DiversifyEEB: Introducing a new resource for ecology and evolutionary biology

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!

Gina’s post:

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!

24 thoughts on “DiversifyEEB: Introducing a new resource for ecology and evolutionary biology

  1. I’ve no doubt your statistics are spot on! What I am curious about though is the generational effect. The issue of women and other minorities in academia really did not come to the fore until about the 1980s. As senior investigators tend to receive these awards, this could in part explain the disparity- i.e., only very recently have women ascended to the top of their respective scientific pursuits.

    If that is the case, then perhaps this disparity will self-correct with the passage of more time?

    • I considered this by looking at the % women that have won the Dobie and ASN awards since 2000: between 2000 and 2015, the Dobzhansky is 18.5%, between 2000 and 2013, the ASN is ~36%. Interestingly, the student awards are right at 50%. The ASN presidential (for established folk) is pretty bad: 14.8% overall, and ~21% from 2000-2013. (Clearly I need to update to 2015).

      In my opinion, the disparity will correct only if we continue to be aware of the problem. I have seen enough data showing unconscious bias on the part of both men and women (http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474.abstract) to think we need to continuously check our thought processes, whether we are considering undergrads, grads, post-docs, faculty, etc.

  2. And now it’s up to 475 entries! Good to see it taking off.

    Out of curiosity, I glanced at some of the fields. The list so far is a good mix by career stage and field. About 125 post-tenure faculty, 150 pre-tenure faculty, 150 postdocs, 50 research scientists. It’s about 190 people doing both ecology & evolution, 170 ecologists, 100 evolutionary biologists. Good mix of first-choice subfields from the dropdown list.

  3. It’s a great initiative ! Thanks for all the work you are putting into maintaining the list.

    For the french speakers around here, there is a somewhat related initiative to increase the number of female experts interviewed in the media; You can self-nominate on the http://expertes.eu/ website.

    In both cases, the answer “there aren’t enough qualified female speakers” on the Female Conference Speaker Bingo Card is becoming less and less acceptable🙂

    • The bingo card is a sad reflection of the things I have heard whether it is a women or minority speaker or potential job candidate. Thanks for acknowledging this. We truly need to move forward on these issues as we have an important role to play in society. I am encouraged by this larger post.

      • I am glad to read you are encouraged! My overall perception of the field (thus here is my bias) is that most people really do care about this topic, but may not know how best to address or confront issues of representation. I hope this list gets the ball rolling or helps keep it rolling!

  4. Does anyone know something about the success of “Anne’s List”? Do people really use it to find speakers, etc.? I think it is a good idea, but I am not sure if I would use it rather than just asking someone to suggest a female (or other minority) speaker.
    And how will you determine your success? I am just curious, because I think it is a tricky endeaver.
    “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?”

    It is great that you also encourage minorities to join the list, however to what are you actually referring when you writing “underrepresented minorities”. Based on your text it sounds like everybody besides straight white males or do I get the wrong impression?

    • I use Anne’s list all the time when looking to balance out our Neuro seminar series, especially when looking for a speaker that is not in my immediate area of expertise. So it is a great resource that’s proven useful for us.

      I see no downside to having these resources created and disseminated, do you?

      • Well, the fact that this list is exclusionary by definition should quite obviously be seen as a downside if you give it even a moment’s thought.

        We live in the Internet age, people. There’s absolutely no reason to create an exclusionary list like this.

        Instead of intentionally saying that non-disabled straight white males who do not identify as a minority are ineligible to sign up (or implying that they would be unwelcome), if you actually care about real equality, then convert the list into a “register”, where EEB scientists of all ethnicities, genders, etc. can sign up and identify as whatever they please. If you’re looking to add a woman to a conference panel to balance things out, then all you have to do is apply an Excel filter to that column to hide the men. Easy peasy.

        But excluding people from the list (or encouraging them not to sign up) from the beginning is clearly antithetical to the goal of true gender and racial equality.

      • @Cledge

        “excluding people from the list from the beginning is clearly antithetical to the goal of true gender and racial equality.”

        It depends on how you want to define “true” equality: equality of opportunity or equality of outcome.

        What you object to is one specific, pretty small, inequality of opportunity. But since I cannot think of even a single time I heard organizers say “gee, we need some more white males to balance the speaking opportunities”, then it is very clear the balance of all dimensions of opportunity are unequal and in favor of white men, resulting in an unequal, unfair outcome.

        Since I cannot undo 1000s of years of history with the wave of a wand to create perfectly equal equality of opportunity along all dimensions, I believe the “level playing field of meritocracy based on equality of opportunity independent of ones race or gender” is a distraction.

        To me the ultimate equality is equality of outcome, which would have panel speakers within rough balance with the proportions in which they exist in the profession (or better in society at large).

        And here’s the thing. Once you acknowledge inequality of outcomes, you either have to acknowledge net inequality of opportunity, or net inequality of ability, and I’m going to go with the first choice!

        So I hereby solemnly swear that once the equality of outcome is disfavoring white men, I will be looking ways to tip the balance across dimensions of equality of opportunity, and I will be the first to start a list for us (I’m assuming you are a white male too but I could be wrong) to achieve equality of outcome for white men. There’s a meta form of equality for you (which ties back to focusing on equality of outcome). But I’m not exactly on the edge of my seat.

      • I think there are plenty of lists around that are inclusionary. i.e. Professional society directories, etc. The idea here is that this is a resource to help folks interested in diversifying conference panels and seminar series by providing a convenient place to look for alternatives to the usual lineups (ie white men). If you feel like creating a registry that is inclusive of all the people, with handy Excel filters to sort by sex and race, would be a useful resource to your field, then you could spend the time and energy organize one yourself!

