Writing about failure is hard. Even if the failure is only a perceived failure. I officially walked away from my PhD program at a large R1 institution about a month ago. Writing the words "I officially withdraw" to the administration of my program was an incredibly difficult moment. I felt a large sense of loss, like I had just lost a family member. I was officially laying my PhD to rest. I went into a prolonged term of mourning. Nothing felt right anymore. I felt like I didn't know WHO I was anymore or where I fit into the world. I used to introduce myself as "Veronica, neuroscience graduate student"; now I'm just "Veronica". Not having a way to identify myself to others made me feel worthless. I felt as if I was no longer contributing to the community or society and had become a burden to all those around me.
Many research institutions have made efforts to increase diversity among their administrations, faculty and staff members and student bodies. But research shows there is work to be done — and that the pay-off is immense. A 2017 study of 40 US public universities, for example, found that black, Hispanic and female science-faculty members continue to be under-represented relative to the US population (D. Li and C. Koedel Educ. Res. 46, 343–354; 2017). Besides honing their strategies to draw more women and people of ethnic-minority groups, some organizations are also expanding opportunities for people from economically disadvantaged areas and those with physical disabilities, as well as trying to better represent people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
The popular media is full of examples of bad leaders in government, academia, and business. But the most common kind of incompetent leader isn’t the ranting, narcissistic sociopath that might immediately come to mind. Rather, it’s the “absentee leader” — those in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them. These people were promoted into management, and enjoy the privileges and rewards of a leadership role, but avoid meaningful involvement with their teams. Absentee leaders kill engagement and productivity. Research shows that being ignored by one’s boss is more alienating than being treated poorly, and that the impact of absentee leadership on job satisfaction outlasts the impact of both constructive and more overtly destructive forms of leadership. The chances are good, however, that your organization is unaware of its absentee leaders, because they specialize in flying under the radar by not doing anything that attracts attention. Nonetheless, the adhesiveness of their negative impact may be slowly and silently killing your organization.