Storify is closing and over the coming weeks, I will be migrating my posts to my blog. This is an archive of my article first published on Storify on 6 April 2017.
Dr Carly Rosewarne led a series of discussions with March for Science Australia on diversity (issues of equity, inclusion and access). I provided various suggestions for the Australian marches to improve diversity.
Despite historical and ongoing issues of inequality in Australia, there is growing public support for greater gender equity and inclusion.
There are political tensions around xenophobic policies targeting refugees, Muslims and African migrants that directly impacts scientists from underrepresented groups. We are amidst various national debates about Indigenous sovereignty, health, policing and institutionalised racism that draw on the expertise of Indigenous scholars. There are multiple mental health, economic and social welfare concerns for other vulnerable and marginalised groups that also negatively impact on the outcomes of White women and minority students and researchers.
With an upcoming national report on sexual harassment and assault in higher education, there is a steep mountain of damning research about the health impact of violence and inequality on women and children, which is further exacerbated for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. A forthcoming national report will also show that the education system is having an adverse affect on fully realising the potential of students with disabilities.
At the same time, Australia has faced years of excessive cuts to science funding in key areas, which only widens the existing inequities, especially gender, and pushes Australian scientists into overseas markets. All of this happening at a time of unprecedented lack of political support for climate change science in particular.
Issues of equity, inclusion and accessibility matter not just in Australian science policy and practice, but to our national fabric.
The context of the March for Science Australia is happening against this political backdrop of ongoing public activism.
Origins of the March for Science in Australia
Microbiologist Dr Carly Rosewarne first engaged the March for Science Australia on issues of diversity on 3 February 2017. This was just two weeks after the first global march was announced in Washington DC. Australia was the first country outside of the United States to receive recognition as an official satellite march. In fact, the idea for an Australian march came two days after March for Science DC account was established on Twitter, on 26 January.
Not coincidentally, this was same day that record numbers of protesters marched in solidarity with Indigenous Australians. The Invasion Day protest received greater support than the Women’s March in some cities, such as in Melbourne where 50,000 people protested to respect Indigenous culture, and begin to address our colonial history.
At the beginning of February, Dr Rosewarne was interested in how the Australian march will be uniquely tailored to the local science policy context and how diversity will be proactively addressed.
Biotechnologist, Dr Krystal Evans, who is part of the Melbourne march committee, noted that the goals for the Australian march were available on the national march website. At this early stage, the Australian marches were still formulating its leadership and local teams.
One week later on the 13 February, I wrote to the central march in Australia (based in Sydney), noting Australians were keen to get more details on the leadership and diversity strategy. The central march said the leadership team included “diverse individuals” but did not provide further details on equity and diversity.
On the 24 February, Dr Rosewarne asked the Melbourne march for their thoughts on the global diversity discussions. The conversation with a small group of women scientists in Australia emphasised the need to make inclusion a point of distinction for the local marches.
Dr Evans asked about the steps the Melbourne march might take to be more inclusive. I noted that accessibility planning would be most useful to share, as well as an inclusion strategy informed by intersectionality principles (that is, being mindful of the impact of gender and race on inequality, how these intersect with other socio-economic factors like sexuality, disability, class and so on).
Dr Rosewarne and I emphasised the need to publicise the organising team to increase visibility of diversity.
I provided links to some of the global discussions to ensure everyone was aware of the issues.
Details on equity and diversity
Over the 17 to 18 March, Dr Rosewarne, science educator Lee Constable, and members of various local organising committees discussed themes of inclusion and accessibility. We noted that being proactive on equity would help to anticipate needs of underrepresented groups.
While the Australian satellites were showing much good-will towards inclusion, this needed to be followed by action. There is no reason why Australia cannot be a leader on diversity with ongoing hard work.
Diveristy committee and leadership
On 18 of March, the central march in Australia answered a series of questions from Dr Rosewarne and I, starting with queries on their committee members. The central march said they had around four members in charge of diversity and that these members were part of the national committee.
I asked for further details, confused about why these members were not named on the national website. Transparency over committee members is important because it allows for accountability and builds up trust, especially given global conversations have marginalised minorities and produced an anti-diversity culture amongst supporters of the March for Science.
