Special podcast episode on allyship


A few weeks ago, Susan and I co-authored this Prow post on allyship. We were and are appreciative that so many of you chose to add your names to the post.

We know that this was a small gesture, but as we stated earlier adding, “your name to serve as an ally may seem like a small action, but sharing your name could help someone who felt voiceless or powerless to seek you out for support.”

In the post, we also mentioned that there would be a series of podcasts on allyship.

Today, I am pleased to release our special “Third Pod from the Sun” episode, featuring AGU Vice President of Meetings Lauren Parr and AGU Vice President of Science Policy and Government Relations Lexi Shultz.

In our episode, we talk about what is AGU, as an organization, doing to serve as an ally when it comes to our meetings and public policy. I’ve also pasted the podcast transcription below.

I hope you enjoy this special episode!

Over the next few months, we will talk about a variety of topics, including more on allyship. If you have thoughts or ideas for future podcast episodes, please email us.

Transcription of AGU allyship podcast episode:

Randy W Fiser (00:08):
Hello, this is Randy Fiser, CEO for the American Geophysical Union or AGU. And I’d like to welcome you to Third Pod from the Sun.

This is a special episode, and we’re going to be focusing in on allyship. We have had recent events in our country, too many over the last year to name, but we have obviously seen an increasing level of emphasis on addressing systemic racism in our country and just overt racism and of most recent events of the Asian, Asian-Pacific Islander community being attacked in Atlanta. Obviously, there’s the shootings in Boulder as well, and many, many more, as I said that it would take us this entire podcast to name, but we’d like to state, I would like to state as the CEO for AGU, that this is not a world that I want to live in, where people have to be afraid to live their lives because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any other aspect that make us human.

And we know that words matter and that actions matter and we thought that it might be a good idea to introduce the topic of allyship. It’s something that we’ve talked about as an organization, but we thought we’d dedicate some time to talk about that. And AGU as a trusted leader on this topic, because we’ve been working on this for more than eight years as an organization, we have stepped into looking at issues of harassment, and we have created eight action steps to combat systemic racism in our country and around the world. And it’s important because it’s actions we can all take around the world. One person really can make a difference and we need to stand up for what’s right. In the last couple of weeks, AGU invited all of our board members, our council members, and other volunteer leaders to participate in a program on implicit bias.

And the program was phenomenal. And AGU staff, leadership also attended this and it involved a set of actors facilitated by an expert in implicit bias, actually just acting out day-to-day conversations that you may see in many aspects of your life, where implicit bias taking place. And it really focused in on letting you see what happens when nothing is said, but also looking at what the effects are when you do step in and say something and how to say that in a situation and to see how that works. And because it was done with a group of actors, we were able to play out the scenarios in different ways. It was really powerful. The community that participates in this has rated this very highly and AGU plans to find ways to bring this program to the broader membership as well as working with our own staff at AGU headquarters.

We know that it’s important that when you step into this world, that it’s important to take it on many different levels and in many different aspects of what makes up your community as a whole. And this really gets to the heart of what we’ve been talking about on allyship is that we know that there’s an issue and we are finding a way to say that when we see something, we can say something because that’s the only way that this is really going to stop what’s happening in our world. As an overall organization, there are other levers that we can pull as well to make positive impacts in the world. And today I’m going to be joined by Lauren Parr, our vice president for meetings and Lexi Shultz, our vice president for public affairs. And we’re going to be talking about how we use our meetings and our legislative voice as an organization to demonstrate our allyship and how we speak up on issues and, or change the world through our power of meetings and through our power of legislation.

Now, I’m going to introduce Lauren Parr, our vice president for meetings at AGU. And we’re going to have a quick conversation around how we use meetings as a way of demonstrating our allyship around the issues that we’ve been discussing. Welcome, Lauren.

Lauren Parr (05:08):
Hi, Randy. Thank you.

Randy W Fiser (05:10):
Well, in thinking about AGU and our meetings and events that we host, how far out are these planned and why and what are some of the things that we have looked at as we think about meetings and the locations that we actually host them.

