Science conferences need 'diversity programming,' prof says

A recent academic journal article suggests appointing a “Safety Officer” and rewarding participation in “diversity programming” to combat “gender inequity” at scientific conferences.

“Addressing gender inequity should be a primary consideration for all societies hosting conferences,” the authors declare. “Yet, many STEM conferences are struggling with gender biases and the understanding that gender inequity also applies to non-binary gender identities and intersectional diversity/overlapping social identities.”

Ten strategies to reduce gender inequality at scientific conferences” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers of Marine Science by Max Liboiron, a feminist Geography professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Samantha Oester, a PhD research fellow at George Mason University, and Stephanie Sardelis, who just graduated in May with an MA from Columbia University.

While “conferences organized by professional societies provide scientists and industry professionals with an excellent opportunity to disseminate their work,” the authors write that that “these opportunities are rarely distributed equally between women and men in science.”

[RELATED: UC-Riverside considering mandatory gender studies course]

To fight this, the academics present ten “interventions” that they believe would help “reduce participation barriers for women scientists at conferences.”

One strategy calls for an “honor system pledge” acknowledging the importance of gender equity, which complements another item recommending the adoption of “community principles and a Code of Conduct.”

The authors also suggest appointing a “safety officer” at each conference to assist attendees who feel they have been subjected to harassment or discrimination, an idea intended to make it easier for people to report such issues.

Other interventions include requiring everyone to wear a “lanyard” with their name on it, offering benefits to those who engage in “diversity programming,” and giving travel grants to women who wish to attend the conference.

[RELATED: App State requests gender-inclusivity disclaimer on papers]

Stephanie Sardelis, one of the co-authors of the paper, told Campus Reform that the paper was inspired by a workshop exploring ways to make the conference experience more accessible to diverse audiences that she participated in at the Society for Conservation Biology’s 4th International Marine Conservation Congress.

“I think the biggest issue with a lack of women at conferences is that a large proportion of students and professionals in academia are women,” she said. “If they are not represented equally at conferences, the entire community is immediately missing their valuable perspectives and is overall lesser for it.”

Further, Sardelis argued that increasing the number of female presenters at conferences is important because it would give role-models to younger scientists, noting that “it is also hugely formative for younger women climbing their own career ladders to be exposed to positive, successful female role models.”

“The take-away from this paper should be very positive—it was the result of a collaborative, supportive workshop where delegates came together to celebrate diversity and find solutions to improve participation of all demographics at conferences in the future,” she added.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen