During this Excellence in STEM interview, we spoke with Fernando Bouche, the IT Manager at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Fernando shares insights into equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within computer science and engineering. He defines equity as the assurance of fair opportunities and treatment for all, diversity as the embrace of diverse backgrounds and experiences, and inclusion as the cultivation of an environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute ideas.
Fernando emphasizes how these principles translate into engineering and computer science by stressing equal access to education and opportunities, promoting open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect, ultimately leading to enhanced creativity and productivity. He underscores the importance of preventing barriers to inclusion and valuing diverse perspectives without tokenization, urging organizations to actively listen to their employees and support initiatives to create equitable and inclusive environments. Fernando’s insights illuminate the transformative potential of EDI in driving progress and innovation in these vital industries.
Let’s explore how these equity, diversity, and inclusion principles manifest in real-world experiences and how they shape the future of computer science and engineering through the lens of Fernando Bouche’s extensive career and expertise.
What is your definition and meaning of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the context of computer science and engineering?
This is a very interesting question, and I would like to start with some definitions to give context to my answer.
We define “equity” as a way to ensure that opportunities, treatment, and results are fair to all people, regardless of ethnicity, identity, or circumstances. “Diversity” is understood as the presence of a wide range of identities, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives within a community or organization. And finally, “inclusion” involves creating an environment where all people feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute with their perspectives and ideas.
At the end, these expressions reflect basic principles for creating a more fair, representative and welcoming environment within our society.
Now, how do we define these terms in the context of engineering and computer science? By offering equal access to education, career advancement, removing disparities, and creating an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, and more. Promoting a more inclusive environment, which encourages open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect, will ultimately lead to greater creativity and productivity.
When people from diverse backgrounds come together, they bring unique visions that lead to more comprehensive and robust solutions to complex technical challenges.
To summarize, equity, diversity, and inclusion must work together hand in hand to promote a more fair, representative, and comfortable environment within the fields of computer science and engineering. Fighting for equity, embracing diversity, and promoting inclusion helps us to take advantage of a wider range of talent and perspectives, leading to greater innovation and development.
What barriers to inclusion have you experienced throughout your career?
My entire career has been developed in the environment of an international organization, where I have sometimes felt that it is difficult to fit in, especially because the language, culture, or thinking are not shared. This influenced how I could step up in my profession within the organization since sometimes I felt like an outsider. Barriers that are created internally, like silos, which create toxic work environments. Not all employees share the same ideas of what inclusion should be. They don’t consider you as a peer, but as a second-class employee. However, these situations of the past have improved considerably in recent years, through the implementation of more strict diversity and inclusion policies.
What are 1-2 ways the computing community can work together to prevent these experiences from occurring to future professionals?
Creating fair environments where everyone feels welcome, regardless of ethnic or educational background. Giving the opportunity to advance in the profession, focusing on talent and not on the person, would be my recommendation.
A lack of understanding of others’ experiences may sometimes lead to unintended consequences. What recommendations can you make to the community to help them increase their understanding of your culture and/or background that would help individuals feel more welcomed?
Helping to understand that not all people have the same opportunities and access to education and that first-hand impressions may often be wrong. We must look for talent, value ideas, and respect people by empowering them to contribute to a more open communication between equals.
Can you share an example from your education or career experiences where diverse voices had, or could have had, a significant impact on a project?
As I mentioned in the previous question, my career has always been developed in an international and multicultural environment, where there are ideas and thinking from different parts of the globe. This abundance of ideas is what allows our organization to advance in its commitment to research and understanding of nature. Every idea, every concept, and every discussion given by employees contributes to our success, of which the entire organization is a part.
Given the importance of computer science and engineering becoming and being a more diverse and inclusive community, we strive to hear the perspectives of persons from equity-seeking populations. What are 1 or 2 ways in which such diverse perspectives and experiences can be solicited and heard without making the persons who share them possibly feel tokenized or otherwise made uncomfortable?
Organizations are promoted by their collaborators; if organizations are not willing to listen to the voices of their own people, they are destined to fail in this globalized environment. We, as populations looking for equity and representation, must raise our voices to tell the organization, “here we are.” Here we are to contribute with ideas; here, we are to encourage communication; here we are to help the organization be successful and not to work in a harassing environment. We must not allow our voices to go ignored; if we feel we are not appreciated, then it is time to move. Currently, there are organizations that embrace equity, diversity, and inclusion. This is the time to look for those organizations where we can feel comfortable, leaving behind those closed organizations destined to disappear. Supporting organizations that motivate diverse groups, promote a fair environment for all employees, and respect and value individuals for their abilities are the ones that will be successful.
Learn More About Fernando Bouche
With over 28 years of career in the Information Technology field, Fernando is an IT Manager at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. He graduated from Universidad Tecnologica de Panama as a Computer Engineer in 1995 and received a Master’s Degree in IT Management and Security in 2006. His 34-year-long involvement with IEEE as a member and senior member, he was the Section Chair of the IEEE Panama’s Section from 2011-12. As a student, he received the IEEE Larry K. Wilson Regional Student Activities Award IEEE GOLD, IEEE Ethics, and Member Conduct Committees. Computer Society Chapter Activities Board as Region 9 representative, CS DVP Latina America coordinator, and CS PACE representative, IEEE Public Visibility Committee in 2013 and 2014, MGA Information Technology Coordination and Oversight in 2014, and Humanitarian Activities Committee in 2017 and 2018. He currently has the volunteer position of IEEE CS VP – Membership and Geographic Activities.