Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts that will run this week, written by Chhavi Chauhan, Shaina Lange, and Tony Chen. Chhavi is Director of Scientific Outreach at the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP) and Director of the Continuing Medical Education (CME) Program at the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics. Shaina is Manager of the Publishing Integrity Office at ACS Publications. She oversees the strategy, policies, and activities to support publishing integrity across the ACS journals portfolio. Tony is a Journal Publishing Manager at Wiley, where he manages a portfolio of journals in Oncology, Pathology, and Basic Medical Science under the Health Sciences banner.
Have you ever been good at something and when someone discovers that “thing”, you find that you’re always tapped to help? Maybe you volunteered one time to help plan an office holiday party, and now you’re the go-to planner? Maybe you helped organize a beloved outdoors adventure and are now asked to lead such efforts again? Maybe your cooking was so superb that you’re expected to host every party?
We all have strengths and passions that enable us to excel at certain tasks – tasks that often turn out to be fun, gratifying, and stimulating. These striking achievements may appear effortless but, no matter how much fun you have planning and executing a fabulous office party, leading a team of peers on an outdoors adventure, or cooking an elaborate meal for an event, it still entails a lot of planning, background research, long prep hours, and a strong commitment to see the task through.
Though tasks that we are passionate about and that align with our personal strengths make us undisputed contenders to support or even lead these efforts, oftentimes they may come at a personal cost. Through this series of posts, we aim to shed light on a similar phenomenon that affects all industries, including scholarly communications: diversity tax. We will highlight the impact of this “tax” and make recommendations for how individuals as well as organizations can minimize the burden on individual contributors while furthering their personal career paths.
In this first post, we will explain what diversity tax is, why we need to be aware of it, and how it negatively impacts those in underrepresented communities. The remaining posts in this four-part series will focus on individual contributors, and offer recommendations to those individual contributors, as well as their organizations and allies, on how to balance diversity-related activities with traditional career goals and ensure that they are recognized as an important aspect of career development — minimizing the negative impact while maximizing the engagement (and benefits) for all stakeholders.
“Diversity tax” refers to an unintentional burden placed on marginalized individuals to help address diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) issues and participate in these efforts. This phenomenon of “cultural taxation” was originally coined in 1994 by Amado M. Padilla, a psychology researcher at Stanford University, with reference to the burden placed on minority academics to pursue “ethnic-related” research. Terms such as “minority tax,” “Black tax,” or “brown tax” are also common to describe the specific burden placed on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), though we note that this phenomenon extends to other communities as well.
It has been heartening in recent years to see many organizations renew their commitment toward addressing issues of DEIA and creating more inclusive spaces. These policies often result in incredibly positive changes for both the individual stakeholders as well as the organization as a whole. However, oftentimes, these efforts are viewed as volunteer-driven passion projects done in addition to one’s day-to-day role. Many of the “volunteers” (or those asked to volunteer) are, therefore, the very people most affected by systemic issues in the first place, creating an unspoken obligation and pressure to contribute to or lead DEIA efforts, often without any formal recognition or compensation. These efforts may aim to be inclusive and representative, but, without a corresponding commitment to supporting and furthering these contributors’ careers, they can result in tokenization* — increasing, rather than decreasing, systemic inequities.
It can be difficult for individuals from these groups to talk about diversity tax. Many of us don’t want to risk DEIA efforts moving forward without direct input from those affected most. We don’t want to risk losing a seat at the table, or being seen as complaining or less than passionate about these issues.
As we seek to raise awareness about diversity tax for those affected as well as allies, we want to share with The Scholarly Kitchen readers an anonymous contribution from someone with personal experience of the toll it can take, based on their time at a large scholarly publishing organization.
“There have been several times in my career when I was one of very few BIPOC managers in my department. As a result, championing diversity, equity, and inclusion activities felt like it became an unspoken, uncredited part of my job. While I am passionate about these issues, it can become a burden to feel like you are the only one advocating for more inclusive policies. You become the token person in your department, expected to help with any project about diversity without being compensated or necessarily recognized for this extra work.
This issue especially came to a head for me when my organization put together a diversity task force to examine and improve multiple aspects of our organization. The diversity task force was initially made up of only very senior-level people which meant the members were mostly male and all White. When eventually the task force realized it needed to expand membership to be more inclusive, I was asked to join; me along with a couple of other lower-level BIPOC managers. While they had a positive intent trying to include outside voices in the group, I had very complicated feelings about it. It was never clear what my role was or why I was chosen, other than the fact that I am a person of color. But it was also a chance to potentially impact our organization’s strategy on DEI and gain some visibility with some of the most senior people in our organization. Sure, it was going to add more work to my already busy schedule, but I felt like, if I didn’t do this, then who could do it?
However, after the first meeting, it became apparent there was an obvious power imbalance among the group members. The senior level members dominated the meeting, and I didn’t feel empowered to speak up or contribute. At one point, I wanted to push back on something one of the executive level members said, but I got nervous about challenging a White executive I’d never met before. I ended up saying nothing. Which ultimately helps no one!
Looking back, I am sure the task force members would have been open to my contributions. But at the time, I felt like I was once again the token BIPOC manager asked to make diversity work a priority without being given the tools to actually make a difference.
Unfortunately, my experience with this kind of “diversity tax” isn’t unusual. But with some care and intention, it is possible to engage in meaningful work with diversity without overburdening certain employees.
We thank this anonymous contributor for bravely sharing their experience. For many of us who identify with one or more underrepresented groups, their testimony is all too real. Like them, we have experienced feelings of isolation in meetings, fear of speaking our truth while balancing the pressure to give voice to all underrepresented groups, the shame in asking for formal recognition for our efforts, and the guilt in saying “no”.
In the comments below, we invite thoughts, insights, and experiences from others that we could highlight or share on their behalf with the scholarly publishing community. Note that you can comment anonymously, if you choose.
* Tokenization is the act of creating tokenism, the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.