You may have noticed an increase in posts about diversity and inclusion — and posts by a more diverse group of authors — on the Kitchen recently. This is part of a conscious effort to try and make this blog more representative of those working in the scholarly communications community today, and to advocate for our community to become more diverse and inclusive in future. A similar effort is happening at the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP), for similar reasons. In today’s post, SSP’s Executive Director, Melanie Dolechek talks about what actions the society has been taking — and plans to take – to address this issue, including celebrating some successes to date and identifying some challenges ahead.
SSP has for many years had a good gender balance on its board and in terms of its committee chairs — arguably better than many of the organizations it represents. Why and how do you think this has happened?
At least in recent years, the leadership of SSP has been representative of our membership, and women represent a majority of our membership and of the scholarly communication workforce at large. Our board members are elected by the membership, and as a professional association for individual members, it’s those individuals that are voting as opposed to just the leadership within those organizations. Our Nominating Committee makes a very conscious effort to put forth a slate each year that takes into consideration several dimensions of diversity to ensure our board is representative of the membership. Not only do they consider gender and other demographics, but also the type of organizations represented, career stage, and professional role. What it really comes down to though is that our members speak up when they see a disparity and it’s generating that awareness that ensures an ongoing equitable balance.
There’s also been an increasingly good gender balance in terms of speakers at the annual meeting and other events in recent years. How was that achieved?
Having served as a volunteer for the Annual Meeting Program Committee (and eventually as a co-chair) for a number of years before becoming the Executive Director of SSP, I have observed that ensuring we have diverse perspectives represented among our speakers has been a long-standing goal and largely a grass-roots effort. Having a good mix of speakers based on gender, positions on industry issues, race/ethnicity, etc. has been important to the committee members and they speak up when they detect we are falling short of that goal.
At least in the last five years, the call for presentation has explicitly included language about our desire to achieve diversity among speakers as a guide for those submitting session proposals. “Multi-speaker proposals will be given precedence over proposals with only one speaker. SSP is interested in providing a variety of viewpoints from a diverse pool of speakers.”
And even though we’ve had a long run of female co-chairs for the Annual Meeting Committee, it’s not at all unusual for a male committee member to be the one to point out when we have a disproportionate number of male speakers on a panel or overall for the meeting.
However, like the organizations it represents, SSP is less diverse in other ways, for example in terms of people of color, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and geographical representation outside the US, Canada, and Western Europe. How can SSP, and scholarly publishing become more inclusive?
Indeed, we have a long way to go. I don’t think there is one single answer to this question since the solution is likely to differ for the various groups you’ve mentioned. We have data about the number of people of color working in scholarly publishing, at least in the US, Canada, and Western Europe and these numbers are staggeringly low. So, despite our desire to include more representation from this group, it’s certainly been a challenge since the pool (in these areas) is much smaller.
One thing that many who work in scholarly publishing have observed is that few people end up with a career in this field on purpose. While there may be some students who seek out a career in “publishing,” few people even know about the career opportunities available in the scholarly sector. As a result, we have an awareness issue with a large part of the population which impacts the diversity of our employment pool overall. If we’re going to change this, we have to make a concerted effort to diversify the workforce for our industry by actively reaching out to other demographic groups early in their careers and education. This could include outreach to students, working with colleges and university career centers to ensure their graduates are aware of scholarly publishing as career path; internship and mentorship opportunities; providing resources such as training on unconscious bias and recommended diversity and inclusion strategies for our members that are responsible for hiring and job development.
I’m not aware of any available metrics regarding the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities within scholarly publishing, so a good first step would be to measure the current representation as well as get feedback on the perceptions and attitudes of those within these communities so we can understand how scholarly publishing compares overall with other industries and what needs to change to be more inclusive of these communities.
Scholarly publishing is a global industry, so achieving more geographical representation among our membership is an issue SSP can probably tackle more readily. We’re already taking small steps to increase awareness about SSP outside of the US with regional events in Brazil, the UK, and Germany in 2018. Our Fellowship Program is attracting a geographically diverse group of applicants, and several of the awards are specifically reserved for applicants residing outside of the US. We had quite a few non-US participants in our mentorship pilot program this year including two from China. We’ve been offering reduced membership fees for professionals in developing nations, including Asia and the Global South for a number of years. The SSP Board of Directors has appointed an International Strategy Task Force to help define SSP’s strategic objectives around increasing our impact beyond the US and thereby engaging a more geographically diverse community.