Lauren Parr (05:30):
So meetings are really exciting, and they’re an exciting part of what AGU does in convening the community. And in part that’s because we get to travel to new places and experience cities with our colleagues and we’re removed hopefully somewhat from our daily lives so that we can educate and teach and network and share our science. And hopefully, all of that helps us come away more inspired when leave a meeting or an event. Our standard practices for meetings are this industry standard is really to have larger events like AGU’s fall meeting confirmed 10 to 15 years out as there are fewer locations for us given the size and scope of the event. We’re also competing with sporting events, political events, corporate events, and other meetings for that space and for those desirable cities. So, it’s something that we consider very early on. We begin early and we start those conversations early AGU’s average, again is about 10 to 14 years in advance, at least for the fall meeting.

Randy W Fiser (06:39):
Wow. That’s quite a commitment to think about that we have to think about these things 10 to 15 years out. And so many things can change in that period of time. So, walk us through kind of what happens when you approach a new city. I know there’s some we return to and things may have changed from the last time we had one there and others are brand new cities where we may not have had an event or a meeting before.

Lauren Parr (07:04):
Our approach for cities for the fall meeting is relatively defined as there are only about 10 or 12 cities, at least in the United States who can hold a meeting of our size. So, as we consider others as folks build or expand, we certainly will look at those. Right now, we’re looking at even what a fall meeting with satellite locations, both domestically and internationally might look like. So, we’re considering all of these factors as we make selections about the future. When we first meet with our city partners to look for a location, especially a location where we haven’t been before, we take the time to really help that city get to know AGU. We talk about our strategic plan. We talk about our meeting strategy. We share current and emerging issues that are important to our community. And I’ll give the example of sustainable meetings as being extremely important to our community.

And often those cities will come and attend either a fall meeting or another AGU meeting to get an understanding of who we are and what’s really top of line important to us. Once they know us a little bit better, we can work together to determine if a city is a potential partner, and we share our decision criteria with those locations in terms of what’s top of mind for us, and what we’re looking for. There are a lot of great cities, but ultimately we want to find a place for AGU can host an amazing event and also make a really positive impact on that city. In these discussions, we include local members. We include local academic groups. And the exciting part is that when we have local members and local academia, they know AGU and they know our fall meeting and they also know the city and the location, and they’re really able to help us have those conversations in an enriched way.

Randy W Fiser (08:52):
Well, it really sounds like we’re building a relationship there, which I think is fantastic. And getting to know us, we’re getting to know them. And I can imagine as you get to know people that you continue to uncover layers and layers and layers over time. So, I love that this is not just a one and done sort of process, and I know that there’s not really a defined list or a rubric for making these decisions because it’s very complex, but I know that you and your team have top of mind things that you think about when you’re approaching a new city and making that decision to work within the city. And obviously, this also includes the planning committees that we work with, our volunteer leadership that are in this process of decision-making. So, can you cover some of those top issues that you’re, or aspects that you’re thinking about when you go into have these conversations?

Lauren Parr (09:50):
Sure. Our top considerations actually come directly from our members and our community because we ask every year, we say, “Tell us what’s important to you.” And we have a variety of ways of collecting that information. And the top considerations noted by the community really are safety, accessibility, and then cost to attendee. And when I say safety, I mean, safety is our paramount consideration. And that means that the safety of all of our attendees, our staff and our vendor partners is top of line when we consider our location.

Accessibility in this context means how easy is it to get to a city? How easy is it for our global community to plan their travel? And also, what is the accessibility within the city? So are there trains, are there flights, is there good public transportation? AGU doesn’t shuttle. We don’t use shuttles between our hotels and the convention center. So walkability is really going to be key for our community.

Randy W Fiser (10:53):
So, let’s build off of that, Lauren. How would we work with a city in a convention and visitors bureau, which is often the primary touchpoint, when something has changed in the city or standards have changed in sort of our expectations around sustainability or other issues that may come up? How would we work with them and what sort of success factors have we seen in those collaborations and partnerships?

Lauren Parr (11:23):
So additional criteria, additional things we consider are sustainability of the center, sustainability of the city. We look at the cost to AGU. We look at technology capabilities in the center and in the hotels, we consider dates. We consider what the weather might be like. We look at many, many years of weather data before we make decisions. And we look at a variety of factors that determine how welcome people may feel in that city. Is this a place where they would want to go? Is this the place where every attendee would feel welcome and what would their experience be like? And that includes a discussion with the city on pending legislation or practices or existing laws that may be discriminatory or restrictive in nature. And we do have those conversations.

