Science benefits from diversity – and as publishers we have a role to play

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Research Publishing
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Author: Alison Mitchell and Jessica Gedamu

In the UK, there has been long-term public scrutiny of the publishing industry’s lack of diversity – it is a profession often criticised for being made up of a particularly narrow demographic. When bookcareers.com undertook a salary survey last year, of the more than 1,000 people working in UK publishing who responded, more than 90% classified themselves as white British and 84.6% were female. And yet, while the publishing sector is well-known for attracting a female work force this doesn’t always translate into a proportionate number of women in senior positions. 

Science, too, has been described as having a ‘diversity problem’ with  too few women and ethnic minorities completing PhDs, heading research groups and progressing to senior levels of academia. This leads to untapped potential which is not being harnessed to solve research challenges, and which – as highlighted in a recent Nature editorial –can also affect outcomes: improving the participation of under-represented groups can, in fact, produce better research.

 

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There is an imperative for us as publishers to find ways to address any problem that is standing in the way of great research.  The need for greater diversity in the research community is surely one such problem. And we are in a better position to identify the challenges and collaborate on solutions when we are aware of – and acting upon – a need for greater diversity and a more inclusive culture within our own workplace.

As an industry, we publishers need to acknowledge research which shows that companies who address diversity and create genuinely inclusive workplace environments for their employees do better than their peers. Neuroleadership Journal shares research showing that for innovation-focused firms in the S&P 1500, having women in senior leadership roles led to an average of over $40 million in increased value over 15 years (Dezsö & Ross, 2012). Among 500+ US companies, every percentage point increase in racial diversity within an employee population could be correlated with a 9% increase in revenues – even while controlling for establishment size (Herring, 2009).

"As an industry, we publishers need to acknowledge research which shows that companies who address diversity and create genuinely inclusive workplace environments for their employees do better than their peers."

But bringing different people into the workplace is only one side of the coin – creating an inclusive environment in which people can thrive at work and have every chance to pursue their career is the other, equally important, side. Workplaces that are both diverse and inclusive benefit from a 12% increase in discretionary effort, a 20% increase in intent to stay and ~50% improvement in team collaboration and commitment (CEB, 2012).

For Springer Nature, working towards an even more inclusive and diverse workplace creates opportunities: it contributes to increasing employee engagement and allows our people to perform their best. At the same time, we can better support the research communities we work with in their own efforts to raise the bar on diversity and inclusion.

In 2017 Springer Nature launched a diversity and inclusion strategy, bringing in Jessica a Director of Diversity and Inclusion in early 2018, tasked with addressing diversity and inclusion inside our organisation of 13,000 staff in more than 50 countries. To start our D&I journey, we are initially focused on improving diversity in gender and internationality in the global senior management of the company to make this senior group more representative of our wider workforce. Like many of our peers, we have proportionally fewer women in leadership roles than in other levels of the company, and the international composition of our senior leaders does not yet reflect our international distribution of staff or revenues around the world.

"we are initially focused on improving diversity in gender and internationality in the global senior management of the company to make this senior group more representative of our wider workforce. Like many of our peers, we have proportionally fewer women in leadership roles than in other levels of the company"

To drive progress in these focus areas, we will roll out training on inclusive leadership and unconscious bias, and provide guidance to structure the recruitment process in a way that fosters diversity and prevents bias. We will pilot two mentoring programs and dive deeper into data to define meaningful KPIs to track and measure our progress. Earlier in June we launched our first employee network, Springer Nature Pride, for LGBT+ employees and their allies. We are happy to support employees in setting up other networks around shared identities.

These are important steps to initiate change, but it is not just what we do internally to support our own workforce that matters. Given the importance of publication and other academic activities including peer review and conference participation to academic success and visibility, several recent studies have called for journals and other stakeholders to take steps to ensure against bias and promote representation of women and underrepresented minorities. Across the whole of Springer Nature, our people interact with over 1 million researchers and authors each year, coordinating the activity of around 90,000 editors and 700,000 peer reviewers, and meeting with many others at conferences and symposia. Editorial boards and peer reviewers make judgements and decisions about the type of research that gets published. Our conference organisers arrange more than 30 conferences each year, working with panellists and keynote speakers. With such a large network, we can positively contribute to improvements in diversity and inclusion in science – and we take this responsibility seriously.

"Given the importance of publication and other academic activities including peer review and conference participation to academic success and visibility, several recent studies have called for journals and other stakeholders to take steps to ensure against bias and promote representation of women and underrepresented minorities."

In response to the large body of work which reveals persistent gender disparities in distribution of research funding, institutional hiring, allocation of institutional resources, first and last authorship on papers, representation of academic editors and peer reviewers in journal processes, and representation of speakers at conferences, Nature decided to tackle this head-on and last year set up its own Diversity task force, chaired by the then Editor-in-Chief Sir Philip Campbell. The task force is seeking ways in which Nature itself can make changes to the ways it works with the community, which can make a positive and material difference with a particular focus on changes which can address the general sense that things are not moving quickly enough (as explored in this Nature editorial). The work is ongoing, with new Nature Editor-in-Chief Magdalena Skipper now in place as Chair of the task force, and includes workstreams looking at minimizing the gender gap in areas such as conference organisation, authorship of commissioned content, peer reviewers as well as work to ensure that issues that impact minority and disadvantaged populations are better represented in commissioned content in Nature. In some areas we feel very encouraged.

These two angles on diversity and inclusion, from a workforce and a publishing perspective, are inevitably connected. Ensuring an increasingly diverse workforce and a genuinely inclusive environment, we will be best able to play our role in support diversity and inclusion in the wider research community.

As a progressive publisher, we have a responsibility to do so.

 

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Author: Alison Mitchell and Jessica Gedamu

Alison Mitchell is the Managing Director, Journals at Springer Nature

Alison Mitchell joined Nature as a News & Views editor in 1996, and has since held a number of editorial and publishing positions including launch editor of Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology and Publishing Director for the Academic Journals portfolio. Alison now oversees journals across Springer Nature.

Jessica Gedamu is Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion. 

Jessica joined Springer Nature in January 2018 with the passion to drive Diversity and Inclusion with the company. For the past six years, she has been working in D&I as a consultant, trainer/facilitator and project leader and has supported companies in various industries on their way towards more diversity in leadership.



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