Tips for conference organizers and other directory users
Author: Jessica Schrouff (WiNRepo, WiML)
In this post, we discuss some measures that can help organizers design inclusive events. This list was built based on previous work (Schrouff et al., 2019) and in collaboration with members of different organizations.
Here are some tips that may help you increase the diversity at your events. While this list mostly refers to diversity in terms of gender, we would like to emphasize that diversity across different axes is desired, including (but not limited to) geographical location, ethnicity, disability, seniority or academia vs. industry1. Please note that none of the suggestions in this document are a panacea, hence the impact of diversity measures should be constantly re-evaluated.
Diversity is worth the extra effort
It might seem like extra effort to ensure that an event is diverse and balanced, and achieving this result might be challenging. It has however been shown that diverse teams outperform homogeneous groups in innovation, flexibility, problem‐solving, and decision‐making (King, 2005). So, it is definitely worth the extra mile and if you’re here, you’re one step closer.
An early start can help
Organizing an event is definitely a complex task. However, organizing travels while being a parent of a young child, having other responsibilities—which women tend to volunteer for more often than men (Babcock, 2018)—or having to perform a long administrative procedure to get a visa also requires time. For these reasons, we’d suggest sending invitations for speaking/participation as early as possible, with regular reminders.
Diversity across organizers and participants
Diversity should be considered at all steps of the event, starting by the organizing committee. A diverse conference organizing committee can indeed encourage more women to contribute and participate (Klein et al., 2017). Diversity should also be considered across invited speakers, in the reviewer pool and across attendees, as well as when awarding prizes. It might be helpful to consider tandem nominations for all those roles, i.e. for each man suggested, suggest a woman. Similarly, defining clear criteria for nomination, based on a person’s expertise, recent work or seniority can lead to a less biased selection.
Avoiding the over solicited circles
As female scientists are less visible, it is likely that the same people are repeatedly solicited and thus will decline some of the invitations (Moghaddam & Gur, 2016). Nonetheless, women do not decline more talk invitations than men, on average (Nittrouer et al., 2018). Strive to invite women that are outside the small circle of repeatedly solicited scientists to avoid this potential situation (e.g., using this repository). Moghaddam & Gur, 2016 address the concern of inviting a researcher that the organizers have not heard speak at a conference before: “How many of you have heard famous men scientists give dull talks? Are you taking a greater risk by inviting women to give talks even though you have never heard them give a talk before? Chances are that a thoughtful scientist can give a good talk.”
Women can be put off when the invitation clearly stems from a diversity search (Moghaddam & Gur, 2016) as this emphasizes their gender, and not their work. Make sure to focus on the professional reasons and give examples of published works that have triggered the invitation. Any policies that have been designed to ease the contribution/attendance could also be highlighted in this communication (e.g. childcare, invitation letter for visa, mother-nursing rooms), in addition to what the invitation covers (travel stipend, hotel booked, etc.). As we all face unique challenges, asking what other measures not mentioned could ease participation might be a great learning opportunity.
Implementing double-blind reviews of submitted work (if relevant)
Double-blind reviews have shown to increase the rate of acceptance of work by female authors (Budden et al., 2008, Roberts & Verhoef, 2016, Bernard, 2018). We note that this process can be beneficial even in small fields, as reviewers fail to identify authors in 74% to 90% of cases (Le Goues et al., 2018). While the effect on gender does not apply to all venues (e.g. Cox & Montgomerie, 2019), double-blind review can reduce nepotism (Sandström and Hällsten, 2008), institutional (Ross et al., 2006, Okike et al., 2016, Tomkins et al., 2017), and geographic biases (Link, 1998, Primack et al., 2009). In addition, double-blind review is a low-cost measure to implement. It is however important to note that double-blind review has been shown to produce harsher reviews (McGillivray & De Ranieri, 2018). One potential solution is to avoid the combination of double-blind reviews with “elitist” selection criteria that tend to benefit the “richer” ( see this opinion), as well as include a rebuttal period. Hybrid reviewing modes (e.g. displaying the reviewers’ names upon acceptance) have been developed recently and we encourage the reader to investigate the available options.