The central march said they do not release names of diversity representatives. This is counter to practices of some of the most successful social justice movements in Western democratic nations. Even in counter-cultural protest movements, including Indigenous, refugee, women and workers’ rights groups, organisations at least publicise its leadership as it helps to establish legitimacy and responsibility. There is a lesson here for the March for Science satellite marches.
Indigenous leadership and inclusion
A key issue in Australian science is the inclusion of Indigenous scholars and activists. Without the leadership and innovation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Australian research cannot meet the challenges of sustainability, technological progress, enhancements to health and education, and other socio-economic progress.
At this point in time, the central and satellite marches in Australia had yet to finalise the Welcome to Country (WtC), an important ceremony performed by Indigenous Elders at official meetings. This recognises the traditional custodians of the particular place where an event takes place. This tradition is the bare minimum of Indigenous recognition, but each march should make use of at least two Indigenous scientists and experts.
I made numerous recommendations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experts on science, and organisations that coordinate research and practice.
The march organisers were still exploring options on leaders and speakers who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex, queer and asexual (LGBTQIA).
While the central march in Australia says they have representatives from gender and sexual minorities on their committee, they were unwilling to name them. Noting that there are many professional and personal reasons why LGBTQIA people may not be comfortable being named, visibility and recognition is important for representation at the march. LGBTQIA scientists face many career hurdles; a lack of role models is one factor amongst many impeding their success, as well as the unwelcoming environment in academia.
Given members of the central march in Australia have reservation about being publicly identified as LGBTQIA, expert organisations can step in to provide formal guidance. They can also suggest speakers and leaders that might help the march. These organisations are also trained to address intersectionality, policy and planning in a more systematic manner.
The central march in Australia has consulted with Andrew Buchanan and other experts at the New South Wales (NSW) Disability Council, which is a useful step towards accessibility. They will also have Auslan interpreters at the march. During our Twitter conversation, the Sydney march also shared the preliminary plan of the route, which had yet to be more broadly publicised.
Philosopher Kelly Hills raised the critical time factor in accessibility planning. People with disabilities need plenty of notice to arrange travel, particularly to large public events. Microbiologist Dr Mel Thomson noted that preemptively addressing the needs of people with disabilities makes the difference between their attendance and the rest of the march missing out on the brilliance and participation of scientists with disabilities.
Given the NSW Disability Council was providing guidance to the central march, I asked about the Sydney committee. The central march tweeted a photo of the team of 15 volunteers.
Dr Rosewarne emphasised that thoughtfully addressing equity, inclusion and accessibility would distinguish Australian marches from the problematic patterns happening with other science marches overseas. She noted that while some progress was being made in Australia towards these ends, there was still some way to go on other issues.
Developmental psychologist, Dr Julienne Palbusa noted that diversity was not central to the leadership in her local march and this had impacted on inclusion.
Discussion with march organisers
Following the most recent exchanges on Twitter, the coordinators of the Melbourne and Canberra marches got in touch with me. On 28 March, we set up a Skype discussion with Dr Rosewarne and members of various other satellite marches in Australia. Without betraying the confidence of this discussion, I am cautiously optimistic about the potential of the Australian science marches, though I remain concerned about participation of Indigenous and disabled scientists in some of the marches. Noting the committees are made up of volunteers, this is why it is pivotal to work collaboratively with existing organisations that already support equity, inclusion and accessibility.
The organisers seemed receptive to feedback and advice. I provided many issues for follow up, which they have since been in touch about, including Indigenous leadership, accessibility, LGBTQIA representation, and potential collaborators.
I encouraged them to consider bringing in more volunteers and experts from diverse backgrounds into their leadership teams. I also discussed the importance of publicising their diversity plans, to publicly demonstrate their dedicated on inclusion and accessibility, as well as showing they are listening and accountable.
The various marches appear to have made some progress that is not publicly known. It would help to clarify this through an enhanced communication strategy that is informed by equity and diversity principles.
To their credit, the members I spoke with shared the plans they have been working on and they seemed enthusiastic about rising to the challenges ahead. They had some useful ideas on how to move forward, and they expressed a desire to follow through on equity planning.
