Science, all inclusive

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Science  14 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6249, pp. 671
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad1421

After years of public leadership around fairness, equity, and diversity in science and engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its journal Science recently have been questioned about this leadership. AAAS is, after all, the organization that stopped all annual meetings in the “Jim Crow” South in the 1950s; that, at great expense, pulled its meeting out of Chicago to respect the ban on meeting in states that did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (1979); that held the first fully accessible professional meeting in Boston (1976), long before passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and that, in 1972, established the Committee on Opportunities in Science to advise what is now a mostly female AAAS Board of Directors on diversity issues. Long before public support of the rights of LGBTQ individuals, AAAS passed a nondiscrimination resolution (1975). The values upon which this organization is based not only remain intact, but continue to strengthen through dialogues with the scientific community and through actions that advance science for the benefit of all.


“How do we turn workplaces…into places where…civility and freedom from harassment are the norms?”

Last month, a letter to AAAS and Science leadership* noted recent incidents in which content in Science and Science Careers reinforced damaging stereotypes about underrepresented groups in science, and suggested greater scrutiny of published and posted material. Indeed, as Science's Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt pointed out, the journal regrets these unfortunate incidents and is pursuing better oversight strategies, including diversity sensitivity training for staff. While Science looks internally to make improvements, AAAS continues to look outward to its society colleagues to discuss larger structural barriers to quality and diversity in science.

Those, like me, who work directly on these barrier issues, have focused on keeping track of the numbers, and use increases in the participation of women and minorities as indicators of reduced obstacles. There has been an expectation that a “critical mass” might promote a welcoming climate and culture. Although this is happening in some scientific fields and institutions, it is not the norm. Other advocates for inclusion are looking at the science itself, questioning whether producing the best science should include an awareness of diversity when considering the way that work is done, the scientific questions asked, or the research agendas set.

The science community prizes objectivity, but research indicates that this isn't necessarily reflected in the behavior and choices of scientists. Stereotypes and implicit bias can infect everyone, causing people to first be seen as minorities or women rather than as scholars, peers, and colleagues. Disability or gender identity is recognized before ability. How do we turn workplaces, institutions, and departments into places where expectations of civility and freedom from harassment are the norms?

Yes, leadership matters, and leaders need to find out how different groups experience their departments and institutions. Leaders must look at the policies, structures, and behaviors in workplaces, not just learned responses to these. Are people being forced into “nowin” choices? A two-career couple who elects to put his career advancement above hers may be responding to the sad reality that he will likely be offered a higher salary than she will. Unfortunately, for them, this may be a rational decision—not a fair one, but understandable. Who is watching to ensure that negotiations for salary and research start-up packages don't leave women with less than they deserve? Gender and minority awareness and fairness must be treated in the same way as research integrity, including discussion of bystander responses to unfairness and abuse.

The larger science community must examine all its institutions and workplaces in light of today's changing cultural, educational, and business landscape, accepting responsibility to call out unfairness whenever and wherever it appears. We can only address collective global challenges if we disconnect from the structures of the past that are hobbling the ability to move forward together.

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