Be a leader of your ASCB

ASCB is making it easier than ever for members to take on leadership roles in our Society, as part of an effort to make the Society more diverse, inclusive, and transparent.

Every year, ASCB members choose a slate of individuals who will serve as President and members of Council. Every three years you also elect a Secretary and Treasurer. You may have asked yourself, “How do these people get on the ballot?” You might have concluded that basically, the new ballot choices were members of an “insiders’ club.” Unfortunately, this perception of a self-selecting in-group was not entirely without a basis in reality. In the past, the nominating committee chair was selected by the President-Elect. Then the chair would choose five to seven people for the committee. That has changed in 2021.

In 2017, ASCB leaders and staff undertook the development of a strategic plan to shape changes that would improve the Society and its service to members. One primary focus developed for that plan was to greatly increase inclusiveness and transparency at ASCB and to “further democratize the society by ensuring leadership and decision making reflect the broad range of membership and their interests and priorities.”

An important step detailed in the strategic plan was to “revise ASCB bylaws to enable structures and processes that are open, transparent, and increase opportunities for member involvement.” To address this issue ASCB formed a taskforce that included ASCB members and staff. With the assistance of a consultant from Opis LLC, the taskforce first identified the performance specifications that would create an ideal governance structure. They then looked at the current state and noted the deficiencies in the current governance. They found many. The taskforce then worked out solutions and developed new bylaws. These new bylaws were approved by ASCB membership in the Spring 2020 election and became effective January 1, 2021. There were significant changes made to the Nominating Committee, which fulfills the strategic plan initiative to “change nomination and committee recruitment processes to increase transparency, member involvement, and inclusiveness.”

Now members are nominated by the standing committees, and the Executive Committee, which consists of the President, Past President, President-Elect, Secretary, and Treasurer. The nominations are then approved by ASCB Council. The Nominating Committee is charged with developing the ballot choices for ASCB Council and officers. Importantly, any ASCB member can now nominate someone or themselves to be considered by the Nominating Committee in creating the ballot for these leadership positions. Another important change is that now postdoctoral, graduate student, and educator members are eligible for seats on Council. This had been restricted to only regular members.

While implementing the 2017 strategic plan, ASCB has been focused on increasing inclusiveness and transparency among our members, but it is now clear that goal is not nearly sufficient. Recent events, including the Black Lives Matter movement, have heightened attention at ASCB to the overall lack of diversity in science and the obstacles faced by historically excluded groups. This realization is leading to significant actions by ASCB toward the goals of increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels in science. Among those actions is the specific aim of fostering much stronger participation of underrepresented groups in ASCB leadership. As a first step, seats on Council will be reserved for a trainee (graduate student/postdoctoral member) and an educator at a primarily undergraduate institution, a minority- or Hispanic-serving institution, historically black college or university, or tribal or community college. ASCB will continue to refine how leaders are selected to move the Society toward the goal of a highly diverse leadership.

About the Author:

Gary Gorbsky is W.H. and Betty Phelps Chair in Developmental Biology, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and adjunct professor, Department of Cell Biology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. He served as ASCB Treasurer from 2014 to 2020.