When faced with the prospect of assembling a panel, conference session, or workshop, we frequently and instinctively invite whoever comes to mind, essentially relying on the bias of our own known scientific networks to populate such sessions. However, this can lead to overrepresentation of dominant demographics (often cisgendered, white, and male) in these venues. The use of tools or databases that allow us to search for participants based on their interests and expertise is a powerful way to increase diversity. The Women Speakers List that the ASCB Women in Cell Biology committee (WICB) has maintained for many years has recently been consolidated with a new Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) initiative to provide a tool for everyone to use to increase representation of women as speakers. The combination of these lists will expand our scientific networks and make them more representative of diverse scientists.
Rationale for Speakers Lists
It is uncontroversial that women remain underrepresented in STEMM disciplines, especially as faculty, external seminar speakers, first and senior authors, grant recipients, and representatives on faculty promotion committees and institutional strategy committees.1,2,3 Many high-profile allies and leaders are speaking publicly about working to make “manels” (all-male panels) a thing of the past, including most prominently Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health.4 Initiatives such as the New York Stem Cell Foundation Gender Equity Report Card1 and several other high-profile resources are doing outstanding work in documenting the continuing disparity, which is the first step to correcting the problem. A potential next step is use of a Web app that allows one to estimate the probability of appropriate representation on a panel of a given size given the demographics of a particular discipline; it is a handy way to set a benchmark for assembling a suitably diverse group of people.5,6
The use of tools or databases that allow us to search for participants based on their interests and expertise is a powerful way to increase diversity.
Although one of the frequently cited rationales for panels, committees, and meetings that lack diversity is “we tried to find women (or other underrepresented) speakers but couldn’t,” there is no lack of a variety of talented people, many of whom are in early career stages and would benefit from the opportunity to present. So once you have identified a need for diversity, how best to achieve it? Having a well-designed and straightforward resource provides quick access to this extended network of talent.
Evolution of the Speakers List
WICB has spearheaded a number of important initiatives to promote gender equality within cell biology, as well as career development programs that support all cell biologists. WICB also established the Women Speakers list to provide an accessible list of women speakers on a variety of cell biological topics. Originally curated from the program of the ASCB annual meeting in an effort to highlight women whose work had been selected for presentation or an award, the current iteration of the list is being designed to provide additional functionality and accessibility.
Through collaboration with CSHL and its Women in Science and Engineering affinity group, we are excited to launch the new speakers list, which is hosted at www.womeninbiology.cshl.edu and will also remain accessible through the ASCB site. As with the original list, the intent of this new, more comprehensive “Women in Biology” list is to provide a centralized resource where organizers of meetings and seminar series can source speakers using searchable keywords reflective of research areas and interests. The new site hosts the ASCB list combined with names of invited speakers from CSHL meetings and courses. Plans are underway to expand the list so it includes speakers contributed by other societies and conference organizations as well. The goal is to create an easily accessible tool that represents the breadth of expertise among women investigators in the biological and biomedical sciences. In addition, the availability of this tool will help alleviate the burden of labor on the highest-profile women, who often get asked but cannot always participate.
The ASCB’s Women in Biology list is complemented by a similar list curated by the ASCB Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC) that can be found at the same site as the historic WICB list (www.ascb.org/career-development/speaker-referral-lists) and serves to similarly provide a tool for increasing racial and ethnic diversity among speakers. The MAC speakers list is continually revised and the Committee welcomes suggestions for additional names of People historically Excluded from science due to Ethnicity or Race (‘PEER’) scientists.
Future of the WICB Speakers List
Importantly, the Women in Biology database, including the ASCB WICB list, will support self-nominations from women in faculty positions, regardless of whether they have been an invited speaker at the ASCB annual meeting, at CSHL, or elsewhere. This feature is designed to especially highlight early-career women who may not yet have given a talk at the annual meeting, yet stand to benefit from inclusion in the list. The new self-nomination feature, which is set to launch later in 2020, will include a form that allows women to choose keywords relevant to their research and declare whether they identify as members of other groups underrepresented in the sciences. Filters will enable selection on these identifiers as well as on whether potential speakers are previous ASCB award winners or speakers.
Other Resources for Diversity
While a number of resources similar to the Women in Biology database are already publicly available—including 500 Women Scientists (https://500womenscientists.org), Anne’s List (https://anneslist.net), The Company of Cell Biologists Node Network (https://thenode.biologists.com/network), and other discipline-specific lists—we think that through all of these lists we can build a resource for the biology and biomedical science community that is inclusive and effective in promoting and amplifying women scientists. By joining forces with CSHL, WICB is excited to have the opportunity to increase visibility for this important resource and work with them to make it as powerful as possible, particularly for women in the early- and mid-career stages.
Finally, communication technology is also fostering the drive for increased diversity, inclusion, equity, and liberation. It is becoming easier to build peer support networks and communicate both within and beyond our immediate scientific community: Science Twitter, as well as online communities such as New PI Slack (https://newpislack.wordpress.com), Future PI Slack (https://futurepislack.wordpress.com), Mid-Career Slack (@Mid_Career_PI on Twitter), and the ASCB Online Community (https://community.ascb.org/home) enable us to join forces and amplify our voices as a diverse group.
In summary, speakers lists allow us to organize and disseminate resources. These are part of your toolbox—they translate to actionable tools that one person can use to effect change by reducing barriers to the equity, diversity, and inclusion in STEMM.
I would like to thank my colleagues who have worked tirelessly on generating and maintaining the speakers list, as well as those, including WICB leadership, who have advocated these recent changes. These include Mary Munson, Sandy Masur, Rebecca Heald, Diane Barber, Sue Biggins, Sophie Martin, Sowmya Swaminathan, Keith Mostov, James Nelson, and Caroline Kane, as well as Charla Lambert and Cassidy Danyko from CSHL. I apologize to anyone whose critical efforts were inadvertently omitted.
1Beeler WH et al. (2019). Institutional report cards for gender equality: Lessons learned from benchmarking efforts for women in STEM. Cell Stem Cell 25, 306–310.
2National Science Foundation/National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities. www.nsf.gov/statistics/women.
3Oliveira DFM, Ma Y, Woodruff TK, Uzzi B (2019). Comparison of National Institutes of Health grant amounts to first-time male and female principal investigators. JAMA 321, 898–900.
4Collin FS (June 12, 2019). Time to end the manel tradition. https://bit.ly/2JBPr3t.
5Perkel J (February 7, 2020). Just say ‘no’ to manels. https://go.nature.com/34a6uTN.
6Conference Diversity Distribution Calculator. https://bit.ly/34crs4u.
About the Author:
Emily Mace is assistant professor of Pediatric Immunology at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.