      • I fail to see how a list like this provides equality of opportunity when it intentionally excludes people.

        Unknown (female and minority) PhD students get their names listed here among some of the best scientists around. The list is essentially free advertising that you are forbidding a subset of individuals from partaking in. That’s not “equality of opportunity”. To the extent that the list will be effective, it disadvantages lesser-known white male scientists, and it also disadvantages closeted homosexuals, women and minorities who are ethically opposed to being listed, etc.

        In addition, you will forgive me if I am a cynic when it comes to already-tenured white males encouraging the use of exclusionary tactics such as this. (Note that the following comments are not directed toward you–I don’t know you–but toward a trend that I’ve noticed of white males who have already made it in academia.)

        If you’re a tenured white male arguing that there’s a diversity problem in the upper echelons of STEM (and yes, there is), and you think that the way to solve it is specifically to ~exclude~ the next generation of white cis-het able-bodied males from things, then basically what you’ve done is climb up to your current position based on patriarchy/racism/ableism and then kick away the ladder.

        Now it’s a ladder that never should have existed in the first place, but in this case, the real moral step would be to put one’s own academic position back up for reconsideration since it was partially earned because of patriarchy. I don’t blame someone if they aren’t willing to willing to do this, but if not, then:

        1) They shouldn’t imagine that they’re personally committing very much to diversification, since promoting it doesn’t actually cost them anything. (In fact, it benefits their image.)

        2) They shouldn’t expect the next generation of white male scientists to applaud being excluded from things, when what many of us want is real equality where everyone is judged strictly by their merits.

        My two cents as someone who is ineligible for this list and who could not start a list of individuals who look like me for fear of being branded a sexist/racist, when in fact I am staunchly in favour of inclusion/equality.

      • “I fail to see how a list like this provides equality of opportunity when it intentionally excludes people”

        I didn’t say this one aspect provided equality of opportunity. I said it was an inequality of opportunity designed to outweigh many other inequalities of opportunity in the other direction to achieve some semblance of equality of outcome.

        And yes, as a white male tenured professor, my current position is a result of some mixture of ability and unearned advantage, and I’ll never be able to fully sort out that proportion, which stings a bit. But just because I wish it weren’t true doesn’t mean I buy into the myth that we have a level playing field today. Nor that we should not try to make the field more level than it is.

  5. Hi! PUI Physics prof here. I like this idea for a list of diverse speakers for invited talks etc. At my institution we don’t have a seminar budget so we use Google Hangouts to have a speaker give a talk. Upsides: no travel and potentially large audience if more institutions join the Hangout. Here’s our seminar page: http://faculty.uca.edu/wvslaton/GHOSeminar.html

    • Out of curiosity, how’s attendance? I’m curious because I recently had the chance to give a visiting seminar at one university that was simultaneously broadcast to several others. It’s part of an ongoing seminar series that this consortium of different universities runs. But even though the video feed system was slick and professional, attendance was much better in the room I was actually standing in than in any of the places where people were just watching the video feed. Some of the video feed locations only had 1-2 attendees. But obviously, there could be lots of reasons for low attendance and it might be an apples-to-oranges comparison with your situation. IIRC, all the locations getting video feeds were research universities that have various on-site seminar series. If you’re already regularly attending one or more onsite seminar series with physically-present visiting speakers, maybe there’s less attraction to making time for a video feed seminar.

  6. Very glad you’re putting together DiversifyEEB.

    One thought on why women are less represented in awards (particularly early career ones), in addition to all the other ones you mentioned: Women, on average, face greater time constraints, due to the biology of reproduction. When deciding whether to self-nominate, we have to decide if it’s worth it. This past year I was asked and encouraged to self-nominate for an award. But I had to make a choice: I could spend a couple days putting together the application package. Or I could use those two days to work on a manuscript. Manuscript has guaranteed payoff. Award has potential payoff of unknown worth. I didn’t apply. With two young children, I simply don’t have “extra time” to be applying for awards.

    This is obviously just an anecdote, and there are other pervasive forces at work. But I think it’s worth considering if women are making reasonable cost-benefit choices that are resulting in fewer awards.

    • I agree, the difference in award #’s is likely to be a multifaceted issue. I would also encourage you to apply for things! Sometimes all they require is a fancy-schmancy letter from someone senior, a CV, and copies of manuscripts. (Forgive me if I sound like I’m not listening, I’m on a mission to ramp up applications from women for awards, etc). I suspect such recognition really may matter later to uni admin types, especially when one is trying to negotiate higher salary.

      • I’m happy to be encouraged to apply for things.🙂 The award in question is the ASN’s Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigators Award. I was planning to self-nominate, but the materials they wanted were equivalent to applying for a job. Definitely 2 or so days of my time (since I was not applying for jobs that the time — it likely would have been faster if I had material to re-use).

        Another thing I personally struggle with is first-author manuscripts to send around for these sorts of things. I had one baby as a grad student and one as a postdoc and that has definitely slowed my publication output down by a lot. For awards that are time-since-PhD limited (e.g. “nominees must be no more than 3 years post-PhD”), my slowness in getting pubs out means I won’t be eligible for many of them by the time I have publications that would make me competitive. I imagine this must be a problem for biological moms generally, but I don’t have any numbers or anything else to point to.

  7. The bingo card is intriguing. I always endeavor to have at least 50% women for any symposium I organize- and usually, it happens- but requires I invite more women than men initially to get that percentage. The card is a good reminder that as men, we need to strive to include women!

  8. Pingback: Introducing a new resource for ecology and evolutionary biology « Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!

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