Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Nancy Roberts. Nancy is the founder of Business Inclusivity, a social enterprise that provides diversity and inclusion consultancy and executive coaching. She has worked in the publishing industry for over 20 years in a variety of production, operations and consultancy roles.
A few days ago, Phill Jones described how talking about diversity involves personal risk. As a white, public-school educated woman who has had senior level roles in prestigious organizations, I too feel a little self-conscious setting myself up to talk about exclusion and privilege. However, I strongly believe that those with the power in society can wield that power to bring about important change. Asking those without privilege to “lean in” and create solutions to a problem not of their making is not only unfair but is also arguably much less likely to succeed.
That’s the reason I started Business Inclusivity, and the reason I have been so encouraged by the industry’s growing desire to talk about and address these issues. A year ago, when I first started out, it was seen as a non-issue; now I am regularly invited to talk about the subject and advise publishers on how to take action to bring diversity and inclusion into their workplaces and boardrooms. By way of testament to the growing interest in the issue, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself dashing across London to judge a PA International Excellence Diversity Award and then back to the conference to continue our workshops. This marks a real sea change in attitudes towards diversity and inclusion in our community and suggests there is now a positive agenda for change.
During the course of our workshops, we undertook a range of exercises, starting with a look at the career journey of a potential future employee. By exploring some fictional candidates with experiences and backgrounds different to those that have traditionally filled our ranks, we examined how they might become aware of the industry, how we could appeal to them to join it, how we can retain their talents, and how to enable them to advance. Essentially, we looked at the end-to-end process of attraction, recruitment, selection, retention, and development.
Having identified a number of issues that cause us to struggle to develop diverse talent, we then looked at the channels and strategies we could use to reach these communities. Bearing in mind that, according to The Reading Agency, 36% of UK adults don’t read for pleasure, rising to 44% of young people (aged 16 to 24), how then do we expose the industry, make clear what we do, and present ourselves as a realistic and viable career option? How do you reach out to social media when those you wish to reach are highly unlikely to follow any publishers or other influencers in our field?
Following on from this, we explored interviewing and selection, and how a diverse workplace needs to take proactive action to be more inclusive so that everyone has equality of opportunity and the chance to succeed.
Out of all these discussions, a wide range of suggestions and ideas was generated. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Rethink where we advertise – not just using mainstream media and industry publications, but local press, colleges and general recruitment sites such as Indeed, as well as those universities that do not offer publishing degrees
- Think about how we can use media to demonstrate who we are as an industry, for example hosting videos on YouTube showing what we actually do day to day and describing different roles and sectors (Could this be an industry-wide initiative, similar to those for example in teaching?)
- Offer alternative working arrangements for mental-health sufferers
- Arrange more social events that don’t involve alcohol
- Question the physical environment where we work more, for example, are all our meeting rooms named after white male scientists? Could we find some female alternatives or scientists of color?
One of the areas where we faced the biggest challenge was in talking about how to mitigate against bias in the selection process. We all have our inherent biases, and these biases have impacts and will narrow our talent pool, not always in justifiable ways. We talked at length about what can realistically be done to counter this – there is no denying that this is a difficult problem. Most solutions require resources, either by involving more people in interview panels and decisions or by taking more time to define criteria by which applicants will be selected or rejected. It’s fair to say that there is much more work to do in this area to achieve a selection process where everyone has an equal chance and to create an environment where anyone can feel comfortable enough to give their best at interview stage.
Despite the challenges, however, it was amazing to see how many realistic, actionable and practical ideas we came up with in a relatively short timescale. The full outputs of our sessions can be found on the LinkedIn R2R group and on my website. Some of us in the group agreed to take this work further, and work towards a manifesto and a set of best practice guidelines. If you are interested in joining us, please do get in touch.
Diversity matters, but all the evidence suggests that diversity initiatives will fail unless we also work to create more safe, inclusive workplaces in our industry, where people can talk openly about their sexuality, ability and background, without fear or favor. I am therefore calling on all my colleagues in the scholarly communications industry to join me in thinking about where we currently create a sense of elitism or exclusion, and how we might address that.
In the course of my work, I am often asked where we should start in tackling these issues, and how to grapple with such a huge and challenging set of issues. My reply is always the same: it’s not about the ultimate destination, it’s about taking the first steps on the road. We can’t solve all our problems overnight, but if we come together as an industry, we can achieve real change.
