IBPOC STEM Network: a forum to gather, build community, and find support

Participants of the August IBPOC STEM Network lunch at Great Dane Coffee at UBCV

“Through this gathering, I saw the faces of the voices I heard who spoke on racism and gender bias in the workplace. As a woman of color, I witness how their stories reverberate in my own walls and cry out for change and a total overhaul of sys temic racism and biases that have characterized our occupational relations and circumstances for so many years.”
– An attendee of IBPOC STEM Network Social.

In the wake of the 2021 shootings targeted at Asian women in Atlanta, a group of UBC women and gender-diverse faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students who self-identify as IBPOC came together to create a community and safe space for people who share these identities. The IBPOC STEM Network has since been meeting regularly, and more than 120 participants across 13 faculties as well as administrative units have participated in the initiative so far.

“We’ve primarily focused this network on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) because faculty and leadership across these fields is still mostly comprised of men” said Maï Yasué, Interim Director, Equity, Partnerships, and Engagement at the UBC Equity & Inclusion Office. “There are a lot more women in junior staff roles and amongst students, but within STEM generally IBPOC women are still a minority – even here in Vancouver.” 

As a result, this means that, for example, trainees, junior faculty and staff, and even those in leadership roles who identify as IBPOC women or gender-diverse persons often face limited options for empathic mentoring and support. This lack of support can lead to feelings of isolation, reduce a sense of belonging, and negatively impact retention and performance.  

“In STEM, there may be limited opportunities to find mentors or role models who self-identify as IBPOC.” said Dr. Yasué.  

“Creating affinity spaces like this one which provide support and validate experiences can help people feel seen…it is critical to cultivating a sense of belonging and inclusion within UBC.” 

Many of the event topics were developed in response to specific needs identified by the members of the network, including topics focused on enhancing wellbeing, cultivating a greater sense of belonging, mentorship, building greater self-efficacy, supporting retention and initiatives that mobilize justice, equity, decolonization, Indigenization and inclusion within units. Overall, four virtual sessions and five in-person social events were held over 2021 and 2022. 

Emerging to meet specific community needs, the IBPOC STEM Network also reflects growing institutional aspirations and commitments to support diverse communities. This includes, for example, the UBC Strategic Plan Strategy 3: Thriving Community, Inclusion Action Plan action related to providing inclusive spaces, and several Anti-racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force recommendations related to supporting IBPOC communities and experiences.  

Additionally, conversations that occurred through the IBPOC STEM Network have helped spur broader changes in policies and practices and JEDII capacity-building programming through other capacity-building efforts such as the EDI Action Network and the JEDII STEM Series