“All too often, leaders see cultural initiatives as a last resort, except for top-down exhortations to change… But cultural intervention can and should be an early priority—a way to clarify what your company is capable of, even as you refine your strategy.”
So say Jon R. Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley, writing in the Harvard Business Review.
We are equally guilty of not prioritizing cultural change in scholarly communications. So I was delighted to see that the theme for this year’s FORCE2017 meeting is Changing the Culture – a great opportunity to engage with colleagues from across the scholarly communications community on key questions such as: What needs to change in our culture and why? Who are our stakeholders and how are we going to involve them? What are the most effective ways to change the culture; which approach works best – carrot, stick, or both? How will we measure success?
Many of the issues affecting scholarly publishing and the communities we serve can’t be solved without a change of culture. One that is especially close to my heart is diversity, or rather the lack of it, which remains a major challenge for scholarly communications. Bias – conscious or unconscious – is deeply rooted both in our industry and in the communities we serve. Over the past few years a number of posts, in The Scholarly Kitchen and elsewhere, on the lack of women at the top of scholarly publishing, as well as several scholarly studies that clearly demonstrate gender bias in authorship and peer review (see here, here, and here, for example), have helped draw attention to the issue of gender diversity.
Other forms of diversity bias have been less well-documented, but thankfully that is starting to change. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has some great resources, and the other AAUP (American Association of University Presses) is showing leadership in addressing the issue, for example, through the Mellon-funded University Press Diversity Fellowship Program (which fellow chef Roger Schonfeld recently wrote about). Charlotte Roh has some helpful slides (shared at last week’s PKP conference and publicly available here) that clearly demonstrate the extent the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our industry. And there was a great session on diversity at the SSP conference, which has led a group of us to plan a series of posts on this topic.
Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step to addressing it. “Once we see our own biases at play, we can’t unsee them,” as Executive Director of the Clayman Institute, Lori Mackenzie, puts it in this excellent post on unconscious bias. I believe that more people are indeed ‘seeing’ diversity as an issue that needs to be tackled in scholarly communications. And, with SSP and several other scholarly publishing organizations now collaborating to address diversity issues in our industry, I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to effect some real change.
There are other areas where there is much less agreement about the need for – or desirability of – a change in culture. The work needed in these areas to bring together the right stakeholders, identify common ground, and agree a way forward, is much greater and will require even more leadership, vision, and above all persistence.
Diversity is an area where (hopefully) few would argue against the idea that change is needed, although making that change happen will still take a lot of hard work. There are other areas where there is much less agreement about the need for – or desirability of – a change in culture. The work needed in these areas to bring together the right stakeholders, identify common ground, and agree a way forward, is much greater and will require even more leadership, vision, and above all persistence. Some of the most challenging areas include the move to open science, shifting away from the impact factor as a measure of quality, finding alternatives to the current research funding system, fixing the problems with the tenure and promotion system.
From what I’ve heard about past FORCE meetings, the diversity of attendees (from across the whole “community of thought leaders in scholarly communications”) and formats (a mix of session types, with a strong preference for interactive proposals, as well as an unconference element) will provide a great opportunity to discuss cultural change – in all its shapes and forms – with colleagues who hold a wide range of opinions on these topics. Certainly many of the right people will be in the room, which is a good first step!
The call for abstracts is open till August 15 – I’m working on mine now, and am looking forward to three days of diverse and open conversations about changing the culture. And hoping that those discussions will actually help achieve that change…
Disclosure: I haven’t attended FORCE before, but I am on the outreach committee for FORCE2017