Note from Meg: This is a guest post by Gina Baucom, a colleague of mine and my partner in creating DiversifyEEB. Here, Gina has written a guest post describing the initiative. We’re hoping to follow up with more posts in the future!
In 2013, just after I arrived and set up my new lab at UM, a friend posted a short comment on Facebook lamenting the lack of female representation in the big ecology and evolution awards. I took a look at the young investigator awardee lists from the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) and the American Society of Naturalists (ASN) and was stunned: less than 10% of the awardees of the SSE Dobzhansky prize since its inception in 1981 were female. The ASN Young Investigator prize had a greater but still not equal representation of women awardees (28%)*. I found these numbers to be especially problematic given that there seem to be a lot of women in evolution and ecology. For example, while in graduate school (2000-2006), at least 50% of my student colleagues were female.
So why haven’t more women been awarded the top prizes in Ecology and Evolution**? Are women not willing to nominate themselves, or to ask someone else to nominate them? While this explanation could be true, I’m suspicious of arguments that place the responsibility for a problem at the door of the group with the disadvantage. I prefer a different argument. Perhaps we tell more men to nominate themselves for awards compared to women, and unconsciously promote them for various things — leadership roles, talks, expeditions, etc — with the end result of this implicit endorsement leading to more experience which ultimately puts other groups at a relative disadvantage. Just a thought. Maybe one worth chewing on for a bit.
One way that we can address unequal representation in awards is to ensure that women and other disadvantaged groups (e.g., underrepresented minorities, those with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA community) receive adequate time in the public sphere. For example, an important component of learning to be an effective scientist is engaging an audience, i.e., learning how to give a dynamic presentation that excites the audience about your potential and your scientific contribution. Unfortunately, there are fewer invited talks by women in evolutionary biology symposia, meaning that women are not as publicly visible as men at conferences. How about we take note of our departmental seminar series. If you count the number of women and/or minorities giving talks for your department, would it be approximately equal to the number of men or white men? Interestingly, while some work shows that the gender of conference organizers influences the gender of the presenters, other reports show that women are asked to present in equal frequency but turn down opportunities more than men.
Recently I was asked by a senior very awesome and famous male scientist for a list of awesome female and/or minority researchers who might be willing to present at a small conference that was partially funded by NSF. I thought this was absolutely great, and sent him a small list poste-haste. What would have been even better, however, is if I had a list with more extensive picks at the ready. To address this need, Meg Duffy, my colleague in the EEB department***, suggested that we develop something akin to Anne’s List, a public list of female researchers in neuroscience willing to give conference talks and departmental seminars.
This idea has now become DiversifyEEB, a list of female and/or underrepresented minority researchers in Ecology and Evolution that we will maintain and disseminate to EEB programs. The list is geared toward people who have already gotten their PhD and are at the postdoctoral research associate stage or beyond. We are relying on a self-nomination process, because, while suggestions are helpful, we think it best as ‘opt-in’ only. Some women and/or minorities may not be comfortable being highlighted by their gender, race or minority status and we very much want to respect that.
While the idea for this list was stimulated by seeing the low representation of women scientists that have received awards, our intent is to approach the list in an intersectional way. Minorities are at excruciatingly low numbers in our field and likely experience many of the same issues as well as the potential for double jeopardy if they are both female and part of a minority group. Further, there is strikingly little discussion of those with disabilities within EEB. In addition, members of the LGBTQIA community are in the minority in science.
The goal of DiversifyEEB is to provide a list of women and/or underrepresented minority speakers to those who are organizing seminar series and conferences. The list can be downloaded as an excel or tab-delimited file and sorted or searched as needed. We included first a general field of study in Ecology and Evolution (defined by the NSF classification form) followed by subfields of study that each person can enter themselves. We included fields about racial and ethnic minority status along with a free-form field so entrants can disclose as much information as they are comfortable in a public space. Webpages, email addresses and twitter handles are also included in the list. Because we elected for inclusion over a strict ontology of terms, users will need to search the scientific topic of interest using the subfield categories and then do more research on their own. Thus, we envision this as a broad rather than specific tool. In other words, it is not a complete solution to a complex problem, but the hope is that it will ease the effort of organizers who are trying to address equal representation of women and minority presenters.
DiversifyEEB went live on a Thursday evening, and in less than 24 hours there were almost 200 entries. Forty-eight hours later the list had over 300 entries and it appears to be going strong. Public reaction to this tool has been incredibly supportive, and we have made updates and changes following suggestions from the twitterati and others. We will be doing some manual curation once entries slow and then standardize some fields (e.g., country). After wide dissemination, our next goal will be to determine if it’s having an effect — are we reinforcing a culture of inclusion in EEB, and how well does this list aid in that endeavor?
[Postscript added by Meg: We made changes to the form over the weekend in response to feedback. If you filled it out before Sunday and want to fill it out again with the additional fields, go ahead and do so. We will delete the older of any duplicate entries.]
*It looks as if these trends may be changing post-2013. Hooray!
**This problem extends beyond the field of EEB.
***Meg and I have been discussing this idea for at least a year but hadn’t had time to follow through. Recently, the UM EEB Department voted to include a section on our annual faculty reports where we can list our work in promoting ‘diversity, inclusion, and equity’ in science. This was the push we needed to get the idea enacted. Go Blue!