Why some minorities opt out
Three days after our private discussion with the march coordinators, a member of the March for Science Melbourne committee, neuroscientist Dr Angelina Fong, responded to one of my threads about the global march. Two high-profile White men who have a history of sexual harassment, had dismissed discussions about diversity, and so I tweeted to the central march in Washington DC to address these men’s comments.
Although I had not directed the comment to the Australian organisers, Dr Fong responded that she had signed up with a local march to “show these peeps that We, women, ethnic etc can do it,” and she said “We all need to step up to this March.” As Dr Fong is not a follower of mine, she may be unaware that I have been one of many underrepresented scientists encouraging the march to reform and that many experts have been providing advice and resources.
Dr Rosewarne noted that the Australian discourse on the march had been less hostile to diversity than in the United States, however, she also referenced previous conversations with the Australian organisers that showed gaps in planning. Dr Fong reported that the organisers in Melbourne were committed to inclusion. Molecular Biologist Upulie Divisekera, who had also been in talks with the Melbourne committee, was glad to hear this validation for diversity.
Dr Thomson discussed how she had disengaged from the March for Science, despite having previously provided feedback and other support. Below, she refers to her previous conversations about the March for Science Melbourne, which omitted focus on the contributions of scientists with disabilities. Just five days prior, the Melbourne march tweeted an article that failed to recognise disability, while discussing other equity issues. Dr Thomson called out the march: “There’s plenty of programs to support women in STEMM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine] but none at a state or national level to help disabled scientists stay in the game.” Dr Thomson’s discussion showed a troubling gap in the march organisers’ understanding of intersectionality, which could seriously hinder accessibility. The march did not respond to Dr Thomson at the time.
In discussion with Dr Fong, Dr Thomson highlighted that disabled scientists were being forgotten.
Other scientists agreed that diversity planning seemed rushed. Equity, inclusion and accessibility require careful consideration from inception of any project, alongside expert input from minority leaders, scholars and practitioners.
Dr Fong was responsive to following up issues with the Melbourne committee. Dr Rosewarne emphasised the Indigenous leadership contacts previously supplied.
It seems a shame, as it appeared that Dr Fong had yet to be briefed on the discussion with local marches, where I had volunteered my time and expertise to address equity, diversity and accessibility. Moreover, I’ve been providing public resources and critique as well as private support and guidance to members of the central march in Washington DC. As I explained to to Dr Fong, underrepresented minorities are already over committed on many volunteer projects. This includes the most dedicated voices on diversity at the March for Science (see the #Marginsci discussions on Twitter, curated by Dr Stephani Page).
Minority scientists face an high level of abuse whenever we speak out on inequality, which goes on top of the discrimination faced at work and in everyday life. Taking into consideration that many minority scientist already volunteer on various not-for-profit projects to end discrimination in science and in our communities, the attitude of just joining the march is not so simple.
The March for Science has lost confidence from minorities due to not having enough transparency on its policy, membership and decision-making. At the same time, it has not been publicly responsive to feedback and critique. This sends alarm bells to minorities who already have a lot of experience in social justice movements, on internal hurdles that they would have to contend with, in order to make intersectionality heard.
Moreover, suggesting that scientists should join a movement that has marginalised minorities, when it has been minorities who have expended their expertise, time and energy to publicly address inclusion, devalues our scientific contributions. Some individuals from minority backgrounds have volunteered for the march which is great, but many other minorities and White women have opted out for these complex reasons.
Following on from this discusion, Dr Thomson suggested that the policies for equity, inclusion and accessibility should be published to allow for “peer review.” Again, this shows the critical importance of making the strategy and detailed plans for diversity public to maintain transparency, accountability and to promote proactive changes, to enhance inclusion prior to the march.
Some of the speakers have started to be advertised for some of the Australian cities and these announcements are moving in a positive direction. Some notable gaps persist, which I hope will be redressed as soon as possible, given time is running out.
I am looking forward to having the various local March for Science events address diversity in a thoughtful manner. I am devoted to both supporting their progress as a concerned outsider, and to maintain public dialogue and constructive criticism where warranted.
