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Selecting the right work culture for you

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Ranjita Poudel

“Selecting the right work culture for you!” session in Power Dynamics virtual conference were presented by Kenneth Maynard, who served as a senior director in global patient safety evaluation in Takeda pharmaceuticals and Janet Clark, director of the office of fellowship training for the National Institute of Mental health. 

One of the most important aspect that contribute to the power dynamics is “bias”. The term “implicit bias” reflect our attitudes of stereotypes about others with or without our conscious knowledge. There are many aspects of our own identity such as age, race, religion, gender etc. If we take a pretty basic attribute such as age, today we talk about “baby boomers”, “gen X”, “the millennials”. These are all defined in one way or other with some degrees of behavioral stereotyping. It may become problematic if this stereotyping impact how we treat others or how we make decisions about others. Our biases which sometimes unconscious make us averse to group of people rather than neutral. The second topic that can impact power dynamics is: diversity and inclusion. When we are developing hiring committee, research team, or making strategic decision we must be intentional about addressing our implicit bias that compromise us as individual and as community. We must be conscious about mitigating bias and creating environment that supports and includes all. 

Speaking about the power dynamics, in the corporate world, there are social structure within each organization. In case of startups there is not much structure, status is deemphasized, lots of informalities are encourages, and collaborative decision making Is fostered. However, in big pharma, which is most heavily regulated industries, have lots of policies and procedures which the employees have to live by. The employee has to be compliant to those regulations which in some ways drive power dynamics. Not only at individual level, power dynamics impacts how we work in group/team. Power dynamics in a team setting can either sink a meeting and negatively impact relationship for years or produce more shared power and capacity to get things done. 

Kenneth Maynard further elaborates on how to deal with unfair power dynamics and suggest policies and regulations that can play a vital role to mitigate the impact of problematic power dynamics in addition to increasing sensitivity of the institutional bodies via trainings, forums and invited speakers. Further, different steps at an individual level can be taken such as becoming aware of our own implicit bias that might impact the choice we make about where we want to work. 

Janet Clark discussed about how power dynamics differ in various scientific environments and how to deal when they go wrong. In current times, scientists choose different career paths, and there is much more fluid movement between different field compared to the past. Each of these career path changes are typically associated with changes in work environment and culture, even between academic institutions or between companies.  These changes are associated with power dynamics. Regardless of environment and culture, science is done by hierarchical groups in academia /government as well as in companies. The interdependence between those who are close to the science and those who are in supportive roles to contribute to do the job efficiently sometimes can cause problem. Power dynamics per se is not different in these different cultures and environment but what influences power dynamics is. For instance, in the pharma where the basis is business, decisions on science are made not on the value of science but whether there is a business basis for the science which can create a different power dynamic. Whereas, in academia, individuals are dependent on their supervisors for the support of their effort and the resources that are necessary to pursue those efforts which can result in an abusive power dynamic. 

To deal with problematic power dynamics seek out someone trustworthy to have a confidential conversation about the situation. Most organizations have ombuds office who are available to discuss about the situations you are going through. In case you are a bystander to a problematic power dynamics, you can play a very powerful role such as: Intervening in some ways, direct confrontation, distract and deflect in an effort to diffuse the behavior that is happening, delegate, and document the incident by videotaping or writing as an evidence of the situation. If one is attending a conference, one should be aware of code of conduct.  In academic institution, there will a be title IX office and coordinator. In such institutions one should identify the office and report incidents to the office in case of harassment. If sexual harassment is affecting NIH funded research, this can be now reported anonymously via a link. https://public.era.nih.gov/shape/public/notificationForm.era. NIH addressed anti-harassment and inappropriate behaviors in 2018 and developed abundant resources in the form of toolkit for every level in the organization. These templates can be used by other organizations/institutions to develop their own tools and resources to mitigate problematic power dynamics.

In conclusion, power dynamics is inherent in science and influences differently depending on the work environment and culture. When power dynamics go wrong seek guidance and report if appropriate and intervene as a bystander. Variety of resource mechanisms are available for reporting harassment and inappropriate behavior regardless of where you work. 




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