It’s easy to recognize the importance and value of diversity, but seemingly difficult to make diverse an industry or organization that is not. But, why is it so difficult? Why have we recognized the objective and only see slow, and not always steady, progress toward achieving it?
This month we asked the Chefs: How can we increase diversity in scholarly communications?
(Editor’s Note — we also asked a group of researchers from across Africa, Asia and Latin America the same question — their answers here).
Joe Esposito: Diversity is good business. In a fiercely competitive world economy, increasingly anchored in intellectual property, the organization with the smartest people emerges as the winner. Bigots, who fail to see that talent comes in all shapes and sizes, will lose out to organizations acting in their own self-interest that synthesize strategies from the widest pool of capabilities. Gray matter is color-blind.
In discussions of diversity we usually talk about bias, as we should, but in some instances it is more useful to talk about perspective. No one has the same one. And no one can truly be said to encompass all perspectives — there is no “comprehensive” intelligence. Astute managers thus seek out the widest range of perspectives, the better to make key decisions and to implement plans efficiently.
To foster diversity it is essential to insist on outstanding organizational outcomes. Organizations that are not in competitive markets — monopolies and monolithic public service organizations — will not have the same demand for the best talent.
To foster diversity it is essential to insist on outstanding organizational outcomes. Organizations that are not in competitive markets–monopolies and monolithic public service organizations — will not have the same demand for the best talent.
Rick Anderson: I’m not a creative person and I’m not great at coming up with creative ideas. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to respond to this question, and I can’t come up with any answers that aren’t obvious: actively seek out people whose backgrounds and perspectives are different from the prevailing ones in the existing system and reach out to them and invite them in. Once they’re in, make sure they know that their perspectives are needed and valued. Resist the temptation to tell them they’re wrong just because they see things differently than you do. Figure out ways to do this that don’t bespeak tokenism or condescension, and take special care to consider the possibility that things you may say or gestures you may extend might not be understood exactly the way you intend them, because of the different perspectives this person may bring to your interactions.
Others will probably come up with newer and more interesting ideas than these. For me, about all I can think of is to reach out actively to those currently excluded or on the margins, and to do one’s best to be kind and thoughtful and careful and aware.
David Smith: Who better to ask than a white, middle aged, middle class, (relatively*) affluent male; a citizen furthermore, of a nation that once ruled many of the nations of this planet (and whose ancestors did some of the hard yards in that endeavor) thus giving it the international language of business and communication. Honestly? I’ve no idea.
So it’s easy to say we need more women. It’s easy to say we need more non-Caucasian representation, better LGBT representation. But my first questions is; Where are we going to get them from? And my second question is; What are the outcomes we are looking to achieve here? And my third question is; Who do we need to work with to achieve those outcomes? And as I write those questions, I’m thinking about colonialism — who exactly is the ‘we’ in those questions I’ve just sketched out.
Women – Right now my cohort of privileged white affluent males is covering itself in glory, so perhaps we need to start by lifting up the drains on sex discrimination — we know it’s a (male) problem — everywhere, let’s not kid ourselves.
Race – Once upon a time I sat in a room with an editorial board who openly joked about “Our Mediterranean cousins” and their capabilities. The context was improving the standing of the journal.
Gender Identity – I was struck by a conversation with a fellow Chef, who observed that for some employees, the statement “My boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/partner” is a lot more defining than for others.
Like I say, I’ve no idea. So please be brave and meet us in the comments. I want to listen to you, whoever you are, better qualified than I on these matters.
(*Who am I kidding… I looked up the income stats for the UK. Objectively speaking, I should be looking down when considering my lot, not up)
Alice Meadows: I wish there were a simple answer to this but of course there isn’t. Diversity takes many forms, each of which needs to be understood and addressed separately.
In terms of gender diversity, there is no shortage of women in scholarly communications — we comprise around 60% of people working in our industry. However, we are underrepresented in C-suite and board positions. So the challenge here is enabling men and women to compete on a truly level playing field for positions at the top of scholarly communications organizations. Our focus therefore needs to be on promotion and career development opportunities for women.
Ensuring that scholarly communications is more inclusive of people of color, of those with disabilities, of LGBTQ people, and of other currently under-represented groups, on the other hand, will require a different approach to recruitment. We need to find ways to both attract people from these communities into our industry in the first place and then to provide them with the opportunities they need to stay and succeed.
And then there’s the issue of geography. I’m increasingly conscious that scholarly communications as we know it is a very western-dominated construct. But there are many scholarly communications professionals and organizations in other parts of the world that are making sometimes very different — yet equally valuable — contributions. These often go unrecognized, or are even denigrated, because they don’t match “our” expectations of how scholarly communications should work. Instead we expect these other communities to adapt to our norms. But it shouldn’t be a one-way street — there’s so much we can all learn from each other. Being more inclusive of these communities is a much bigger challenge — it will require a significant mindset change, as well as a significant effort to find ways of including these additional voices.
