Wednesday, 11 May 2016

What's the 'Gold standard' for conference diversity approach

There's much debate currently on how to increase representation of minority groups at scientific conferences.  It's essential that the scientific community gets this right, as conferences are where many careers are made and by dis-advantaging one section of our community we are making it poorer.

So what's the best approach?  Is there a current gold standard that conferences can aspire to in order to maximise their representation of the diverse community that drives them?  This post is inspired by Jenny Martin's PLOS paper, and the hope has been to interpret it into actionable items for organisation committees.

Have a conference policy - A stated commitment by the conference organising committee to achieving representation of the whole community published before registrations open.  This should be disseminated and upheld by all involved in organising sessions and inviting speakers.

Have that policy underpinned by a code of conduct - Often now covered by the code of conduct of a sponsorship organisation, but good to have explicitly stated - what is the expectation on behavior within the conference, where can abuses of this be reported.

Collect and report the data - This is key to tracking and understanding issues in the community and to see if you are meeting your policy goals.  A continued commitment to this, supported by sponsor organisation, will enable long-term trends and improvements to be monitored.  Report gender statistics on Kat Holt's site gathering statistics for all Australian Conferences.  

Have a statement on accessibility - How accessible is your conference and venue to those with disabilities? Are there any special considerations that need to be made for a sector of your community?  Have you given them a contact to flag if they require additional assistance.

Provide childcare bursaries and funding for accessibility needs -  Budget for grants to increase participation from parents of young children and for any needs flagged by those requiring special assistance in attending the conference.

Provide networking session for minority groups - Where identified, provide networking session for those advocating for a particular minority representation.

Provide time in conference schedule for discussion of diversity issues - Diversity representation is a concern of all of the community and time in the main schedule should be made for discussion of these issues, update on progress and approach.  This may be in the form of a workshop session, or if appropriate through abstract submissions.

So would covering all these represent a 'gold standard' in a conference's approach to diversity and inclusion?  Or are their other things that could be included, please do add these to the comments below.  Are there any extra action items, for instance, that perhaps are only applicable to the physics community?