Conferences General

Diversity Re-Hack at SIPS 2021

Kimberly Quinn

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee

Following the SIPS 2021 virtual conference, session leaders were invited to respond to a survey to reflect on their diversity and inclusiveness practices.

They were prompted to consider diversity in a number of ways:

  1. Identity-based forms of diversity (e.g., gender expression, sexuality, race and ethnicity, neurodiversity)
  2. Geographic diversity (researcher location, culture)
  3. Career-stage diversity (academic: undergraduate students, (post)graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, tenure-track faculty, tenured faculty; non-academic: probationary/temporary versus permanent)
  4. Institutional diversity (high schools, two-year / community colleges, undergraduate institutions, Masters-granting institutions, PhD-granting institutions, nonacademic organizations)
  5. Resource diversity (institutional support and infrastructure, money, time)

Of the 55 session leaders contacted, 28 (51%) responded to the survey. Eight of the 55 sessions were explicitly diversity-focused (and four leaders of diversity-focused sessions responded to the survey), whereas the remaining 47 sessions were not (and 24 of these session leaders responded to the survey).

Session leaders replied to five questions. Key themes in their responses are summarized below (along with my own reflections and/or recommendations, where applicable).

Note that I sometimes distinguish between inclusion and access. I refer to inclusion as people’s real or perceived sense of being recognized and respected in their identities, and access as people’s opportunities to obtain and make use of knowledge or resources.

What did you do to foster diversity and inclusion in this session?

Session leaders reported working toward both access and inclusion. 

Inclusion-directed activities included the following:

  • Highlighting session leader diversity
  • Acknowledging session leader positionality (including epistemic positionality, e.g., positivist versus constructivist views on knowing)
  • Creating welcoming spaces (e.g., encouraging personal introductions, welcoming and teaching attendees how to share their pronouns on the virtual platforms)
  • Creating accessible and inclusive spaces (e.g., using small breakout rooms to give more  attendees the opportunity to participate, allowing the use of text-based chat in addition to or instead of speaking, enabling asynchronous contributions via shared documents)
  • Being attentive to disability and neurodivergence (e.g., using live captioning, recording sessions when the content or contributions were not private, using colorblind-friendly colors in materials, making materials available offline, providing preparation materials in advance)
  • Being attentive to identity-related issues in the presentation of session materials (e.g., acknowledging that gender-dichotomized data in a demonstration data set did not reflect expansive definitions of gender)

Access-directed activities included the following:

  • Being attentive to resource diversity (e.g., relying exclusively on open-source software)
  • Being attentive to knowledge diversity (e.g., conducting pre-session surveys to gauge knowledge, sharing background papers in advance, overviewing introductory concepts at start of session)
  • Advertising in advance (e.g., via Twitter) to attract broader attendance

One comment stood out for highlighting a potential topic for future discussion. A session leader noted that they had devoted a lot of attention to career-stage diversity and power structures while also neglecting identity-based diversity and power structures. In my mind, this comment serves as an implicit call for intersectionality as a topic of discussion. All of our various identities—based on race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability status, but also on less conventionally considered variables such as career stage, institutional type, and so on—have the potential to combine in ways that create different forms of privilege versus exclusion. We have an opportunity, and perhaps even an obligation, to consider how identities that impact inclusion and identities that impact access might interact in ways that are particularly detrimental to the scientific community by virtue of who they exclude from scientific activity and discourse.

Who will benefit from the knowledge disseminated / materials developed in the session?

Sessions leaders generally responded that beneficiaries would be sessions attendees and anyone interested in the knowledge and/or skills targeted in the session. They referred primarily to researchers, instructors, and students as those who would benefit. One notable exception was a reflection that had a “hidden curriculum” flavor to it, noting that early-career researchers, scholars in the Global South, and scholars at smaller and/or teaching-focused institutions might be particularly likely to benefit.

Reflecting on the similarity of responses to this question highlighted for me that the question was likely unclear. It might be interesting for session leaders to consider who would likely be interested in the session content and/or outputs. Would the ideas, methods, etc. appeal to all researchers, instructors, and/or students in the relevant domain? In so doing, session leaders might also consider defining who they include in each of these stakeholder categories and identifying groups or individuals who would likely not be interested in the session content and/or outputs. Should efforts be made to reach, appeal to, and serve these groups or individuals? If so, how?

Who might be left out, overlooked, or otherwise less able to benefit?

Session leaders again tended to focus on whether conference attendees were able to attend their sessions, reflecting on geographic diversity and session timing, attendee language barriers, and so on. There were some reflections on whether cultural norms and values might constrain the relevance of session content or prevent full engagement and open discussion. Another response reflected on the largely online nature of SIPS (with its virtual conference and the generally high engagement of SIPS-oriented scholars on Twitter). 

There were also a few reflections on the time, resource, or financial burden of adopting advocated practices. This kind of reflection might be useful for future consideration. Focusing less on sessions themselves and more on the products and practices that result from these sessions, session leaders might benefit from asking who has the ability and desire to use them. Perhaps more importantly, who doesn’t use the products and practices, and why? Should efforts be made to adapt products and practices to these people? If so, how?

What can you (as session organizer) and/or SIPS do to expand who can benefit? What can you (as session organizer) and/or SIPS do to address barriers?

Note. These questions were asked separately, simply to provide respondents with different ways to frame the issue. Responses to the two questions (unsurprisingly) mirrored each other, so the summaries have been combined here.

My summary for these questions is brief, because most of the responses recapitulate what we’ve heard before when asking about how to improve access and inclusion: a need to consolidate all of the outputs from SIPS efforts over the years to prevent redundancy and make identification of and access to information easier; a need to translate materials into multiple languages to address language diversity; a call for consistent automatic captioning of videos to address both language barriers and disability; and a desire to maintain the virtual conference format (or at least adopt a hybrid format) to address geographic and financial diversity. 

Responses also echoed past discussions calling for efforts to integrate epistemic diversity (i.e., diversity in approaches to “knowing,” such as positivism versus constructivism) into replicable science discussions and practices and for SIPS to publicly address and acknowledge the  colonial and imperial histories in psychology and their ongoing impact.

Finally, one respondent acknowledged not knowing how to better foster inclusiveness in a session focused on a specific methodological issue, and this resonates with me as someone who teaches quantitative research design (acknowledging its particular positivist standpoint). When I first considered whether my own pedagogy supported diversity and inclusion, I thought my mandate was to think about how I presented issues of race, gender, and the like, and to ensure that the research I highlighted included female, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, or LGBTQI+ authors, and I know from conversations with others that I was not alone in this understanding. I struggled with this in the context of research methods teaching because so many of the classic readings and even much contemporary work comes from White men. It took me a while to realize that fostering diversity and inclusion was also about my audience (i.e., my students). The issues aren’t just about the materials we present (i.e., whether we promote work from minoritized scholars) and the activities we ask people to engage in (e.g., whether we talk about race), but also how we do that. How do we engage everyone in our audience—students in our classes or participants in our SIPS sessions—and ensure that they feel valued and included?

This respondent recommended that SIPS provide training or tips to foster inclusion. My hope is that future session leaders can look to the examples described above as a starting point, and that SIPS takes up this recommendation.

A closing reflection

As noted above, session leaders were encouraged to consider diversity in terms of identity, geography, career stage, institution type, and resource availability. My sense is that the community’s discussions in recent years have done much to promote the first three types of diversity, but much less the last two. To be clear, we still have much to do on every dimension. However, until we seriously consider the constraints imposed by limited time, support, and infrastructure and how these constraints shape research practice, we will have limited success in our mission to improve psychological science.


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