Image Credit: rawpixel on Unsplash
Image Credit: rawpixel on Unsplash

In recent years, there has been mounting awareness of an apparent lack of diversity in scholarly communication. Studies, such as the 2015 report on faculty diversity from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and a 2016 report on an international survey of scholarly publishing professionals titled “Demographics of scholarly publishing and communication professionals,” have revealed significant gaps in representation of different races, gender orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds in higher education and scholarly communication.

Reports of low diversity in scholarly communication have sparked discussion about what can be done to address the issues, including during Peer Review Week 2018, themed “Diversity and Inclusion in Peer Review.” Now organizations are coming together to further conversations about diversity and inclusion in academic publishing and to take action. In October of 2018, the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) announced the launch of The Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications (C4DISC). The Coalition consists of a group of 10 associations with members working in different areas of scholarly communications, including the Association of University Presses, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, the Canadian Association of Learned Journals, the Council of Science Editors, and the Library Publishing Coalition.

In the interview below, Melanie Dolechek, executive director of SSP, shares how the coalition got started and how they’re working to encourage greater diversity in scholarly publishing.

Q&A with Melanie Dolechek

Can you share how The Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications got started?

MD: In 2016 and 2017, the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) was seeing an increase in the discussion about diversity and inclusion in scholarly publishing among our membership. The survey conducted by Albert Greco, Robert M. Warton, and Amy Brand in 2015 really opened the eyes of professionals in our industry about the general lack of diversity in scholarly communications. As a result, we started bringing in more speakers to talk about diversity at our meetings and our committees started taking an interest in trying to address the issue. The Board eventually appointed a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to study the issue and develop resources for our members.

We were also seeing D&I topics showing up at other industry association meetings and we thought perhaps this is an area where we could be more effective if we collaborated with other societies and associations whose memberships are similar. We invited a number of leaders from industry associations for a Cross-Organizational Discussion in Boston, MA, at the SSP Annual Meeting in June 2017, to discuss our shared interests in addressing the challenges around diversity and inclusion, and to share information about initiatives currently underway by our individual organizations. After that meeting we agreed to continue our discussions and collaborate on possible projects. After a year or so of meeting, mostly by conference call, we eventually decided to informally organize as the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion Scholarly Communications (C4DISC).

Where there any other key outcomes from your initial meeting?

MD: During the initial meeting, we identified a number of areas to focus on after establishing a common objective in the form of a Joint Statement of Principles. These included conducting market research; providing training resources, best practices, toolkits, and documentation for our collective memberships; and establishing outreach programs, curricula, events, and publications.

The Coalition released a Joint Statement of Principles—can you give a brief overview of that statement for those unfamiliar?

MD: The Joint Statement of Principles was drafted to demonstrate the commitment of participating organizations to promoting involvement, innovation, and expanded access to leadership opportunities that maximize engagement across identity groups and professional levels. As you can imagine, it is quite an undertaking to get 10 organizations in lock-step, so our first order of business was to define our common objective and common understanding through this document. It has three sections: Acknowledgments, Definitions, and Principles.

The acknowledgements section covers why we should be making an effort to improve diversity and inclusion in scholarly communications. We didn’t attempt to quantify the magnitude of the problem as we don’t feel we have definitive data to reference. Instead we focused on the benefits of having a diverse workforce and why organizations should care about it.

We felt it was important to have established definitions—as diversity has many dimensions. The section attempts to explain what we’re taking about when we say “diversity” and “inclusion.”

And, the principles lay out what we are trying to accomplish broadly. They are the goals we’re collectively working toward at the broadest level.

Now that the Statement is published, the Coalition invites other organizations and companies to adopt the Joint Statement of Principles to show their support for and commitment to improving diversity and inclusion in scholarly communications. Organizations of any type can register their adoption of the Principles on the Coalition’s website.

In the C4DISC announcement you said, “working collectively, we can combine resources and have a greater impact”—can you speak to this? Why do you think a coalition is needed?

MD: The founding members of the Coalition have a reasonable amount of overlap in our membership, at least at the organizational level. In essence, we’re all speaking to the same audience. These issues are universal to our industry and we feel if we collaborate we’ll avoid duplicating effort and be able to target our resources towards projects for the greater good of our community. Several of the founding organizations as well as the adopting organizations have already established internal working groups to raise awareness as well as develop resources, training, and best practices. The value of the Coalition is being able to share that information across groups, thereby increasing dissemination and impact. Forming the Coalition sends the message to current and prospective scholarly communications professionals that as an industry, we’re committed to addressing these issues. It fosters cross-organizational collaboration by creating a place where even organizations/companies that are considered competitors can come together to make a difference.

Does the Coalition have plans for receiving and implementing feedback from the wider scholarly community?

MD: Yes, without a doubt. We’re in the process of determining how that will happen and what it means for an organization to “join the Coalition” as opposed to adopting the Statement of Principles. We hope to be able to share more information soon.

Can you share some more information about the proposals for international market research into diversity and inclusion in scholarly publishing that the Coalition is evaluating? What are your hopes for this sort of initiative?

MD: We don’t feel like we have the full picture when it comes D&I in our industry. While there have been several industry surveys that have helped create awareness of this issue, based on how they were conducted, they are subject to self-selection bias.

So, we issued an RFP for an international market research study into D&I in scholarly publishing. The survey will be repeated every 3 years for 10 years and will be global in scope to the extent possible. We plan to share the results publicly and write an academic study of the topic. The data will be collected from organizations rather than individuals, hopefully giving us a more complete picture of the workforce demographics.

The study will serve as a benchmark or a baseline measure for progress. We hope to gain a better understanding of the data being collected by organizations as well. The survey will include all types of publishers (for-profit, not-profit, government, library, university) as well as publishing suppliers.

Desired outcomes of this research are:

  • To establish a baseline measure (quantitative and qualitative) of diversity in scholarly publishing - by job type, level, organization type, geography, salary (first in a series of regular surveys/studies) - as well as awareness and perception of diversity and inclusion in our industry, to enable longitudinal analysis
  • To understand what demographic/diversity data is currently being collected by organizations
  • To collect a mix of rigorous quantitative and qualitative data that can be evaluated over time

A project of this scale is not inexpensive, as one might imagine, so we’re currently in the processes of developing a fundraising plan. If organizations are interested in sponsoring the survey, we encourage them to contact us.

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