If you’re trying to get the best out of people, why would you allow an environment of bullying?

Pamela Gay was in San Francisco on Friday for a board meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the day the BuzzFeed story about Geoff Marcy broke.

By the end of the day, I was done with reality. I was ready to go back to my hotel room and just play Carcassonne on my iPad and wish for something I thought was impossible – a world that that didn’t hurt. But as we were packing up and sorting rides, I was offered a sweet distraction. Fellow board member Chris Ford offered me a chance to take a ride with him in his Tesla Model S over to his offices at Pixar.

What I didn’t know was he was asking me if I wanted a glimpse at the way academia could be reimagined if only people were valued.

It’s beautiful there, she says, but that wasn’t what impressed her about it.

What impressed me on this tour, what shifted something inside me and forced my thinking into a new configuration, was the way Chris described the work environment at Pixar.

As we moved between color boards and characters’ test sketches, this brilliant programmer painted a verbal picture of a work environment designed to protect and cherish the creative and inventive mind. From building in a myriad of collaborative spaces and play spaces, to teaching classes for employees that make it possible for anyone with a will to rise from the mailroom to the illustrator’s table, Pixar strives to foster its employees’ personal growth.

Teaching classes for employees – so anyone who wants to can go from a scut job to a creative one.

He went on to explain that the kinds of hate speech, harassment, and constant belittling that is just part of being in academia are not tolerated. After all, if you’re trying to get the best out of people, why would you allow an environment of bullying? If you’re trying to be innovative as you advance your field of research and all related technologies, don’t you want to create as healthy a workplace as possible? He explained that by having an at-will work environment where people are nurtured, Pixar has created a place where people want to do their best and protect the secrets of the worlds they are inventing on paper and in software.

As Chris spoke, and as we walked through this campus of sports facilities, theaters, collaboration rooms, and server rooms, Chris said that they work very hard to foster an environment like academia, and I found myself correcting him, saying that what they are creating is the ideal that people often imagine must be life in the academia.

And as I corrected him, I wondered, what would life be like if universities did everything they could to support the physical, emotional, creative, and intellectual well being of their faculty, staff, and students? What if we had resources and support and what if there was an atmosphere of kindness instead of competition?

Imagine what life would be like if all workplaces were like that. I know, it’s utopian, impossible, ridiculous – but all the same, imagine it.

Today, many of the brightest minds in science go through life constantly struggling for funding as they work in environments that often have them surrounded by crumbling infrastructure, crammed into insufficient space, and dealing with colleagues who on the best of days are simply unprofessional and on the worst of days are abusive physically and verbally. It’s contagious, as the “why do I bother?” attitude sweeps you in. It is hard to be polite when it seems that all you hear is impossible demands to do more and more with less and less and less.

But what if? What if we were resource rich and hatred poor? Think of how much more we could accomplish if women never had to spend time warning one another about the men who molest? What would we discover if every man and woman of color faced no discrimination? How much more would we have already solved if only hate was put down and a desire for mutual success was lifted up?

Wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

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