In summarizing the workshops during the conference wrap-up, I called on those present to all try to take one small but meaningful step to promote diversity and inclusion in their own organizations. I was so encouraged by the number of people who answered that call and who are looking at ways that they can be an agent of change. I extend that call to those of you reading this. Diversity has business benefits, but more than that, it is a moral imperative. But without action on inclusion, diversity initiatives will not succeed. I invite all of you, then, to join us in creating our manifesto, in making one small change, in coming together as an industry to acknowledge that we have progress to make, and in being part of the solution.
24 Thoughts on "Guest Post: Towards a Diversity Manifesto Part 2 – Making Long Overdue Change Happen in Scholarly Communication"
thanks Nancy and Phill, excellent posts, I like how you took a journey in ‘their shoes’ at the R2R conference, taking a look at the career journey of a potential future employee.
Perhaps there’s more can be done also on the SSP Profiles pages, sharing positive examples and role models https://www.sspnet.org/careers/professional-profiles/all-profiles/
Hi Adrian, thanks for your kind words! I completely agree with you that we need to always be mindful of how we portray ourselves – as companies/organizations or as an industry – and to be proactive in seeking ways to present a more inclusive face to the world. As part of my MBA I am working on a project to pull together academic research in this area and to create a set of guidelines for websites, job adverts and other corporate collateral, so I can help to identify practical things we can do to change. If any organizations are interested in helping with my research (as a case study, or sharing their own insights on successes and failures) please do let me know!
Excellent, sounds wonderful, have you spoken with people on the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at SSP ? http://customer.sspnet.org/ssp/About-Us/Committees___Board/Committees/ssp/About/Committees.aspx?cid=DIVTASKFORCE
Hi Adrian, thanks for this – I am now in touch with them so let’s see if we can find some ways to work together. it’s so exciting to see the energy around this issue. Have a great weekend.
Great piece! A couple of initiatives I have talked about with colleagues (without a full audit of their implications) are ideas like an under-represented minority internship and executive training program; both of which would be trying to achieve more diverse recruitment, retention and mobility in the scholcomms workforce. I mentioned in Phill’s post that that are issues around defining under-representation in any organization (i.e. who is under-represented, by how much and where?). To that end I would also propose that scholarly publishers share (anonymised) recruitment and workforce data to get a sense of where we are as an industry and where collective frailties are, e.g. the hypothesis that our editorial departments are less diverse than our finance departments. To be clear this would not necessarily to set targets or quotas but to give us a framework in which we can start asking questions of ourselves as publishers but also as an industry. One problem we might face with any initiative is demonstrating efficacy; here is a thoughtful piece in Science from Jeffrey Mervis in 2006 on the NIH’s attempt to maintain minority training programs: http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2006/01/do-minority-training-programs-work . In any case, I’m glad conversations are on-going and aren’t paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection.
There is a group of industry organizations, SSP included, that are seeking to gather the data you suggest. We currently have an RFP out for doing the research.
This is fantastic, incredibly relevant to a conversation I had with Phill Jones about these issues. I’m not sure if my organizaiton (OUP) is already involved or thinking of contributing a proposal but I’ll defintiely flag to our diversity and inclusion team to see if we can get involved.
Hi Nikul, thanks for your messages – it’s also worth noting that the Workplace Equity project (https://workplaceequityproject.org/) has started collecting some data on this, and the Publishers’ Association in the UK is also looking to do the same. So I think you have hit the nail on the head; we need proper data and we need to start getting some facts to either validate or challenge our assumptions about where we are.
On the efficacy point this is also something I strongly agree with you on; often I find organizations are well-intentioned but don’t necessarily have the research insights into what works and what doesn’t. This is definitely something I hope to help address through my work and I post as many resources as I come across on Twitter which you may find of interest.
I’d love to keep this dialogue going! Thanks for reading and commenting, and for the useful link.
All the best
Thanks Nancy, I am really heartened to hear of these initiatives (and slightly ashamed I wasn’t aware in the first place). Having talked to Phill, I’ll reach out to you separately as it would be really good to continue this dialogue.
Thanks Nancy. It might be worth making the point that, in Britain, public schools are privately funded (ie not state) institutions (about 7% of children attend these in the UK I believe).
This puts your point about privilege at the top in bit more context.
Public schools in most other countries are state-funded schools.
This doesn’t take away from the value of your article.
Thanks Martin, a very important correction! And evidence of how easily we take our own worldview for granted . . .
Does the Scholarly Kitchen have plans to invite chefs who are not white?
