Movement Consulting moves toward increased diversity in academia
When you were a child, what was your dream career? Maybe a dance class inspired you to fantasize about twirling under stage lights as a prima ballerina, or watching Apollo 13 for the first time translated into hours playing astronaut in the backyard. Dra. Nicole Cabrera Salazar’s desire to reach for the stars as an Astronomy professor came about a bit later, after an incredible internship opportunity. Unfortunately, a profoundly racist and sexist graduate school experience made it clear that the professoriate was not a healthy path for her. Like any great entrepreneur, she turned a roadblock into an opportunity.
Nicole founded Movement Consulting out of a desire to improve the diversity of academic departments—especially in the sciences—so that other students would not have to experience the traumatic effects of prejudice and discrimination that marked her own graduate school experience. Movement Consulting offers services to make sure science organizations, universities, and laboratories can provide a positive culture for their employees. If you're interested in learning more, reach out to Nicole through her contact form or by emailing her at email@example.com. You can also follow Movement Consulting on Instagram and Facebook.
Nicole recently sat down with EnrichHER to discuss what inspired her to launch her business, the importance of mentors that know you better than you know yourself, and her vision for more inclusive academic departments.
EnrichHER: What inspired you to start your business?
Movement Consulting: By the time I got to college, I knew I really wanted to be an astronomy professor. That's what I decided my career was going to be. My path wasn't super linear. A lot of people in my field—in physics and astronomy—will have stories about how they deconstructed a radio when they were younger or always worked with Legos and stuff like that. And I didn't have that background, because I came from a working-class, immigrant family. So I didn't really find astronomy until I was in my junior year of college. I got an internship where I got to spend 40 hours a week observing on a telescope in Hawaii, and that was really amazing. That made me decide on astronomy as a career, and I went to graduate school.
Then, in grad school, I encountered a lot of discrimination. When I started, I was one of two Latinas in my department. The faculty were all White; I had one female professor, and most of my peers were White. And at the time, I knew about sexism, because I had been in Physics departments since high school. I was used to being the only woman, so when I started encountering resistance and pushback, I thought, "Oh, this is because I am a woman in Science." But it wasn't until my third year of grad school when I started taking a Race and Ethnic Relations class, that I realized that there was also an element of discrimination connected to my ethnicity. It’s this intersectional mix of oppression. I was so burnt out that I decided to leave my field. I was having panic attacks. I had a major depressive episode and had to finish my dissertation from home because the experience was so traumatic. It was traumatic in the full sense of the word.
At first, I didn’t want people to know about this experience, because it was so painful. I felt like my potential had been lost, like the dream I had had for so long had been lost. But I had to give it up because the environment was so toxic. Ultimately, I decided to leave research, but not to leave the field completely because I wanted to make it better. I founded Movement Consulting because I wanted to change the culture of science, which is a very toxic, overworked culture that produces a lot of burnout. I wanted to move that culture in a different direction, which is why my company is called Movement Consulting. I provide services for socially conscious scientists who want to change the culture of their fields or their departments or their university, but they're really not sure where to start.
EnrichHER: Tell us more about the services you provide and how they work.
Movement Consulting: We’re a private consulting service, and every academic department is different, so it depends on what they need to work through. Sometimes, students feel very isolated and lack a sense of community. In that case, I can establish a program that will foster community among students, which will help them become better researchers. It will help them stay in this environment. Other times, it’s deeper culture. Say a department wants to hire a professor, and they want to make sure the process is equitable. What I do is come in and look at their hiring process, and I point out places where they are introducing bias. This can allow them to change the process so that all the candidates don’t end up being the same as the department’s current race and gender makeup.
Another thing I do is facilitation, particularly in the area of science communication, in a way that emphasizes soft skills, like how to navigate all-white spaces. Some of the activities are more geared to people in power, to teach them to reframe their mindset to be more holistic and to center the humanity of the people within that department. I like to incorporate hands-on activities into the discussions that the participants have. When I was in high school, my AP physics teacher had this sign in this classroom that said, “I hear; I forget. I see; I remember. I do; I understand.” I love that and try to incorporate it into my facilitation.
EnrichHER: Tell us about a trial you’ve had to overcome as an entrepreneur. What did it teach you?
Movement Consulting: What I learned is that not every client is the right client. I don't want to work with people who just want to pat themselves on the back. I don't want to work with people who see diversity as a commodity-- as something that they can sell to potential students or potential faculty. I want to work with people whose values are aligned with mine and with those of my business, because I think that those clients stand to gain the most, learn the most and create the most impact.
EnrichHER: One thing that comes up over and over in the conversations we have on EnrichHER Society is the importance of networking and mentorship. Can you speak to a specific connection or relationship in your professional life that helped advance your business?
Movement Consulting: When I was a grad student, and I was overwhelmed with this decision to leave my field, it was a life-altering decision. I had this ten-year plan that suddenly was out the window. I couldn't stay on the path that I was on, but I didn't know yet what I wanted to do. I made an appointment with a career counselor. Ashley Watts is her name. I sat in her office so many times and just cried about all the things that were going on. I was so overwhelmed. When I started working with her, she said, “I see you having your own thing.” I was just like, “I need to find a job.” She helped me develop the skills I needed to do what I wanted outside of academia. Then she nominated me for a TEDx talk at my school, and I was able to give my first public talk about this new path I was on. I talked about diversity in STEM. That was especially important because Ashley got to know me in a way that my adviser did not know me. She was interested in who I was, not just the work I was producing. It's like she could see that potential and projected it into a future that I hadn’t imagined for myself yet. And so eventually I ended up starting my own company, and now she still advises me.
EnrichHER: We like to give our entrepreneurs the last word in these interviews. Any final thoughts to share with the community?
Movement Consulting: I think something that's really important that I'm trying to focus on more now is that, these systems we live within--whatever industry you're in, whatever job you have--there is a tendency to believe that we're never doing enough. This comes from capitalism. There’s an idea that you're only worth as much as you can produce. And if you're not producing, especially in these times, then it feels as if you are not contributing to society, or like you’re not contributing to your partnerships or your household. I want to invite people in this community to take a step back and think about where those feelings come from and to not blame themselves.
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