The SSP Board also recently appointed a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which is in the process of developing a number of objectives for the organization to specifically address these issues. The vision is to provide education and resources to members about diversity and inclusion within their workplaces, but also to model diversity and inclusion practices in the work that our committees are doing on behalf of the organization.
Can you tell us about the recent cross-organizational diversity issue that SSP has been leading? Which other organizations are involved and what is it hoping to achieve?
At the SSP Annual Meeting this past summer, a number of industry professional and trade organizations came together to discuss the state of diversity and inclusion within scholarly communications. We recognize that, of course, this issue is much broader than any of our individual organizations, and our efforts would be much more impactful if we were to collaborate in developing strategies to tackle this important issue together. This is especially true since there is also some overlap in our memberships. In addition to SSP, the organizations involved include: Association of American Publishers Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division, Association of American University Presses, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, Canadian Association of Learned Journals, Council of Science Editors, International Society of Managing and Technical Editors, Library Publishing Coalition, NASIG, Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, STM – International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers, and UKSG.
At that first meeting, we identified several broad areas for exploration:
- Statement of principles /code of practice
- Market research/analysis
- Training resources, documentation, best practices, toolkits for members
- Outreach programs, curriculums
Ultimately, we’re hoping to move the needle collectively on the overall diversity of our workforce and assist our members with creating inclusive environments within their workplaces. We recognize that to achieve this will take time, but if we don’t act now, we’ll simply continue going down the current path.
The SSP board recently endorsed the joint principles on diversity and inclusion proposed by this cross-organizational group. What are the next steps for SSP and the wider group?
The Joint Statement of Principles is the first deliverable to come out of this initiative. While a number of the governing bodies of the participating organizations have approved the principles already (including SSP), we are hoping to achieve endorsement by the remaining organizations by early February 2018 (due to timing of board meetings and such). At that time the group plans to formally announce the statement as well as invite other organizations to “sign on” and support the initiative. The group is currently developing an RFP for an industry benchmarking survey to gather demographic and salary information from industry organizations about their workforce to serve as a baseline. Once a baseline is established, the plan is to repeat the survey annually to measure the impact of ongoing efforts. From there, I expect our discussion will move to the types of resources and programming we can provide to the industry to educate and empower our members to create the diverse and inclusive workplaces that we support in the Joint Statement of Principles.
SSP is also supporting a second survey on diversity and inclusion in scholarly publishing aimed at individuals. What sort of data will be collected and how will it be used?
In addition to the survey planned by the cross-organizational group, which is focused on collecting quantitative data, the Workplace Equity Project is conducting a survey targeting individuals during Winter 2017/18. The survey seeks to capture a view of how men and women experience a variety of measures of gender equity in our industry, which is distinguished by a majority female workforce, a progressive culture, and a stubborn glass ceiling. They are looking to gather data that addresses whether there is a perception of gender dis-equity among those who work in the industry, and if so, determine how widely organizations in our industry already address the issues, whether these efforts are effective, and what else they can do to drive change. The survey will launch in early 2018; in the meantime, more information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The data from these surveys will add to the overall picture of diversity and inclusion issues and perceptions in our industry. By looking at the results of both – the quantitative data about demographics and salaries and the perceptions and attitudes of the current workforce — we’ll have a much better idea of how we can help our members and their organizations move toward more diverse and inclusive workplaces.
Where would you like to see SSP and scholarly publishing in 5-10 years time and how can we get there?
It would be amazing if within that time frame we see real progress toward a more balanced and equitable workforce within scholarly publishing. Ideally, it will become second nature for people to seek diversity when assembling panels, board slates and selecting candidates for open positions. Students from diverse backgrounds and geographies will actually be aware that scholarly communications is a career option, and see scholarly publishing as a welcoming and comfortable community for them. Achieving this will take collaboration and intentional collective diligence to change. It’s not just going to happen without real effort in altering the way our industry operates. While the steps we are taking now may seem small, I’m confident that eventually they will add up and we’ll start seeing the impact.