Debrief on AIP Workshop: "How to Achieve Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Professional Meetings"

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By: Angelina Cole and Liz Dart Caron, AIP Member Society Relations

On June 12, 2018 the American Institute of Physics hosted the Workshop on “How to Achieve Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Professional Meetings”. Attendees included representatives from each of the Member Societies. The workshop facilitator was Dr. Stephanie A. Goodwin, an expert in consulting organizations into implementing effective programs that change norms and reduce bias in the workplace. The aim of the workshop was for attendees to actively reflect on their societies current policies, practices and processes, examine whether they align with the best practices, and if not, identify next steps to advance greater inclusion for attendees of their organization’s events. With limited time, and fruitful discussion, not all topics were covered, but the group left the workshop with valuable information and the drive to improve their individual societies process towards inclusion. The group plans on continuing the discussion via webinar. (This took place on August 17.)

Laying the Groundwork

“Belonging is the root need, the essential core social motive.” -Fiske

The workshop opened with an overview of inclusion, a powerful ideology that consistently undermines the workplace. Stephanie explained that the transition from ideology to effective practice begins with the Big IDEA. The IDEA includes not only inclusion, but also diversity, equity, and accessibility. These four core IDEAs together create a sense of belonging.

The process towards inclusion can often be challenging due to a variety of biases. These biases are based on perceptions, which create stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, and can be both conscious and unconscious cognitive processes. Various social cues should be considered when dealing with inclusive practices, including but not limited to: eye contact, physical proximity, vocal tone, and smiling. Stephanie suggested that to reduce biases that Member Societies increase motivation, increase attention, and be committed and transparent with their members. AAS Meetings Director Diane Frendak added that AAS utilizes rubrics to help counteract unconscious biases. In response, many societies voiced the need for post-meeting assessment tools, to fully understand the climate of their meetings in relation to inclusivity.

Best Practices

Stephanie provided attendees with a baseline as to what is considered the best practices of inclusion. This begins with each individual societies’ Code of Conduct for meetings.  A good policy consists of clarity of purpose, explicit attention to what is valued and what is not, accountability, and enforceability. The ability for the society to shift people’s norms will lead to a positive change in people’s behavior and attitudes over time.

The process to achieve diverse, equitable, and inclusive professional meetings starts before the meeting begins. Stephanie suggests that before the meeting, Member Societies should have organizing committees, event planning, full participation, and a constant review of practices and outcomes. More diversity in the organizing and planning committees will result in increased diversity at the meeting. Participants noted that inclusivity training must have a broad reach. OSA Director of Outreach Programs, Curtis Burrill, added that OSA has leadership training and unconscious bias training that includes the board, council members and committee chains. Societies, should leverage existing leadership training – or design new leadership training – to address inclusion concerns.

When reviewing practices and outcomes, time, criteria, and accountability are essential. Policies should use “we” pronouns, have a strong value statement, and clear, detail-oriented definitions. This opened the floor for attendees to give suggestions to the group based on their current practices. Participants voiced concerns over liability—when is the society liable for actions of others that their meetings, or for taking/not taking action on reported behaviors? Each society should be mindful and seek legal advice. Stephanie also emphasized the importance of collecting data to effectively understand trends and the locations of the incidents.

When reviewing the Code of Conduct, it should have a clear scope and definition of harassment with supplementary examples that afford clarity on the breadth of application and process. All attendees also agreed that it is vital for moderators, volunteers, and more specifically external vendors to receive training on inclusive practices prior to the meeting since the society is still accountable for their actions.

Stephanie suggested that when planning for meetings “less is more”. Meetings should offer more tracks, in fewer days with longer breaks and transitions. This allow people the opportunity to transition between sessions, particularly those who may have physical disabilities or who may need time to connect with those who support child care needs.

Reporting

To adequately address the challenges faced by Member Societies, there must be an established reporting process for incidents. One society informed the group that they have the point of contact to report issues on inclusivity on the back of every attendee’s name badge. This addressed Stephanie’s point on making information transparent and accessible to the attendees, which most societies agreed that most of their members don’t know where to find the Code of Conduct for Annual Meetings.

The reporting process should not simply reiterate the norms, but instead should clearly explain how complaints are handled, by whom, when, and with what potential consequences. AAPM Executive Officer Angela Keyser shared with the group AAPM’s new onsite response team. The team consists of volunteers who have received proper training and can spot issues related to inclusion before they occur and report the problems to the correct individuals. Angela also shared that the AAPM Student Meetings insist on using a cell phone app for this process. Other societies added that the app should have the ability to make an anonymous and general report for bystanders, who may feel uncomfortable reporting in person.

