Alice Chautard, University of Oxford
In this post, Alice Chautard reflects on how conferences, and events more generally, can be planned to ensure and promote diversity of attendance and inclusivity of participation. She presents 10 insights from the best practice guide to inclusive conferences she co-authored after implementing these inclusive planning principles at the annual REACH conference in March 2019.
Conferences provide scientists and professionals with the opportunity to disseminate their work, network, and form collaborative relationships for future work – they are thus important for career development. However, for institutions organising conferences, these events are often also an opportunity to demonstrate excellence and showcase cutting edge work by leading professionals or academics. As women and many minority groups are still underrepresented in academic and scientific professions, especially in leadership roles, this is often reflected in the speaker lineup and other aspects of the conference programme and logistics.
In March 2019, we, at REACH, organised an International Conference on Water Security and Poverty. Well aware of the lack of inclusivity and diversity at many academic conferences, we wanted to do things differently. In the early stage planning of the conference, we spoke to conference organisers, gender experts and academics, and looked out for guidance to follow on developing inclusive conferences. Yet to our surprise, we found a limited amount of comprehensive resources available online – so we thought there might be value in creating our own ‘best-practice guide’.
Over the course of the past few months, Dr Claire Hann (Equality and Diversity Officer, School of Geography and the Environment) and myself have dived into the literature on inclusive conferences, spoke to experts and organized our own survey of more than 230 people working in academia, as well as the wider public, third and private sectors. Almost 85% of survey respondents agreed that it is important for conferences to have policies in places to promote greater diversity at conferences. However, less than one third of respondents (32%) felt that conferences they had attended had been organised in a way that promoted women’s participation and exposure.
The guide we are releasing today is wide-ranging in its coverage covering six areas of conference planning, that are presented in the infographic below.
Importantly, it was prepared to “encourage rather than prescribe,” and, we hope, will serve as an accessible step-by-step tool to assist organisers of events, large and small, in promoting diversity of attendance and inclusivity of participation.
We were delighted that many of the recommendations from the guide were successfully put into practice at our REACH conference. Half the speakers at the conference were women, half were from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) background and one third were early career researchers. We asked participants to sign a code of conduct and had a clear process for reporting incidents. All session chairs were asked to take a question from a woman or early career researcher first, which visibly changed the dynamic of the Q&A sessions, allowing a wider variety of views to be expressed in an open and receptive setting.
The result? We were pleased to hear several delegates mention it was the most inclusive they had ever been to. But most importantly, we felt that our efforts increased the visibility of many researchers, encouraged engagement and ideas sharing, energised our audience, provided a benchmark for future events, and, we hope, inspired others.
Of course, inequality of opportunity within academia is not something conferences alone can tackle, but they are a good place to start because of their critical role for career development. In many ways, organisers can address these gaps by taking small steps – others obviously require more systemic thinking and changes, but it is not impossible.
The good news is that many conferences are now proactively trying to make conferences more inclusive. The guide been endorsed by the School of Geography and the Environment, and we hope will support and encourage many professionals within academia and beyond.
You can access the guide here. For any questions or comments, please email Alice Chautard: firstname.lastname@example.org
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