Making the research ecosystem more diverse and inclusive has been, in recent years, one of the main concerns of the Global Research Council (GRC) – an entity that brings together representatives of the main public funding agencies for research around the world. And there is an understanding among the members of the council that in order to promote structural changes and impact in this regard, it is necessary to improve data collection methods – especially with respect to information relating to researchers' racial and ethnic dimensions.
The big challenge, however, is that this type of data is considered sensitive, since, if leaked, it can leave individuals susceptible to abusive practices or discrimination. To exchange experiences in this area and seek ways to overcome the obstacles, representatives of FAPESP and two major scientific publishers – Elsevier and the Royal Society of Chemistry – held an event on Tuesday (May 30) in The Hague, in the Netherlands. The meeting was part of the program of the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Global Research Council (GRC).
"We started discussing this topic in 2021 with the Royal Society of Chemistry and some funding agencies, including FAPESP, the DFG [German Research Foundation, from Germany] and the NRF [National Research Foundation, from South Africa]. Two previous workshops have already been held, in which we identified some interesting ideas. Funders and publishers can work together towards a common goal, which is to obtain data that allow organizations to structure action plans and to monitor those plans," said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, Senior Vice President of Research Networks at Elsevier and former Scientific Director at FAPESP, who was the moderator of the debate.
Representing FAPESP was Ana Maria Fonseca de Almeida, one of the coordinators of the GRC's Gender Working Group, which was recently renamed the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Working Group and had its scope broadened to address the issue based on aspects that go beyond sex and gender, also considering race, ethnicity, age, and disability, among other factors (read more at: https://fapesp.br/16123/).
"Publishers and funders have different roles in the research ecosystem. Agencies act at the beginning of the process, providing funds, equipment, travel, etc. And publishers act at the end of the cycle, when the hypothesis has already been tested. But both play important gatekeeping roles [choosing what is relevant and should be addressed] in the research ecosystem. When we use the peer review process to select who to fund or to select which article to publish, we manage how the scientific community sees itself," Fonseca commented.
Jo Reynolds, Director of Science and Communities at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said that in 2018 the Royal Society released a report on diversity in chemistry that highlighted a lack of progress in the inclusion of women in leadership positions.
"There are still barriers that hinder progress, create unnecessary uncertainty and pressure, and make it difficult to reconcile work with other responsibilities," she reported.
Based on this work, the group developed a practical guide that aimed to reduce gender biases as much as possible at each step of the scientific article publication process. "But we knew that the impact would be limited if other publishers didn't start acting the same way. So we created a joint commitment in favor of inclusion and diversification, which has already been signed by 56 organizations representing more than 1,500 scientific journals."
In March 2022 the Royal Society of Chemistry released another report that dealt with the ethnic and racial dimensions of diversity in chemistry, said Joanna Jasiewicz, who coordinates the entity's Race and Ethnicity Unit.
"The report showed that, after graduation, we're losing black chemists at an alarming rate [because they leave the career after graduation], to the point that, statistically speaking, there are 0% black [higher education] chemistry teachers in the UK. And when we talk about black female professors the number is really zero. We see the same trend when we look at the [Royal Society of Chemistry] membership data. And there hasn't been any significant change in the last ten years," she reported.
A program entitled The Missing Elements Grants Scheme was launched to try to reverse the picture. In addition to funding, the initiative offers mentoring, help with networking and other assistance.
Commenting on previous workshops hosted by the group, Max Voegler, Vice President of Elsevier's Global Strategic Networks, explained why collecting data on race and ethnicity is a far more complex task than obtaining gender information from researchers. One reason is that self-identification categories can vary by geographic region and over the years. In addition, there are different ways of establishing ethnic identity, which may consider physical, cultural (language and religion, for example), or geographic aspects.
"It's hard for there to be a perfect instrument that can capture all these nuances. In the previous workshops we discussed how to do this data collection and also why to do it. How will the data be used? What level of detail is required?", Voegler reported. Some of the work done was presented at the event by Holy Falk, also from Elsevier.
Eva Reichwein, Vice Chief of the DFG's Equal Opportunities, Research Integrity and Program Development Division, reported on some measures the German agency has implemented to promote a research landscape that reflects the diversity of society and offers equal opportunities. The initiatives have been brought together in a statute available online. And they have been presented at workshops that the DFG holds at universities.
NRF Executive Director Gugu Moche talked about the Black Academics Advancement Programme, which seeks to increase the proportion of adequately qualified black people at South African universities. She told FAPESP Agency that the biggest challenge in her country is to increase research funding in general. "We have many people who qualify, but there aren't enough resources," she said.