Building an Equitable and Inclusive Culture at ASM

May 11, 2020

Despite 30 years of investment supporting women and scientists from underrepresented populations in science, the lack of inclusive diversity among ASM's scientific journals, meetings, awards and committees signals a necessary examination of our systems, and a shift in thinking and practice. We must build a home where people of different perspectives and identities contribute to the production of new scientific knowledge and talent; a home where these people have opportunities to share their research findings, engage in scientific discourse and demonstrate their scientific expertise.

In fall 2018, ASM established the ASM Taskforce on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The taskforce is an external advisory group to the ASM Board of Directors seeking to do the following:

  • Promote a culture of inclusion.
  • Ensure growth and sustainability.
  • Identify benchmarks of success.
ASM's DEI Taskforce
ASM's DEI Taskforce (left to right): Amy Chang (ex-officio and ASM staff representative), Shaundra Holmes (ex-officio and ASM staff representative), Dr. Bruce Birren, Dr. Leah Guthrie, Kyle Card, Dr. Maria Lima (Co-chairperson), Dr. Tuajuanda Jordan (Chairperson), Dr. Steve Finkel, Dr. Karissa Culbreath, Dr. Olivia Harriott, Dr. Amy Vollmer (ex-officio and ASM BoD representative). Not Pictured: Dr. Phoebe Lostroh
Source: American Society for Microbiology

After a year of interviewing the community, reviewing documents and examining exemplary models, the Taskforce asked ASM to visibly and outwardly commit to a practice of inclusive diversity with equity, access and accountability (IDEAA). They recommended that IDEAA serve as an ASM core value and be visibly integrated and articulated in the strategic plan.

Additionally, the Taskforce presented 4 guiding principles that were accepted by ASM's Board of Directors during their winter 2020 meeting. The guiding principles drive the action to change:

  • A diverse ASM enhances the microbial sciences, increases innovation, strengthens the community and sustains the profession.
  • ASM empowers individuals with diverse perspectives in decision-making processes.
  • ASM ensures equitable access and accountability through transparent procedures and communication.
  • ASM attracts, supports and develops the community, ensuring all are empowered and engaged in the work of the organization.

Moving Toward an IDEAA-Driven Culture

The journey to practice IDEAA is long and requires full commitment from the community, beginning with senior leadership and moving through ASM's chain of command. The Taskforce has recommended these initial steps:

  1. ASM must collect information to identify a baseline from which to build and establish targets on par with organizations leading in diversity. Information about an individual's uniqueness along with the communities' perception of ASM's DEI efforts is needed.
  2. ASM must provide professional opportunities and resources to raise awareness about bullying, harassment and discrimination, implicit biases and inequities. Professional development must be ongoing and integrated into regular training efforts beginning with ASM leaders and volunteers, and expanding to members and the scientific community.
  3. ASM must hold leaders and volunteers accountable. Elected and appointed leaders must demonstrate their sustained commitment to IDEAA. ASM must examine recruiting, nominating and selection practices for committees and boards. ASM must incorporate IDEAA into its scientific programming. ASM must empower all people to achieve their full scientific potential and leverage individual differences.

With these recommendations in place, ASM is initiating 2 short-term activities this spring. First, the Taskforce will conduct a national membership survey to assess the communities' perception of ASM's efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion. This baseline data will be utilized to identify a long-term plan for change. Please watch for correspondence from the Kaleidoscope Group, Inc. which will conduct the voluntary survey.

In addition, ASM has published a collection of papers on inclusive science in the spring issue of the ASM Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education (JMBE). The issue covers 3 key areas: an understanding that inclusion is the foundation for the future of colleges and universities, the need for radical changes in faculty support at multiple levels and the removal of barriers to understand social issues and the university experience.

ASM has a moral and social obligation to promote a culture of inclusion in our mission to advance the microbial sciences. The Taskforce is an example of ASM's commitment to move from awareness to action. We must take on this journey with intentionality and accountability. Our goal is to foster a culture where all individuals feel respected, are treated fairly and provided opportunities to develop professionally and excel in their chosen career pathway.

Author: Amy Chang

Amy Chang
Amy L. Chang is the former director of education at the American Society for Microbiology.