Randy W Fiser (12:11):
That’s great, and such a well-thought-out sort of dynamic relationship. And we always hope that everybody’s better for the relationship and for the work that comes together. But what happens if something doesn’t change or some last-minute things happen? We don’t need to go into a specific example, but what is sort of the last sort of last dimension of what AGU can do if for some reason, something doesn’t change in the way that we really needed to change to, to meet all those things that you’ve laid out as aspects of what a successful meeting would look like and be?

Lauren Parr (12:56):
Ultimately when we make a selection, we do so knowing that this is a really good choice at the time that the decision is made with all of the information that is available to us. And we also know that given the timeframe, Randy, as you said, things can change in cities.

Randy W Fiser (13:12):
Thank you, Lauren. That’s been really helpful. And, again, such a robust process and set of conversations and really again, relationship building, which we hope will always end in just everybody becoming better because of the engagement level that we put into it.

So, there’s other things that AGU can do as well in demonstrating allyship. And I’d like to now introduce Lexi Shultz, our vice president for public affairs for AGU. Welcome, Lexi. So, public affairs or our government affairs work at AGU, how does policy fit into allyship?

Lexi Shultz (14:00):
There are so many ways in which policy plays a role in either creating a more just world or conversely contributing to a less just world. And whether it’s about speaking out when things happen that are harmful or really working to ensure that policy can help address some of the situations we’ve seen in this nation and other places, we really do try to step up on behalf of our membership. So, I would say there are maybe four ways that the policy program and our efforts really try to step up to serve as allies. So, one very much is prioritizing a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. And so AGU sets policy priorities every year. And this year, as it has been for a couple of years, that focus on what we call JEDI is very much front and center.

So, that means a couple of things. First of all, anytime that we send letters or communicate with policymakers, that specific issue in the importance of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion is right there front and center in those communications. It also means that we really look for and focus on bills, pieces of legislation, other policy actions that really do focus on those issues. And we actually, this is kind of the second thing is we endorse bills and other policy measures that focus on that. So whether it’s a bill to address sexual harassment in the sciences or ones that look to support STEM education and minority-serving institutions, for example, or when a Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who’s the chair of the House Science Committee wrote to the National Academies calling for a look and a review of systemic racism in the sciences. We supported each one of those with letters and adding the voice of AGU and the kind of power of our membership behind those efforts.

The third thing that we can do is to really speak out when there are practices that are unjust. And so, one really strong example of that is when there were measures against immigration taken by the previous administration of the United States. And sort of lastly, what I would say is we really work to empower voices from diverse communities to connect with their policymakers. That means providing skills, providing opportunities, providing support for them to do so. And we’re really trying to ensure that policymakers hear from those voices directly. And there are a number of ways we do this, but one example is our Voices for Science program, where we’re really working with a cadre of 40 folks every year for them to develop a sustained relationship with their policymakers.

Randy W Fiser (16:53):
That’s great. And, again, so many different layers of how we can demonstrate and have an impact. One area that has been affecting us today relates to COVID, but it also has been used in different ways of travel being banned. And it’s on a global scale right now. It’s not just people coming to the United States to possibly attend fall meeting, but it’s people being able to go on field exercises and do their work in other countries around the world. So, what is AGU’s role there? What can we do when we look at travel bans?

Lexi Shultz (17:32):
Certainly, where we can try to change policies directly, we do that, but as a first measure, what we do is join with all of the voices who are concerned about those kinds of issues to speak out. The scientific enterprise is inherently global. We just cannot make the progress, the breakthroughs that we’ve seen without all of the voices at the table. And within the US frankly, a lot of the strength of our enterprise is because of people from other nations. When you add that to discrimination, as you say in this country and others against certain populations, like the Asian population, because of the coronavirus pandemic, we really feel that speaking out is the first step, is that kind of first measure.