Hi Katharine — to answer your question, yes we continue to invite new Chefs from a variety of different backgrounds, but finding a more diverse group of authors remains difficult for us. I wrote about this more here:
Racial and geographic diversity remain struggles. The Scholarly Kitchen in many ways reflects the scholarly communications community, which is predominantly white and western. Recruiting new bloggers is never easy. Only a small portion of the general population seems to enjoy blogging. We need authors that write well and that have the time and inclination to do so frequently. Perhaps more importantly, we look for bloggers with something interesting to say, and a willingness to take the risk of voicing a public opinion (see above). Those who face career disadvantages due to bias are more vulnerable than those in a position of privilege, which so far has made many hesitant to write in this space. We continue to try to recruit new voices and Siân Harris from INASP has joined us to help build a bridge to scholars and publishers throughout the globe.
One way we’re addressing it is increasing the number of guest posts we run — this has helped us bring in more diverse voices, particularly folks who won’t/can’t make the commitment to regularly write here. We’re also looking to offer some authors an anonymous platform to write here as well, which may help assuage some concerns about exposure. But if you have recommendations for Chefs of any background, please do send them along.
While new efforts to tackle the challenges of creating more diversity in the publishing industry are always welcome, let’s remember that this is not something new under the sun. In university pressd publishing we have had waves of effort beginning with a focus on gender inequity when Women in Scholarly Publishing (WISP) was founded in the early 1980s. Racial imblanace becane a concern in the 1990s when the AAUP (now AUP) set up task forces and a Diversity Committee (whoch was chaired by women of color from the Penn State marketing department, first Shana Foster and then Allison Reeves. Gender and racial/ethnic diversity again became a focal point when the AAUP (AUP) held its annual convention in Austin and devoted a plenary session to that topic. Perhaps, befopre reinventing the wheel, it would be good to go back to those earlier efforts and see what worked, or didn’t work, as effective strategies. Records of these earlier efforts presumably exist in files somewhere.
Hi Sandy, you make a great point – lots of work has been done in this area, and now feels like a good time to really look at what impacts these initiatives made, what we can learn, and what still needs more work. In the UK at least the Gender Pay Gap reporting has definitely shown that pay equity is still not where it should be. I am always keen to hear from people who have made efforts in this area, successes and failures, so again would encourage people reading this who may have useful insights to get in touch. I will do some further research on the initiatives you list here and see what I can learn.
Thanks for commenting!
There is a nice brief history of WISP at the AUP site here:http://www.aupresses.org/about-aaup/history/wisp-history.
If I dig deeply into my files, I can probably come up with something about the Diversity Committee’s work.
I shared the link to this Kitchen post with an online editorial community. One person there said that a way to begin walking the walk would be for the Kitchen to use images of diverse groups when it is illustrating a point that doesn’t involve specific people actually working in our industry.
Good idea. We use a stock photo service that has a good variety of images and we try to mix it up, but will do so with some mindfulness going forward.
Hi David, I think the comment about mindfulness is a really key one; diversity and inclusion will only progress if we all make ourselves more mindful of the ways in which we present ourselves and try to be proactive about our choices, so it’s great to hear you take a lead on thinking critically about this.
Now entering its third year, the Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship program is proving to be a success in terms of diversifying scholarly publishing. The collaborative project involves the University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, Duke University Press, and the University of Georgia Press and is supported in part by the Association of University Presses.
Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing this, it sounds like a great initiative. Is there any feedback as yet from the participants on how this is working for them? It sounds like it may be too early but I’d be really interested to hear more from them.
Hi Nancy, thanks for this. It sounds like it was a great session. I couldn’t seem to find the full outputs at either of the links you gave .. just the slides .. am I missing something? I was curious because I had been talking at the weekend with my sister who is head of careers at a UK school. I was asking about how we could give scholarly communications a bigger profile at that level, to help broaden our pipeline and encourage more people to want to work in our industry. I have the kernel of an idea about creating a scholarly publishing roadshow kit (banner stand, table cloth, flyers, freebies) and having a pool of volunteers who would be able to take it to careers fairs etc. Funded by publishers and other employers in our sector who together would chip in enough for materials, shipping and travel. And possibly allow those of their employees who volunteer to have a day off (a “corporate social responsibility” type day, or whatever the current term is) (a “diversity action” day perhaps!) Needs more thinking through so I was curious to see whether anything similar had been mooted in the workshop.
Hi Charlie, thanks for your message. The slides actually incorporate the outputs, although there is much more work to do. We did discuss how we reach out to encourage more people to consider publishing as a career – it sounds like you have some interesting thoughts on this and I’d like to talk more about whether this is something I could help with and whether we could take it forward collaboratively? Please get in touch if this is of interest.