How I became an ‘expert’ on Inclusivity and Diversity in publishing 

By Sara Bosshart, IWA Publishing Open Access Publisher

At the beginning of the year, I joined my first publishing committee (STM’s ECPC). Eager to dive in and do my part, I didn’t say ‘no’ when volunteers were asked to represent the committee on an upcoming panel at the London Book Fair on ‘Diversity and Inclusivity in Publishing: An Early Career Perspective’. Instead, I gave an evasive non-committal ‘if no one else more qualified, or with relevant experience can do it, sure…’. It turns out no one else felt more qualified, or felt they had the relevant expertise. It was up to me, the white female in a predominantly female industry to pretend I know something about inclusivity and diversity.

In hindsight, the fact that I knew nothing about so-called inclusivity speaks volumes about the degree to which this is an issue in our industry. Admittedly, I’ve only worked for small-to medium publishers, but still. I started by Googling ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’. Diversity is pretty straightforward. People are generally diverse. We have different genders, skin color, physical abilities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, personalities, etc. Inclusivity was the key - creating an environment that is representative of the diversity of the population and – the important part - ensuring that environment is one where anyone can not only succeed, but thrive.

So, is academic publishing diverse? My initial reaction was no. As a scientist, however, I know better than to take a single data point, so I asked around. It seemed like the general consensus is ‘not really’ but that it’s more of an inadvertent ‘problem’ than a deliberate one. Most publishing professionals are highly educated, liberal and not personally prejudiced against diversity. And are we inclusive? I was getting mixed responses to this one and just about when I was going to say ‘we’re trying’, a blog written by people of color was posted on the Scholarly Kitchen with numerous accounts of racial prejudice and bias. It seems the industry still has a long way to go. And more data is needed to really say. There are at least two initiatives currently that are trying to gather data about this – the Workplace Equity Project and the Inclusivity Group initiative by the Society for Scholarly Publishing.

"Thinking further, it just makes sense that people with different backgrounds and perspectives would bring new ideas and ways to go about things."

So why even care? Why is diversity/inclusivity important in the first place? Bottom line. It’s a moral imperative. But beyond that, it turns out there are countless studies extoling the benefits of diverse teams and mind-sets. One particular study (by McKinsey) showed that racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams by 35% and that teams where men and women are equal earn 41% more revenue. Furthermore, a recent preprint found that the “impact of scientific work is boosted when it features co-authors who have a diverse range of ethnicities.” Thinking further, it just makes sense that people with different backgrounds and perspectives would bring new ideas and ways to go about things.

Asking around, it became abundantly clear that while the impetus is there, no one really knows the best way to promote inclusivity. There’s been lots of talking and not much doing. So, in preparation for the panel, I spoke to someone who’s actually been ‘doing’ - Nancy Roberts, the founder of Business Inclusivity. Nancy suggested that the approach needs to be multifaceted. Publishers need to address the following questions – How do we let underrepresented groups know about publishing as an industry? How do we recruit beyond the current demographic? And once we hire diverse employees, how do we make them feel welcome and keep them?

To attract underrepresented groups, Nancy suggests raising awareness at school fairs, getting material to job councillors, recruiting at universities that don’t have a publishing program etc. We also need to rethink job descriptions/requirements. Does the role really require a PhD? An academic degree? Are we adding too many bullet points keeping in mind that women typically only apply for jobs where they feel they have 99% of the criteria, whereas men will apply if they have 60%. Paying attention to equal opportunity job experience is also a big one. Publishers need to find a way to support paid internship schemes, maybe consider interest-free loans for housing in expensive cities, grant scholarships for publishing courses.

Then there’s retention. And this is where inclusivity is key. Nancy suggests that initiation and mentorship programs can go a long way to making new employees feel welcome and to give them the necessary insights they need to start out in a new industry. The physical work environment is also an important factor – are all meeting rooms named after prominent white male scientists? Throw in some female alternatives or scientists of color. Lastly, think about the work-place social environment. Are all social events centred around drinking or eating out? Consider that some people may not drink, or might have to go home early after work, have a long commute, etc.

"That begs the question – why aren’t more publishers doing these things? Probably because like me, they just didn’t know. "

None of the advice I received seemed revolutionary. Most of it seemed like common sense. That begs the question – why aren’t more publishers doing these things? Probably because like me, they just didn’t know. Luckily inclusivity and diversity initiatives, workshops, talks, etc seem to be popping up all over the place. People are starting to listen and pay attention. Including me. Next time I’m asked to speak on a panel on inclusivity and diversity, my answer will be simple – yes!

Many thanks to my fellow committe members, Victoria Merrimen (Bioscientifica) and Fiona Counsell (Taylor & Francis) for organizing the panel with me and especially to our guest speakers Michiel Kolman (Elsevier), Melanie Dolochek (Society for Scholarly Publishing), Omar Jamshed (Royal Society). For more information on our LBF panel, see our interview in the LBF Academic Bulletin.

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