Australia is a multicultural nation that sadly sustains many inequalities and divisions; however, we are also a nation that has supported both the Women’s March and the Invasion Day Protest in recent times. During these two public demonstrations, I marched alongside tens of thousands of Australians who are hopeful and ready for positive change. I hope the March for Science will share the successes of these recent protests, as well as learn from the missteps, especially from the local Women’s Marches, which similarly aimed to do good, but fell short along a couple of key areas: accessibility and transgender inclusion.
At this point, with just over two weeks left to the marches, there is much progress left to be fulfilled, but I also see a great deal of good will to do right by the Australian scientific community and the Australian public. I wish the Australian organisers well. I maintain open lines of communication with them, and I thank them for being receptive to inclusion.
Diversity will only enhance the success of the March for Science, but diversity cannot happen without proactive planning and commitment.
This article was first published on 6 April 2017. The article has been shared with the various March for Science Australia coordinators on the same evening, in private conversation, alongside additional resources, contacts and advice, as a follow up to our previous discussions.
The section “Why some minorities opt out” was added on 7 April 2017 to reflect the request by Dr Thomson to include the exchanges with Dr Fong. I had simply overlooked this conversation, having focused on my interactions with the central march organisers in my original Storify. On reflection, I agree there is value in adding this conversation.
The purpose of this Storify, along with my series on the March for Science, is to keep a record of the discussions I’ve led on the march (see the summaries, now added below). This series is also a testament to hundreds of scientists who have contributed to discussions I’ve curated, and our colleagues who have collaborated to keep the organisers accountable.
Read my Latino Rebels article for an overview of the various diversity missteps by the global March for Science. This discussion includes scientific evidence showing why diversity is important in the march, and to science more generally.
My research article in DiverseScholar presents empirical analysis, showing how supporters of the march reinforce the status quo in the way they discuss, and ultimately dismiss, the importance of diversity.
Below are my previous posts in this Storify series about diversity and the March for Science, which have been referenced in my Latino Rebels article.
March for Science Diversity Statements: early communications on the planning and administration of the march from the beginning of March for Science, in late January 2017, to mid-February, when criticism about diversity intensified even furthher. Only 14 tweets (out of 1,500) speak to diversity issues, mostly responding to critiques by scientists; and only two Facebook posts address the same (out of 78 posts).
Diversity Themed Social Media: review of the first three weeks of social media posts by March for Science (Twitter N=1,500 plus Facebook N=78). Around a dozen focus on diversity in general (such as the visa and immigration ban); around 50 focus on women in science; and few of these specifically on people of colour. There were no posts on disability and LGBTQIA inclusion. My article also includes a summary of the media reports that the march promotes about itself, which do not include any of the articles critiquing issues of equity and diversity.
Gender Equity and Diversity: analysis of the March for Science misguided posts on the gender pay gap for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (“Girl Day”). My article includes scientific literature and solutions to improve diversity of the march. I also put a special focus on the contributions of disabled women scientists, who are being ignored by the march organisers.
Women in Engineering: critical discussion of the damaging attempt by March for Science to address the reasons why women are pushed out of science careers. This was also in celebration of Girl Day. My post discusses the problems with leaving social media discussions un-moderated, as is the case with March for Science posts to date, and the toll of equity and diversity work on minorities, especially on women of colour. I also include some of the considerations from the global discussions for the March for Science in Australia.
Reproducing Inequality: case study of sexism by the central march, which reproduced the infamous case of Watson and Crick, who stole the research of Rosalind Franklin. Includes a summary of previous issues as well as discussion of how to better organise a science communications project. I note that the March for Science organisers continued to make “mistakes” that alienate underrepresented scientists and that it was time to break this cycle.
Science March Los Angeles: Moral Panic: documentation of racism in the March for Science Los Angeles. The organisers of this march suggested that having minorities attend the march might lead to violence. Here, they elevated the concerns of “some scientists;” namely White people, especially White men, who have come to dominate discussions of the march. This is a pattern that is pervasive in science practice more generally, with the identities values and interests of White men being taken-for-granted as the norm, while the contributions and legitimacy of other groups are questioned.