more to discover. This month, I learned from the Canadian TT community about the national effort for ‘’truth and reconciliation’’ programs toward indigenous communities, as well as similar programs in the US, Australia and Peru. This topic is new to me, and I am looking forward to learning more!


Actions don’t have to be big to be meaningful. Taking just a few steps out of your comfort zone can be a personal journey that challenge your beliefs, your habits and your assumptions. Engage with events and programs in the communities around you—at your organization, your kids’ school, the local street festival (try a new dish!). Follow your kids’ craziest ideas—mine have changed my relationship with pets and food, and I need to keep working on that.

I joined recently a colleague’s Connexion Breaks program at my institution, which randomly pairs individuals from a diverse pool to get to know each other over coffee or tea. I met with colleagues from different backgrounds, passionate researchers, brilliant students who were curious about my work and hopefully some new contacts who will become colleagues. (The AUTM video about TT was very helpful in explaining my work.) The AUTM Special Interest Groups (SIGs) provide another opportunity to engage and share your challenges, tips and experience with the very supportive, brilliant and diverse TT community.


Last but not least, persevere. Keep learning, engaging and sharing in ways that broaden your world, even if it’s only a little bit at a time. Sooner or later—probably sooner than you expect—a fellow human being will be grateful for changing their life in a small but important way. By preserving, we will all move forward together toward a better world and honor the words of Simone de Beauvoir, the French writer and women rights advocate: ‘’Never forget that it only takes one economical, political or religious crisis for women’s rights to be undermined. You shall stay vigilant throughout your entire life.’’ I think the same sentiment can be applied to many other underrepresented groups.
It is not always easy to keep moving forward in times of incertainty. But small steps do make a difference. Curiosity, humility and empathy those are some of many keys to more inclusive and thriving communities. We all make mistakes, learn, and try again—and that process can benefit us all. Let’s keep the discussion open on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion SIG, where your experiences and your ideas—no matter how small—are always welcome.