Equity and Justice

“We all have a right to live and work in an environment free of toxic chemicals that make us sick. Yet, some people are more exposed than others. Silent Spring’s research aims to uncover cancer-causing chemicals in our everyday environments so we can protect people from dangerous exposures and create a world that is more fair and just.” Lisa Goodwin Robbins, Chair of the Board of Directors, Silent Spring Institute

Silent Spring is dedicated to producing high-impact science that shines a light on systemic environmental injustices and supports marginalized and underserved communities in reducing their exposures to toxic chemicals. Seeking justice has been a core part of the organization’s mission since its founding in 1994. From our first environmental health studies on Cape Cod to our beauty justice work in California today, we prioritize communities that are disproportionately exposed to environmental pollutants through partnerships with environmental justice groups nationwide.

Our focus on women’s health, especially breast cancer, stems from the Institute’s early commitment to addressing gender inequities in healthcare—work that has since broadened to include racial inequities as well. Breast cancer rates have been steadily increasing among Black women and are now converging with those of White women, who historically have had the highest rates. Moreover, although incidence rates are increasing among all racial and ethnic groups, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander women are experiencing the most rapid increases.

In response, Silent Spring has strengthened its research on disparities in exposures to toxic chemicals that may contribute to these alarming trends. We have also updated our organizational policies and practices to address institutionalized biases within our own organization and work to ensure that our staff and board reflect the diversity of the communities we serve and contribute to positive changes within those communities.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the workplace at Silent Spring

We are actively working to educate ourselves, to self-reflect, and to review and update our policies and practices in order to ensure equity in recruiting and hiring, mentorship and training, and retention and promotion. Some of the ways we are promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within our workplace include:

  • We are proud to be an equal opportunity employer, and we strongly encourage job applicants from groups that are traditionally under-represented in STEM. We also seek candidates whose research, service to community, and life experiences have prepared them to contribute meaningfully to our commitment to equity and justice. Of the 53 staff members (current and former) that have worked at Silent Spring within the past five years, 85% identify as female or non-binary and 25% identify as people of color.
  • In order to minimize bias during recruitment, we review all job postings through an equity lens to ensure we use inclusive language. We also leverage our formal and informal networks and seek out diverse recruitment venues (e.g., diverse job boards and links to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and tribal colleges and universities) in order to enhance opportunities to achieve a diverse applicant pool.
  • Among our staff, both on-site and remote, we strive to foster a culture of belonging in which all staff feel equally respected and supported and everyone is empowered to be an agent of change. We prioritize mentorship and professional development, and we provide accommodations such as flex time so that our staff can do their best work while also managing family demands, community commitments, disabilities, and health conditions.
  • In 2020, we created an annual Executive Director’s Discretionary Fund that supports career advancement for staff members who are first-generation college graduates or who self-identify as members of groups that meet the eligibility requirements for diversity programs of the National Institutes of Health.

Science in Service to Women in Underserved Communities

In addition to advancing equity within our own organization, we are working to advance equity nationwide. Our environmental justice work spans multiple scales, from community-engaged research at the local level to translational work driving policy changes at the state and federal levels.

At all levels, we rely on partnerships to translate our research into action. This focus on partnerships is in our DNA. Our founders were breast cancer activists who envisioned a research institute that would work closely with policymakers, communities, and activists to generate science in the public interest. Our community partners are a core part of our project teams, helping us design and implement high-impact studies that identify and document racial disparities in exposures, previously unidentified workplace exposures, and gaps in testing and risk assessment for marginalized populations. In return, we bring resources and value to our partners and their communities, often supplementing government grants with money raised from philanthropic donors.

Some of our current research projects include:

In addition to Silent Spring’s pioneering community-based participatory research, the Institute is a national leader in environmental health literacy and the ethical reporting of personal exposure results. Our innovative digital tools, such as the DERBI web platform and the Detox Me mobile app, support the public’s right-to-know, increase access to environmental health information, and empower disproportionately-affected individuals and communities to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals.

Within our workplace and beyond, Silent Spring is taking steps to address the systemic injustices that create obstacles to building equitable workplaces and healthy communities. Although we’ve done much in the past several years, there is still more work to do—and we cannot do it alone. Whether you are an individual interested in joining our staff, our Board of Directors, or our Leadership Council; an organization looking for a research partner; or an individual or organization looking to support our work, we invite you to join our network today and help us build a safer and more just world.