Diversity and inclusion: A future outlook

The past chair of the Psychonomic Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Janet Metcalfe, shared her views on inclusivity and diversity in a post yesterday, arguing that: “We have seen respect for women, racial and ethnic minorities as well as religious groups come under siege. We do not know what the consequences of this shift will be. We have even seen the unshakable foundation of our discipline—the quest for and the respect for truth—come under assault.

In the face of this uncertainty it is of the utmost importance that we, as a discipline, persist in our efforts to increase diversity and tolerance in our own field, and continue to lobby for justice and equality.”

I agree, and I therefore asked the current Chair of the Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Valerie Reyna, for her views on the challenges ahead and the Society’s plans:

SL:  What do you see as the greatest challenge that the Society is facing in its efforts to increase diversity among its memberships?

VR: The greatest challenge facing our society is subtle stereotypes that people apply to themselves and others. These biases include stereotypes about the kind of people who ought to be “in charge” (e.g., in positions of authority) or in certain fields (e.g., in mathematically oriented areas of the Psychonomic Society) or whose work is relevant (e.g., young/old), and so on.  Students sometimes self-select before they can explore options, and faculty may apply stereotyped expectations to students—and not encourage students from certain backgrounds to pursue basic science.  These subtle, often unconscious, biases operate at every level of our Society just as they do in society at large.  As psychologists, we should have a leg up on this problem—invisible psychological forces are our specialty.

SL:  What specific initiatives have you planned for the remainder of 2017 to facilitate diversity?

VR: I plan to continue many of the initiatives pursued by our excellent past Committee, chaired by Janet Metcalfe. I also plan to reach out to members starting now, with the help of our Committee, Stephan Lewandowsky, Lou Shomette, and our Governing Board, who are all committed to making a difference in this area. Each member should look around their classrooms and invite students to join the Society and come to the meetings. We will continue to offer a warm welcome, including (assuming funds) an informal social reception. We also must encourage a diverse set of applicants for our funded initiatives, such as symposium proposals. We sometimes think of prejudice and discrimination (alas, we still have to contend with that) as only the purview of social psychology and think of the Psychonomic Society as not including social, neuro-, developmental, or other psychologies.  I think we need to think more broadly, and realize that the Society encompasses experimental psychology, and apply our training to a wider range of social and economic problems.  A broader identity would attract a broader and more diverse membership.

SL: We often take it for granted that we should strive for greater diversity, but if you had to explain it to a bright high school graduate, what would you say to her (or him) to convince them that greater diversity in science is a necessary or desirable goal?

VR: One of the core arguments is indirect—it is about actively overcoming discrimination, which includes all the limiting assumptions that people grow up with.  Another argument is about the nature of the problems that people think are important, which varies to some degree depending on people’s life experience, cultural background, gender, and so on.  Diversity of perspectives—of thinking—enriches science.

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee

The Committee’s website contains a few additional pointers to future initiatives:

  • Work towards strong representation in all aspects of the Society (e.g. governance, awards, workshops, supported symposia, keynote speakers, etc.) that is not only gender balanced, but includes underrepresented groups.
  • Hold a diversity networking meeting during each Annual Meeting.
  • Create and award 5 new student diversity travel awards valued at $1,000 each, to be provided for students from underrepresented groups. These awards are named the J. Frank Yates Student Travel Award – Supporting diversity & inclusion in cognitive science.
  • Develop and launch a survey indicating underrepresented minority status, including LGBT, both for themselves and for members of their labs who might, immediately or eventually, be interested in participating in Psychonomics.

If any of those initiatives sound interesting, feel free to contact me or the Chair of the Committee. We welcome input from the membership and we welcome your involvement and ideas or criticisms.

Digital and peer-reviewed  inclusion and diversity

Janet Metcalfe observed yesterday that among Editors of the Society there is a gender imbalance, and that “editors and editorial boards, even of the Psychonomic journals, are dominated by men. We need to renew our efforts.”

This is also a good point, and I am pleased that our Digital Editorial Team is already exactly gender-balanced. Our team also includes citizens of 4 different countries across 3 continents, so I think we are doing reasonably well despite being quite WEIRD.

The composition of the digital team may be a good first step but the efforts shouldn’t stop there: we examined the (approximately) 120 posts on this featured-content site that we published in 2015 and 2016 and that pointed to single specific articles published in Psychonomics journals. Of those articles, just over a quarter (26%) had female first authors, the remainder were published by men (we only considered first authors). Two questions can be asked about those data: First, how does this proportion relate to the “baserate”; that is, the gender balance of all articles published by the Society? Are we above or below the baseline? Second, how can we redress that imbalance?

I am currently seeking answers to the first question, and I hope to have some data on that next week. Concerning the second question, given that the majority of posts currently arise from self-nomination by the author(s) of a published article, let me take this opportunity to encourage all authors to get in touch with me once you receive an acceptance letter from a Psychonomics journal. Wherever possible, I will then schedule your article for publication as a blog post.

And please don’t let the gender-imbalance known to afflict self-nomination hold you back. Or anything else, for that matter: as President Obama reminded us on Wednesday, “the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.”

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