And then there’s the issue of geography. I’m increasingly conscious that scholarly communications as we know it is a very western-dominated construct. But there are many scholarly communications professionals and organizations in other parts of the world that are making sometimes very different – yet equally valuable – contributions.
Increasing diversity and inclusion in all these ways (and more) will only happen if there’s a genuine commitment from all of us involved in scholarly communications to effect change. This includes, critically, real support — actions, not words — from our industry leaders; those at the top of the most influential (typically the larger) organizations. To be successful we all need to recognize and address our unconscious biases, understand the value of a diverse and inclusive community, and be ready to listen to and learn from groups whose voices are currently less heard — or, in some cases, missing altogether.
Sian Harris: Today there are many inequalities in scholarly communication, particularly in relation to the researchers, as readers, editors and authors. The first step in tackling inequalities is recognizing their complexity and diversity.
One inequality is access and our last Ask the Chef column touched on many aspects of Open Access as a way to address inequality – and to what extent it is successful today.
A second inequality is in the geography of the publishing industry. The sector is dominated by commercial publishers – as well as societies and academic presses – from the Global North. Journals from the Global South struggle to become known and respected internationally and even in their own countries. I wrote about this recently in the context of the new JPPS initiative from African Journals Online and INASP.
A third inequality is in the authors themselves. An academic friend recently told me about the journal he is editor of (large, commercial, Global North publisher). He said that in the two or three years that he has been editor he cannot recall any submissions from the Global South. His observation is backed up by what we hear from researchers, as well as by the stats; for example, that globally only 1.1% of published papers come from Africa.
Beyond the general Global North/Global South disparity, there are inequalities within countries and research systems, for example with gender, ethnicity and where people live and work.
After recognizing the challenges and understanding their context, the approaches to address the issues then depend on context. At INASP, our approach is to work with partners in developing and transitional countries/contexts to understand the challenges and then support them in their solutions. Our Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education Toolkit is a resource to help individuals and institutions explore gender issues in their context and develop appropriate responses. JPPS is an example of a solution developed in response in partnership with an organization in Africa and in response to a Southern-led need.
So, in summary, increasing diversity requires recognizing and understanding the challenges and then working together to find appropriate solutions.
Angela Cochran: To think about how to diversify scholarly communications, we need to look at where those of us who work in scholcomm typically come from. Historically, this would be either from academia or from liberal arts programs. (I once had an engineer tell me that he couldn’t understand what one could possibly do with an English degree.) I actually have no idea what the ethnic or gender make-up is of the postdoc community. I only know that there are a lot more of them then there are jobs in their field. Welcome to scholarly communications!
I was discussing this issue with a coworker who is passionate about diversity and inclusion and she said, “Well are you reaching out to HBCUs?” That would be Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Well, no, I said. We aren’t actually “reaching out” to anyone in particularly. So perhaps step one would be to look at the first source of new talent, academia, and make a concerted effort to recruit from colleges with more diverse postdoc populations.
The next pool are those graduates with liberal arts degrees. I was an English major, some of my best friends were English majors. I am not against hiring English majors. That said, what we need in scholarly communications are people that can work in databases, design digital products, and produce technical outputs from a variety of sources. We need to start being realistic about the skill set we need. I would rather have someone with a strong background in customer service than a year or two of editorial experience for a junior position. I need managing editors that aren’t afraid of data analytics. We need people who are comfortable talking to vendors about XML and HTTPS and LaTex.
We need to start being realistic about the skill set we need. I would rather have someone with a strong background in customer service than a year or two of editorial experience for a junior position. I need managing editors that aren’t afraid of data analytics.
I believe that if we can start to shift job descriptions to be more accurate about the skills we need and we start recruiting from more diverse pools, the situation will improve. It can’t possibly get worse.
Robert Harington: Diversity is necessary. It is an easy word to throw around. To truly be diverse means that you have to challenge your own assumptions and those of the world around you accordingly. Diversity is about bringing all walks of thought to the table. Diversity is about proactively thinking how your own assumptions govern hiring practices, working with others, and listening to ideas expressed in different forms. In my view I can contribute to this through always being mindful, and communicating a proactive mindset to all those I work with to actively encourage diversity.
Lettie Conrad: As Kent Anderson pointed out a few weeks ago, diversity in scholarly communications can be considered with a variety of intentions and metrics. And I applaud efforts toward extending all sorts of cultural, economic, and functional diversity in our industry. At the heart of it, scholarship and science rely on thorough consideration of data from an exhaustive array of perspectives and inputs. It is consistent that affiliated organizations reflect the breadth and depth of human experiences, in both the production and dissemination of scholarly communications, as well as the contents of those communications themselves.
For publishers, diversity is only possible if we operate outside our comfort zones, to include disparate voices of scholars without competitive English proficiency, welcome insights from all ages, races, genders, etc., and ensure accessibility of our resources for those with sensory or learning disabilities. For each of us as individuals, diversity means practicing mindfulness of our own assumptions and biases, being willing to be wrong or uncertain or vulnerable, and bravely adopt a new worldview for a few risky moments everyday.