In the case of the immigration bans under the previous administration, we sent a letter combined with so many of our sister societies directly to the president outlining exactly what the harms were, calling for the overturn of those measures. And even more importantly, we activated our membership to send letters and messages to their policymakers directly so that those policymakers could really understand what the impacts are, what the harms are from those and to educate and also to call for the reversal of those policies.

Randy W Fiser (18:57):
That’s great. And you touched on two things there that I’d like to go a little bit deeper into. One of them is you talked about the number of issues for which AGU could potentially have to comment on or have an opinion around. The other is on the value of coalitions. So, let’s start with the first one. We have to understand when our voice is additive. So, how do you go through that process? How do you make decisions of which ones to lean into and which areas where we don’t comment?

Lexi Shultz (19:30):
So, that’s such an important question, Randy. There is no clear answer and no bright line, but I think the first question we ask ourselves is, “Is this something that our members care about? And is this something that makes a difference to them?” That’s always the bottom line and, “Are they affected? Can we help if we speak out in this manner?” The second consideration we ask ourselves is, “Are we a top voice? Are we a leading voice on an issue?” Or if we’re not the leading voice, are we at least an important voice to be heard on an issue. Sometimes even when we’re not that top voice, it’s still important that we are joining with our allies in the scientific community to speak out. One of the things we do like to ask ourselves is, “Will policymakers pay attention to us?”

There are some issues for which AGU really is a critical voice. And there are certain bodies like science committees or science institutions within administrations in the US and around the globe where they know they pay attention. AGU is a leading voice, certainly for the earth and space sciences and in some cases for science more broadly. There are other issues where they may have their ears perked to us, but they may go to others first and we pay attention to those sorts of considerations. There are times when we are not the leading voice, and we are sensitive to that. There, it becomes a little bit more of a question of, “Can we make a difference?” Sometimes we can, if we activate the voices of our members, maybe that can really change the dynamic, but we are aware that sometimes we don’t have that power or capacity. And in that case, we want to be a little careful because we don’t want to speak out so much that we stop being heard, or that we diminish the power of our voice when we are truly a leader on a topic.

So, as you can see, it’s subtle, but we ask ourselves all of these questions on a case by case basis.

Randy W Fiser (21:56):
What a great sort of way to think through the when and how does it matter as part of what I hear you saying? And within that, you also did allude to when we joined voices with others, which in the terminology, coalitions. Talk to me about the value of coalitions?

Lexi Shultz (22:17):
Absolutely. And so the AGU in general and the policy team in particular, we are part of so many different coalitions, and those can be the scientific societies or universities that come together around a particular topic, such as climate change or funding for the sciences, or can be on an area where we need to speak out together about, for example, how important immigration is in this country for the sciences. So, there’s a sort of a story about an individual stick where a stick can be powerful, but it can also be broken. But if you bundle a whole bunch of sticks together, it’s much harder to break that stick. If we stick together, we really can have power in numbers sometimes. So, for that reason, coalitions can be very powerful when we use our voices together.

I think it can be quite meaningful if AGU speaks out, but when the entire scientific enterprise stands up and says, for example, that racism in science needs to be addressed, that is much more powerful. And it’s also really important because there are times when there are sister societies like those in the medical sciences, for example, or the social sciences, where they reach communities that we don’t, that means they access to knowledge and insights that we don’t, and it’s important for us to learn from them and conversely for them to learn from us. And so, they can add nuance and clarity and meaning on topics that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. And I think that’s really important. I think it’s important in the practice of scientific research, but it’s important when we speak out on issues as well.

And finally, I will say that we share, we collaborate knowledge. There are times when things are about to happen from a policy perspective or in the world and we share that with each other so that we can be prepared and we can think strategically about how to proceed. So, for all those reasons, those coalitions are really, really powerful.

Randy W Fiser (24:33):
Well, thanks, Lexi. And I think the coalition is just such a great and the metaphor you gave around the sticks and the bundle of sticks is just such a great way to also sort of come full circle on allyship in our conversation today. So, today was a sort of Third Pod from the Sun takeover with a discussion focused on allyship. And we know that individually there’s a lot we can do, but we always know that as an organization who represents all of you, our community, we can make a difference too. Thank you, Lexi. Thank you, Lauren. And thank you for joining us on Third Pod from the Sun.

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