Chelsea Lide has known since middle school what she wanted to do and be, to “geek out on topics that were interesting and get the satisfaction of being able to share with others.” For her, education is a calling. “I think I identified, even before I could fully articulate it, that education was something that I really loved,” she says.
As a PhD student in organizational behavior, Lide says that she’s interested in grappling with questions about contradictions in what people believe and how they act — for example, “why people who hold egalitarian values nevertheless behave in discriminatory ways.” What makes someone go against their own values in a work setting? How can we honor and harness individuality while also encouraging a collaborative workplace?
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard, Lide spent three years as a program manager at Google. There, she designed and implemented company-wide changes to improve the experience of job candidates, aimed at enhancing the tech giant’s diversity hiring efforts. That role laid the groundwork for her time at Stanford; she met mentors who demonstrated how to merge her interests in psychology and organizational behavior while making a real-world impact. “I care very deeply about making sure that academic work and practice are closely linked,” Lide says. “It’s important to go beyond just the lab context and test some of these ideas with real people.”
What’s your earliest memory of having an interest in academia?
I’ve wanted to be a professor since I was 12, which is kind of ridiculous. Just consider it — my parents didn’t go to college, and I didn’t know anybody who worked in anything related to academia. I was just making this up. I think it was the idea of teaching that pulled me in. Partly, though, I was just rebellious and liked to be different.
How did your mom shape your perspective on academic work?
When I’m talking about my research, she always asks, “Okay, so what does that really mean? What does that look like in the world?” It’s a fantastic reminder that the work can’t just be the exercise of thinking and pontificating about these ideas. She’s great at pushing me on that and reminding me that I need to have something to show for these ideas and for these theories. The toughest audience for talking about my research are the folks back home; if I can convince them that what I’m talking about is important, and if they’ve learned something from it, that to me is a badge of honor.
What is it about getting to the root of workplace dynamics that compels you?
I find myself being drawn to the “why” — you have to be able to speak to that. When thinking about workplace and social behavior, good interventions start from understanding the true root and source of the problem. One of the frustrations I felt while working in industry is that people move so quickly. There’s an orientation toward carving out a very clearly defined problem and attempting to nail down on it right away. However, if you don’t spend the time trying to uncover exactly what’s going on, it’s hard to make change that lasts and that applies broadly in a number of contexts. For that you have to take what is sometimes an uncomfortable step back and pause.
After spending three years at Google, how has your understanding of what it means to create an equitable workplace changed?
I realized how much people saw implicit bias training as a cure-all for their diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns, despite evidence questioning the long-term efficacy of these programs. What excites me most about the research that I’m doing now is that it asks: if we look beyond individuals’ implicit bias as the main source of discrimination in organizations, what else could explain a lack of equitable outcomes for women and racial minorities? When you start to shift that fundamental assumption on where the biased behavior is coming from, that opens the door to start thinking about what else we can try.
If the old methods were effective, these issues wouldn’t be so pronounced.
Right. One thing that I’m consistently interested in, reflecting on my own experiences working in an organization, is the case of well-intentioned people who genuinely care about creating diverse and equitable workplaces and yet still behave in discriminatory ways. There’s a lot of unexplored territory there to be uncovered. For example, there’s research that shows when we are in a particular role [at work] we’re willing to suspend our own value system in service of meeting the goals or requirements of that role.
When I started telling people about this idea, I heard so many of them say, “Oh, yeah, I feel like I’ve experienced that myself,” or “That explains that time that I should have said something, and I didn’t.” It really resonated. That is true to the things that I want to study and the kinds of contributions that I want to make.
In some ways this work is personal to you because of the identities you embody. How do you navigate that?
To create a sense of balance, I try to separate my academic work from what I think of as my everyday life. It’s hard, especially because so much of my intellectual interests are informed by my own first-hand experiences or observations of the people and practices around me. I am incredibly passionate about this work, so ultimately it is about getting the research done, published, and striving toward building a body of knowledge that can be shared within the field and broadly across organizations and other institutions.
What’s next for you?
I love the research that I do. For a while I was still relatively on the fence about whether I was going to go back to industry or if academia was the right path for me. The more time I spend uncovering these questions the more I cannot fathom the idea of leaving without finishing this work.
Long term, I want to have some sort of method of communicating more broadly with communities outside of the academy. I’ve received a lot of great mentorship and advising here on how to have an impact within the discipline. However, given the nature of my research, I think it would be a huge loss if that’s the only place that knew about this kind of work. Other avenues for getting information out might be speaking at organizations or writing for the general public. One of the questions that’s helped me set goals for myself is the question of, “How will you know that you’ve been successful?” That’s when I knew I wanted to write a popular press book; I want to take these ideas and make them understandable to everybody.
Photos by Elena Zhukova