Karin Wulf: There are a number of really wonderful initiatives underway to address the opportunities of diversity in scholarly communications. I’m especially keen on a project of the AAUP, funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, to focus on the pipeline. If we can support early career interest, and mentor early career folks, that will make an important difference. Many of these projects have in common an effort to institutionalize reflection and intentionality among individuals and institutions. Why are things the way they are, what do each us on our own and collectively do to reinforce rather than change things?
At the Omohundro Institute we’re looking at ways we can support diverse authors and editors, but also diverse scholarly methods and perspectives. I’ll write more about that effort at another time, but here I’ll note that an inspiration for me is very close to home. My dad has been a loud voice for diversity in engineering, arguing that enhancing diversity is not only the right but the smart thing to do. He spoke and wrote about this a lot, but a 1998 piece is a favorite of mine. Here he made an argument that might look familiar to more recent critics of the ways that a rhetoric of “excellence” can create artificial barriers to fresh thinking: “Every time an engineering problem is approached with a pale, male design team, it may be difficult to find the best solution, understand the design options, or know how to evaluate the constraints.” My dad described engineering as a creative enterprise, and offered an account of his own first rush of “seeing the elegant solution” (in this case to a problem with plastic cards for an automatic phone dialer). “Differences in experience,” he wrote,” are the “gene pool” from which creativity springs.” To make engineering a better, more effective profession it needed to reach out and be more appealing to more people — and then support them.
“Differences in experience,” he wrote,” are the “gene pool” from which creativity springs.”
It’s a different world, twenty years on, but when I am vexed about the challenges of diversity in my own field I often return to these observations. To this basic calculus I’d add that reaching out, including, and then supporting a more diverse profession then has a critical next step which is to make sure that leadership becomes more diverse. Then diversity has a chance to become the reality for organizations and professions rather than an ambition or a project.
Charlie Rapple: Lauren Kane, Liz Ferguson and I led a workshop at this year’s UKSG conference where, building on work by Liz Marchant and Patricia Gabaldon, we explored ideas for increasing diversity from three perspectives: the individual, the organization, and the industry.
For individuals, we talked about how those feeling marginalized can take action for themselves: working on overcoming “imposter syndrome” (I have just signed up for new course on this myself), making more time for networking and career development, perhaps having some coaching to help you recognize and tackle any irrational beliefs that may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential.
In our organizational capacities, all of us need to learn about unconscious bias — both to ensure that we are considering how any such biases may be affecting our own decisions, and to be able to address it if we see it affecting colleagues’ behavior. The ACAS website provides a great introduction to unconscious bias, with helpful examples about both positive and negative prejudices we don’t even realize we have — Do we perceive someone who is dressed conservatively to be more capable? Do we assume someone with a tattoo will be a bit of a rebel? Do we tend to give more credence to people who reflect our own personal “sphere” (experiences / beliefs / cultural attributes etc)? We can also contribute to diversity in our organizations by lobbying for transparent policies (on hiring, promotion and compensation) and for equal parenting (facilitating male employees’ to take a lead on family responsibilities to reduce reliance on women as primary carers). As managers, we can take a proactive approach to supporting team members’ personal development, encouraging volunteering, giving time for study, providing training for the types of work that will enable them to progress upwards (things like business finance and strategic governance).
It is at the industry level where we need to drive the most important change — diversifying the pipeline of our predominantly white industry. Member organizations are beginning to introduce good initiatives here, like the American Association of University Presses’ Diversity Fellowship. Outside our own industry, I think the TFL’s Stuart Ross BAME Internship provides a helpful model — helping students or recent graduates “of African, African-Caribbean, Asian or Chinese origin” learn skills and gain experience in PR — and crucially, providing free travel and a bursary to cover living expenses, to mitigate against economic bias. There’s a LOT more needed here — educational initiatives about scholarly communications career options need to start as early as possible, and we as a community (and particularly the associations that represent us, perhaps) could do much more to support and drive that.
Ann Michael: Looking at the Chefs’ responses, I see not only concerns with unconscious bias, but also a very real focus on outcomes. The fact is that diversity makes organizations and industries more healthy. Can we quantify that? Is quantifying that enough? No one seems to dispute the value, yet our progress is slow at best. I also see a theme about appealing to students and early careers and actively recruiting for diversity. Recruiting by attempting to create interest in diverse groups. Of course, recruiting isn’t enough. Recruits need to find environments that are open to the different perspectives they offer.Too often, value and quality are defined in a manner that reinforces the current norms and attitudes. As Alice pointed out:
… there are many scholarly communications professionals and organizations in other parts of the world that are making sometimes very different — yet equally valuable – contributions. These often go unrecognized, or are even denigrated, because they don’t match “our” expectations of how scholarly communications should work.
Anyway you cut this, this is a complex issue. Increasing diversity has different meaning and outcomes for different groups.
So I echo David’s request, please be brave and meet us in the comments. We need everyone’s ideas!