18 August 2016

Laying a Foundation for Diversity in Earth and Space Sciences

Posted by Margaret Leinen

Carol Finn, Eric Davidson and I stated in a recent post “Why Building Diversity in the Earth and Space Sciences Matters,” that “we cannot live up to all that our mission promises if the Earth and space science community is not representative of humanity.” AGU recognizes the important role we play and the obligation we have as an organization to not only ensure a workplace climate for Earth and space scientists that is inclusive, respectful, and free from bias and discrimination but to also foster a community that reflects the diverse public we serve. This isn’t a problem we can solve on our own though. Please share your ideas on areas and programs we, and others in the community, can develop or improve to increase diversity and promote inclusion for all AGU members and our peers in the ESS community, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, cultural identity, disability, or socioeconomic status. I’d love to hear from you in the comments or by email.

Efforts to build diversity within our community are not limited to AGU’s institutional efforts; our members, peers, and outside organizations have undertaken their own projects to understand and improve diversity within their respective fields. Earlier this year AGU’s Cryosphere Executive Committee looked at available gender diversity data to determine how females were represented across their awards and honors. Educational institutions have created programs to foster inclusion, for example, the Accessible Earth capstone at the University of Arizona providing a fully-accessible program for all students to do fieldwork and an initiative at Stony Brook University to encourage African-American representation in the geosciences.

To give you an idea of what we’ve done already, here are some of the steps AGU has taken to lay the groundwork for increased diversity:

The AGU Honors and Recognition Committee has been working to reinforce and support diversity of nominees and awardees within AGU’s honors and recognition program. The Committee produced a number of resources for nominators and judges, some in partnership with the Earth Science Women’s Network. These resources show how to avoid subconscious and conscious factors and biases that can affect diversity in the workforce and in award selection by keeping them top of mind. Since emphasizing these practices we’ve seen AGU’s newly elected female Fellows jump from 12% to 18% in 2015 and 2016—much closer to parity for female Earth and space scientists in the experienced stages of their careers when members are typically nominated as Fellows. In 2015, women made up about 27% of our membership and I’m proud to share that this year 30% of Union Medals, Awards, and Prizes honorees were female.

We have developed programs that encourage more diverse representation of students within our community and have conducted outreach to minority-serving institutions to raise awareness of those programs. We’ve seen steady growth in program participation over the years. For undergraduate and graduate students our Student Travel Grants and Virtual Poster Showcase were created with an eye on fostering diversity. In the past few years we’ve doubled the number of female recipients of student travel grants. The Virtual Poster Showcase was created in 2015 with the intent to make presentation skills, exposure to peer review, and recognition accessible and available to all undergraduate and graduate students in Earth and space sciences.

AGU-led programs and events seek to engage scientists across all career levels and include some of the following Fall Meeting activities and honors:

  • Receptions celebrating early career women and underrepresented groups in the Earth and space sciences
  • Registration support for Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science (MS PHDS) to send undergraduate students to attend Fall Meeting

Other institutional efforts from AGU include reviewing our ethics policy to see what changes may be needed, working to address potential bias in peer review within AGU publications, and hosting an upcoming NSF-funded workshop on sexual harassment with several society partners and leaders from academia and government.

Workforce data from NSF and the American Geosciences Institute show we still have work to do to encourage both women and minorities to pursue careers in the Earth and space sciences. As my colleagues and I said in that 11 July post, building diversity in Earth and space sciences and in our organization matters and we are committed to growing our efforts for equality and inclusion. While we are proud of our current activities, we realize that they are merely the beginning of a coordinated effort that needs to take place. I look forward to working together to create a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.