By the OHBM Diversity & Gender Committee
Nearly three years ago, a young woman approached the microphone at the “Town Hall Meeting” in Geneva during OHBM’s 20th Annual Meeting and pointed out that all the newly elected Council members were men. While there were women on the ballot for the 2016 Council elections, the results ended in a composition of 14 men to 1 woman. Given a binomial probability of < 0.0005 for this outcome, the coin is clearly weighted.
The Council meeting in Geneva took place the day following the Town Hall Meeting, and there was unanimous agreement that not only was the male/female ratio a problem, there were other aspects of diversity, including geographic representation on Council, that needed to be addressed. For example, demographic research showed that approximately 15% of the OHBM membership is from Asia, however, at that time, there was no Asian representation on Council.
As a first step, Council created a Diversity and Gender Task Force (DGTF) with the mission to advise Council on ways the Society could enhance geographic and gender diversity. The primary charge of the DGTF was to create an OHBM diversity and gender plan that would be approved by Council (Table 1). As part of the plan’s development, the Task Force assessed current and past demographic data on OHBM leadership and education roles. Despite some focal periods seeing a shift towards greater balance (e.g. during the meeting in Hawaii), the analysis showed an underrepresentation of women and of members from outside North America and Europe in leadership and teaching roles since the inception of OHBM. These results were published in the first two Diversity and Gender OHBM blogs (blog 1 and blog 2). After the first year, Council agreed that the Diversity and Gender Task Force should become a standing OHBM committee, and approved the ongoing formation of the Diversity and Gender Committee (DGC).
Among the DGC, while many approaches were discussed, two potential routes to enhance gender and geographic diversity within OHBM rose above the rest. These potential courses of action are as follows:
1. Education – This approach aims to educate the OHBM community on issues of implicit and explicit biases in order to promote gender & geographic balance of people in leadership and teaching positions. The challenge is that any implicit biases are, by definition, not conscious. It was decided that education should be a component of any approach, as it will prove over the long term. Currently the OHBM Program Chair is the Council liaison to the DGC, to help foster diversity in the OHBM education program. In addition, OHBM2019 will see a symposium on “Implicit Bias” as well as other events aimed at increasing awareness among OHBM members on gender- and other forms of discrimination in academia (i.e. interviews with neuroscientists working on implicit bias). The DGC has also created links with the OHBM Communications Committee (ComCom) to provide education and updates to the OHBM community.
2. Affirmative Attention – The nominations committee in the past consisted of six members, including the current Chair, past and present Chairs and secretaries. Nominations were reviewed and discussed during a conference call. The DGC proposed that a DGC member be included on the nominations committee, and their role would be to foster diversity among candidates. This proposal was approved by Council, and the results of this approach have so far been positive.
Following these changes, We are happy to report that with respect to gender and geographic representation, we now have the most diverse Council since the beginning of OHBM. Five of the 15 Council members are women. In addition, whereas in Geneva all members were from Europe and North America, there are now three members from Asia, including one woman, and one from Australia. The DGC continues their work to increase diversity and representation on the OHBM Council. The chairs of OHBM have also attended DGC meetings, highlighting the will for change amongst the leadership.
We should however keep in mind that real change takes time, and it’s unlikely that the explicit and implicit biases have vanished. If a conscious effort to address diversity is not a part of our fabric, it is likely we will see a return to an equilibrium of inequity.
The most crucial point for fostering change was that, following the meeting in Geneva, Council took the issue of diversity seriously and have fully backed and empowered the DGC. In fact, when the DGC proposed ‘Diversity and Gender Standards for the Organization of Human Brain Mapping,’ the Scientific Advisory Board of OHBM commented that it did not go far enough in promoting diversity. Thus, the DGC went back to the drawing board and made the decision to create a ‘Code of Conduct’ for the OHBM Annual Meeting. The Code of Conduct has now been approved by Council and will be a guiding principle for OHBM. We hope that its adoption will make the annual meeting an even more welcoming and inclusive environment for all members, explicitly honoring diversity in, but not limited to, age, culture, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, political beliefs, profession, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status. Creating this Code of Conduct is the first of what we believe will be many steps towards increasing diversity within the broad OHBM membership.
Finally, we as a committee speaking on behalf of Council, want to thank the young woman who came to the microphone and spoke during the Town Hall Meeting back in 2016. Let that be a welcome message for all to feel free to voice your opinion.
Side note: Council directed the DGTF/DGC to examine the gender and geographic representation on Council. However, the DGC recognizes that in order to be an organization that is inclusive and welcoming, the concept of diversity should extend to age, culture, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, political beliefs, profession, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Thus, discussions on the DGC started with the Council recommendations, but the scope was expanded to attempt to address all issues of diversity. The full spectrum of diversity is seen in the OHBM Code of Conduct.
Another approach that was suggested but not implemented was labeled as the ‘Electoral Vote’ approach. This would use the structure of the membership over the past three years to determine the distribution of leadership roles for i.e., the Council elections. So if 20% of the OHBM membership over the past three years were from Asia, but only 10% of Council positions came from there, then seats would be open on Council for candidates from Asia. This would also occur for Europe, Africa, North America, South America, Australia/New Zealand, and the Middle East, if these regions have enough members. Since the location of OHBM (usually) rotates on a three year basis between North/South America, Europe, and Asia/Australia/New Zealand, a three year average would adjust for local increases in membership based on the location of the meeting. This approach would have required considerable changes to the existing nominating processes and so was not implemented.