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A Few Good (Wo)men

Author: Kathryn Momary, PharmD, Dan Hartman, MD Published on 9/23/2019 10:00:00 AM

The diversity of speakers at scientific meetings has come under scrutiny recently.  Francis Collins, Director of NIH, said “it is time to end the tradition in science of all-male speaking panels, sometimes wryly referred to as “manels.” Too often, women and members of other groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing in the marquee speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences.”1  In addition, Dr. Collins said that he will refuse to speak at conferences that do not clearly demonstrate inclusiveness.  Dr. Jon Lorsch of NIGMS expressed similar sentiments and issued a similar statement that covers all NIGMS staff.1 

One of the major drivers of these comments was the International Conference of Quantum Chemistry which published a preliminary list of approximately 25 speakers, all of which were men.2  Diversity within scientific conferences is important for several reasons.  Women are already significantly underrepresented in science.  The NSF reports that only 20% of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs are held by Caucasian women and women of color hold less than 10%.3  While in the European Union women makeup approximately half of science students in tertiary education, they hold only 30% of research positions.3  Scientific conferences are where networking occurs and careers are advanced and these opportunities should be provided to all of our ASCPT members.  As Martin et al. stated “If we keep inviting the same people, and the same types of people, over and over again, we limit the diversity of thought and, potentially, the opportunities for innovation.”2

Some steps have been proposed to improve diversity in scientific meetings.2  The first step is to collect the data.  At the time of the 2018 Annual Meeting, the Society was 41% female and 46% of speakers were women.  In 2019 38% of the Annual Meeting speakers were female compared to 37% of the organization. As a Society, these numbers should make us proud that the collective diversity of our membership is reflected in our educational offerings. We can also take pride in recent initiatives to ensure that members at every stage in their career have the opportunity to actively participate in the national meeting as speakers and chairs.  However, we cannot let complacency take hold and must continue to strive for broad representation of all of our members.  To that end, we will continue collecting these data and transparently share them with our membership.

Step 2 is to develop a speaker policy.2  ASCPT plans to add a diversity statement to the 2021 Annual Meeting call for proposals.  Those proposing sessions for the Annual Meeting will be encouraged to consider diversity in age, gender and race of speakers when submitting proposals.  Step 3 is to make the policy visible.  Step 4 is to ensure a balanced and informed scientific programming committee.  ASCPT is actively engaged in ensuring all of these steps are followed. 

By working together, we can begin to address gender, age, and race imbalance in scientific programs.  This is just the first step for our organization to ensure diversity at our scientific meeting, and will only be possible with the help of our members.

  1. Time to End the Manel Tradition. National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/time-end-manel-tradition. Published June 12, 2019. Accessed August 20, 2019.
  2. Martin JL. Ten Simple Rules to Achieve Conference Speaker Gender Balance. PLOS Comput Biol. 2014;10(11):e1003903. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003903
  3. Sardelis S, Oester S, Liboiron M. Ten Strategies to Reduce Gender Inequality at Scientific Conferences. Front Mar Sci. 2017;4. doi:10.3389/fmars.2017.00231

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