Diversity as a core value
Diversity should be considered as a core value of each event, and not simply as a box to check. Events and policies should be thought carefully in terms of diversity to ensure the success of later actions. Below are some examples of policies that can be considered in the planning. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive.
- Do deadlines or event dates coincide with major events for a specific group (e.g. major religious celebrations, beginning of school year, etc.)? If so, consider moving the deadlines.
- Does the notification timeline allow enough time for visa applications? It might also be worth contacting the immigration services in the host country to ensure a smooth process.
- Is the event during a weekend? This might make it more difficult for parents to attend and might disproportionately affect women (Calisi et al., 2018).
- Is the event providing childcare or childcare fellowships? Childcare is a way to help parents attend/contribute to an event. Calisi et al., 2018 have suggestions on how to help parents at conferences and (Grens, 2017) reports a successful example in that regard. With respect to fellowships, it is important to ensure that their amount is a significant help in the cost of childcare and that they are accessible (e.g. requiring receipts or invoices might limit their practical impact).
- For speakers, can travel arrangements be made and paid for by the event to avoid out-of-pocket expenses?
- Has a code of conduct been adopted, with a “hotline” to report incidents?
- For online events, are multiple time zones accommodated? Is a free phone number provided for countries outside the US and Canada?
- Is the venue accessible? This question is valid in the context of physical (e.g. wheelchair) but also virtual events (e.g. deaf or blind).
- Has the event considered all-gender participants? A thorough guideline on how to promote queer-friendly virtual conferences is presented in Organizers of QueerInAI et al. 2021.
- Are diversity-specific events (talks, panels, meetings) organized and given the importance they deserve (e.g. scheduled in priority times)? It is often the case that only minorities and women attend these events, when diversity should concern all of us.
- Is the catering providing options for all, as well as clearly labelled?
In light with the new scenarios introduced by the global crisis linked to the coronavirus pandemic, virtual events have become common. Reflecting the importance of diversity among other aspects (e.g. carbon footprint), multiple scientific organizations have announced their intent to continue offering an online version of their event in parallel with the traditional in-person event. We thus refer Levitis at al., 2021 and NeuroMatch Academy for further practices on how to promote inclusiveness in online scientific conferences.
Babcock, L., Recalde, M. P., & Vesterlund, L. (2018). Why Women Volunteer for Tasks That Don’t Lead to Promotions. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/07/why-women-volunteer-for-tasks-that-dont-lead-to-promotions
Grens, K. (2017). Baby on board. Retrieved from https://www.thescientist.com/careers/baby-on-board-30991
Levitis, Elizabeth, Cassandra D. Gould van Praag, Remi Gau, Stephan Heunis, Elizabeth DuPre, Greg Kiar, Katherine L. Bottenhorn, et al. (2021). Centering inclusivity in the design of online conferences—An OHBM–Open Science perspective. Gigascience. 10(8):giab051.
Nittrouer, C. L., Hebl, M. R., Ashburn-Nardo, L., Trump-Steele, R. C. E., Lane, D. M., & Valian, V. (2018). Gender disparities in colloquium speakers at top universities. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 115:104–108.
Organizers of QueerInAI, A Pranav, MaryLena Bleile, Arjun Subramonian, Luca Soldaini, Danica J. Sutherland, Sabine Weber, and Pan Xu. How to make virtual conferences queer-friendly: A guide. In Proceedings of the 2021 Workshop on Widening NLP, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, November 2021. Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing.
Primack, R. B., Ellwood, E., Miller-Rushing, A. J., Marrs, R., & Mulligan, M. (2009). Do gender, nationality, or academic age affect review decisions? An analysis of submissions to the journal Biological Conservation. Biol Conserv, 142(11):2415-2418.
Schrouff, J., Pischedda, D., Genon, S., Fryns, G., Pinho, A. L., Vassena, E., Liuzzi, A. G., Ferreira, F. S. (2019). Gender bias in (neuro)science: Facts, consequences, and solutions. Eur J Neurosci, 50(7):3094-3100.
1We acknowledge that our repository does not cover all these factors (e.g. ethnicity or disability). We would thus like to encourage you to visit other, similar initiatives, such as BlackInAI, LatinXAI, Queer in AI, BlackInNeuro and QueerInNeuro, that can provide further speaker suggestions.
Last update: August 2021