Diversity, equity and inclusion: a conversation

The Source
By: Sowmya Swaminathan , Wed Sep 6 2023
Sowmya Swaminathan

Author: Sowmya Swaminathan

Earlier this year, Springer Nature published its first diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) report, titled “Insights into diversity, equity & inclusion in the global research community”. The report examines how diversity, equity, and inclusion are understood in the research community, identifying barriers to achieving  greater DEI, and highlighting opportunities for change. In this interview, Sowmya Swaminathan talks about the importance of DEI in the research community, the recently published report, and how Springer Nature is advancing DEI.

Could you please tell us a bit about your role in Springer Nature?

I lead Springer Nature’s DEI efforts within our Research publishing activities across our journals and books publishing programmes.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion* is one of Springer Nature’s highest strategic priorities with two main streams – an internal focus on DEI within our organization, and an external stream, working with our research, education, and professional communities to champion DEI in the communities we serve. As such, we are committed to integrating DEI values into how we work and what we create and publish – across our content, products, platforms, and services. Some ways in which we are translating these values in the context of research publishing include diversifying our networks of authors, reviewers, editors, amplifying under-represented voices and perspectives, championing inclusive and equitable publishing practices, and engaging and collaborating across our communities and with the broader publishing industry for collective progress. You can find out more about the work we are undertaking in a piece we published earlier this year on Springer Nature’s evolving DEI programme and through our Springer Nature DEI page.

Why is DEI relevant for the research community?

Research output and quality is growing in many parts of the world, most notably, in China and India. We are also seeing growth in societally-relevant research i.e., research aiming to address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the Global South. So today, unlike say, 30 years ago, when research output was largely dominated by Western nations, we have growing geographic and cultural diversity across the global research community. Early Career Researchers (graduate students and postdocs) are the most diverse generation yet. These are our future authors, reviewers, editors and they are telling us that diversity and inclusion matters. So, creating research and publishing environments where all can flourish and contribute has to be a priority for everyone involved in the broader research enterprise. This goes all the way from structuring research environments so as to ensure the dignity and safety of all, to considering how research is funded and what types of research questions are prioritized. And then, of course, considering how research studies are designed and communicated with inclusive principles in place, and how research is assessed, and what types of research are valued and recognized.

Recently, Springer Nature published its first DEI report, offering insights into how researchers around the world experience DEI. Can you please discuss the significance it may have and what were you hoping to achieve through its publication?

The report was inspired by our commitment to understanding structural barriers and raising awareness of these issues in the broader landscape. It reported on the perceptions and experiences of nearly 5000 researchers through an online survey and series of interviews with early career researchers. The headlines underscore the quite varied experience of researchers from underrepresented groups, with diversity initiatives not really working and with a high incidence of under-reported harassment, bullying and discrimination in the research environment. Equally troubling is the disconnect between early career and senior researchers’ experience, very clearly showing that we still have a long way to go toward creating safe, inclusive environments for rising researchers. To deliver a diverse and inclusive global research culture, it is critical for all researchers – especially those from dominant groups – to contribute to changing the research and publishing environment. 

How does Springer Nature see itself playing a role in advancing DEI?

We believe that we have a crucial role to play on many fronts and much of what I list below was also identified as opportunities within the recently released DEI survey report. We are committed to amplifying underrepresented voices and perspectives, and to raising awareness and advocating for change within the broader research ecosystem and the publishing industry. Working with large, global networks of researchers as authors, editors and reviewers during the publishing process means that we have a responsibility to reflect the changing demographics of the research community in our networks and ensure that we provide a trustworthy and bias-free process. Embedding inclusive practices within our publishing programmes and supporting our editors and reviewers with information and training is another priority area for us.  

We also have a number of initiatives that work directly within the research community to advance DEI including in the context of the Nature Conferences, Nature Awards, Nature Masterclasses. Working with industry initiatives like the Joint Commitment for action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing is another way we aim to move forward on these values in our sector.

And as part of our wider publishing strategy we are committed to the transition to open access and science, ensuring that all researchers regardless of discipline, background or location have access to and can publish research. We have a number of solutions to support authors from transformative agreements (TAs) with institutions and countries, to author waivers.  We also work through industry consortia like Research 4 Life to ensure access to research published in Springer Nature journals in low and middle income countries.

Finally, why is DEI important to you?

As an immigrant, I have studied, lived and worked in India, US, Germany and the UK. I have had first-hand experience of being on the outside and having to grapple with a new culture as a young person finding their way through their education and training. It can be overwhelming, isolating and often, not conducive to bringing out one’s best potential. I have also experienced diverse, highly inclusive, and supportive environments and seen the difference that can make for individual and collective impact. Emerging research has shown the benefits of diverse environments when combined with inclusive practices. So, to my mind, diversity, psychological safety, and inclusion are critical ingredients for innovation, for individual and collective success. I believe we need to keep this mindset front and center as we consider other transformations of research practice and climate, including open research, research integrity and research assessment.

*At Springer Nature, we want everyone to be able to thrive and contribute at their best, to create a diverse and inclusive culture with equitable opportunities for merit-based success. How we define diversity, equity and inclusion as an organization is outlined below.   

“Diversity encompasses all the ways in which people can be different. That includes visible differences like race and ethnicity, gender, and age, as well as invisible aspects like our cultural background, class, religion, sexual orientation, disability (can be visible or invisible), language, cognitive differences, or life experiences. These differences influence our way of thinking and our perspective. Equity is the fair treatment, access, and opportunity for all people by striving to identify and eliminate systemic or individual barriers that prevent the full participation and engagement of some groups and individuals. Improving equity involves increasing fairness within processes by recognising institutional and environmental systems of injustice and oppression as well as unequal distribution of resources. Inclusion means creating an organisational culture where people can bring their differences to work and thrive professionally; where they feel that they belong and are valued, even if they’re different from the majority. Inclusion means making sure that everybody is heard and able to participate. It also means perceiving people individually to treat them equitably.”

Find out more about Springer Nature’s “Insights into diversity, equity and inclusion in the global research community” report by reading and downloading the paper.

Sowmya Swaminathan

Author: Sowmya Swaminathan

Dr. Sowmya Swaminathan is Director, External DEI, Research at Springer Nature and a member of Springer Nature’s DEI Council. She leads Springer Nature’s efforts to bring a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens to research publishing activities across the journals and books publishing programme. She was previously Head of Editorial Policy & Research Integrity for Nature Portfolio where she was responsible for policies and initiatives that advance transparency, integrity, open research practices and inclusion in scholarly publishing. She began her career in scholarly publishing as an editor at Nature Cell Biology where she subsequently served as Chief Editor for 6 years. Prior to entering scholarly publishing, Sowmya completed her PhD at the University of Chicago and carried out postdoctoral training at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany.

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