ASCB to take action on diversity, equity, and inclusion

The last few weeks strongly brought into focus the longstanding issues of police violence toward the Black community, as well as broader concerns over the structural racism against Black people in all sectors of society, including science. ASCB condemns racist violence and stands in solidarity with the Black community now and in the future. We know that we can, and must, do more to fight racism and promote equity and inclusion.

“We understand why people across the country and around the world are protesting to demand change,” said Erika Shugart, ASCB’s CEO. “We also recognize that change and an end to anti-Black racism cannot rely solely on the use of trending social media hashtags or other performative acts, although they raise awareness. These demands must be met with concrete actions developed through thoughtful listening and open minds. We recognize that ASCB has a responsibility to do this within our own organization.”

ASCB’s strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion  is reflected in the Society’s mission statement, and so Shugart said, “We vow to make good on this pledge, identifying specific areas where our Society and all of our members, from top leadership on down, can do better, and taking decisive steps to lead in this arena.”

Toward that end, on June 9, the ASCB Council and Senior Staff engaged in an intense day of discussion facilitated by the Kaleidoscope Group. Coincidentally the training had been planned way in advance. The Kaleidoscope Group is a Chicago-based consulting company that helps organizations develop diversity, equity, and inclusion “solutions that achieve measurable outcomes and sustainable change for results.” The Council and Senior Staff training with the Kaleidoscope facilitators was written into a grant awarded to the ASCB Minorities Affairs Committee (MAC) by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences’ Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training (IPERT).

“We covered a lot of ground during our discussion,” said Eva Nogales, ASCB President. “We started the day aligning our understanding and expectations by learning and discussing terms and definitions relevant to diversity, equity, and inclusion; identifying common barriers to diversity, equity, and inclusion success; and reviewing some demographic trends in science related to these concerns. We created a list of both short-term and long-term actions that we will take to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion within the Society. This list will keep growing and evolving as needed.”

“It was important for us to dedicate this time reflecting and creating the beginnings of a strategic plan on diversity, equity, and inclusion for ASCB,” said Shugart. “Scientific societies can help their members by enabling them to share their science, setting standards, recognizing excellence, and providing training. We have identified actions in all of these areas. This action plan builds on the established portfolio of activities from the ASCB MAC. Our work does not end here. We must continue to listen, reflect, evaluate, and discuss all of our efforts toward the important goal as a scientific society devoted to stamping out anti-Black racism. Through these and many other ideas, the Society can have a lasting impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion within the scientific community worldwide.”

The Timeline for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Planning that we developed as a result of the June 9 discussions, with action items grouped by time to completion, is below. This is the first step toward action, and we will seek feedback from and collaboration with the wider community as we continue to refine the plan. We are eager for feedback. You are welcome to email or send in an anonymous comment < >.

Near-term: Now – beginning September

  • Communication
    • Communicate the plan to the broader community
    • Hold a town hall for the Society to discuss and receive member input on what we are doing in diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Meeting
    • Ensure minisymposia chairs are cognizant of diversity issues during the speaker selection process
    • Develop a scholarship program for undergraduate members for free registration to the meeting
    • Plan a session on racial injustice at the 2020 Cell Bio meeting that could be freely accessible to anyone and/or recorded and made accessible at a later time
  • Journals
    • Start a “Voices” series in Molecular Biology of the Cell (MBoC) journal to publish stories of scientific journeys from diverse perspectives
    • Expand the MBoC reviewer pool to include more diverse scientists
  • Recognition
    • Create an awards taskforce to review the ASCB awards portfolio and recommend modifications to ensure that awards are aligned with the values of the Society
  • Create a taskforce, which will include a diverse group of members and standing committees (especially the Minorities Affairs Committee), to work on the following (creation of taskforce could be short term, work completion will be mid-term)
    • Complete Phase 1 of preparation for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan (get groups aligned, define vision of success and how we will assess progress)
    • Create a Council Charter on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that includes a pledge to move to accountability
      • As part of this process share available membership statistics with Council and work to get better data on membership demographics

Mid-term: September – end of 2020

  • Communication
    • Update and receive feedback from the community on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts
    • Address the complicated contributions of Henrietta Lacks
  • Leadership
    • Continue work with the Nominating Committee to increase diversity in officer slate and require statements on diversity from candidates
    • Explore impact beyond ASCB by partnering with other societies
  • Training
    • Develop a mentor and sponsor training program
  • Journals
    • Appoint more persons excluded due to ethnicity or race (PEER) to the MBoC editorial board
    • MBoC Editor-in-Chief will participate in outreach/instructional webinars to assist younger scientists from diverse communities in publishing their work

Longer term: 2021 and beyond

  • Meeting
    • Have sessions focused on inclusion at 2021 Cell Bio Meeting
  • Complete Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Planning Process

About the Author:

Eva Nogales is professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator; and Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She is the 2020 President of ASCB.
Erika Shugart is the Chief Executive Officer of ASCB.