Attendees were eager to share ideas, ask questions, and offer advice to their fellow Member Societies. During lunch, attendees began a preliminary gap analysis of their current policy compared to the best practices’ guideline worksheets. With so much to discuss and not enough time, the participants agreed to complete their individual society’s gap analysis then reconvene as a group to share their findings.

Follow-up Webinar

On August 17, 2018 the group reconvened for a 90-minute follow-up webinar: Diverse and Inclusive Meetings, also moderated by Stephanie Goodwin. Participants discussed their gap analyses of practices before, during, and after meetings, and shared advice how to approach challenges they’ve encountered in their efforts. Participants were asked to prepare for the meeting by completing gap analyses worksheets, and to pose either a “burning question” or explain a best practice to the group during the discussion.

Best Practices Before the Meeting

The webinar opened with a brief review from the workshop of the elements that relate to and impact inclusivity at meetings. The best practices that occur before the meeting were broken down into four sections: organizing committees, event planning, participation, and reviewing practices and outcomes. The floor was then opened for an interactive dialogue about society successes and challenges in “moving the needle” toward more inclusive meetings. One challenge societies faced was deciding where to locate their annual meetings. Stephanie explained that the cost of venue may deter underrepresented minorities, particularly those with families, from attending. Angela Keyser shared that AAPM offers a low-cost hotel option nearby and uses an electronic bulletin board for attendees to find roommates. AAPM and OSA added that they both offer onsite childcare at their meetings and shared contact information for the services. Many of the societies shared links to their various travel grants which encouraged societies to extend the reach of their grants to include, early career starters, members with disabilities, underrepresented minorities, and child/dependent care grants.

Regarding event planning, SPS asked how other societies promote ally workshops and sessions at their meetings. AAS sent links to their highly successful Women in Astronomy meeting and encouraged other societies to use social media to empower youth engagement. It is also important to choose compelling names for such workshops/sessions to encourage members to attend. AAS offered suggestions: Thriving in Grad School as a Marginalized Student, Everyday Anti-Racism: Tools to Combat Racism in Astronomy Departments, Teaching for Equity. Stephanie added that societies must pay attention to the timing of the workshop and whether it conflicts with another event. A workshop too early or too late in the day will diminish participation. She suggested for societies to make these workshops part of the keynote, so they don’t conflict.  

Best Practices During the Meeting

Addressing unintended biases during the meeting was broken down into three sections: assessing the program and other materials, overall climate of the meeting, and reporting and accountability challenges. A large topic of the discussion was on reporting procedures. Stephanie noted that with anonymous reporting you don’t know the details of the offense, but you know it happened. She suggests that societies think about how they will address these types of situations in the future by having a group of people tasked with deciding consequences. The group should also come up with a list of behaviors that are triggering and cross the line from societies perspective. All in all, it is important for societies to create an environment for people who have been harassed to speak up if they are comfortable but realize that the power dynamics are real. Stephanie encourages others to be good allies and speak up about their discomfort. In response, societies shared emails and links to known contacts in bystander training, ally training, and unconscious bias workshops. It was recommended that societies offer these training and workshop multiple times throughout the meeting to increase participation.

Best Practices After the Meeting

It is essential for societies to collect feedback at the end of their meetings. AAPT, AAS, and ACA all provided examples of post meeting survey questions to ask meeting attendees. AAS shared that they have an anonymous post-survey that asks questions about whether a person was harassed or witnessed harassment. For reporting purposes, the survey is not anonymous if action is to happen. Stephanie suggests that societies collect feedback not just from the people who attend, but also those who don’t. Results should be shared in away that has high visibility and include how the society will continue to improve. To create a successful post-survey Stephanie recommends keeping question numbers low, making the survey accessible on mobile phones, and to create a population sample instead of asking the same questions to the same people. Lastly, by sending out the survey on the last day of the conference, the information is fresh in respondent’s minds.

As the webinar came to close, participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to share resources and learn new practices to bring back to their society. AIP plans to continue like-workshops in the future, and sought topic suggestions from participants. 

Member Society contacts: For a copy of Dr. Goodwin's slide presentation, please email lcaron [at] aip.org