Equality and diversity at the SEB

29 April 2018 - By: Teresa G. Valencak

Equality and diversity at the SEB

By Teresa G. Valencak on behalf of Equality and Diversity Convenor group

Implementing a contemporary equality and diversity strategy is a challenging task. Society is changing fast and academia has traditionally struggled to keep up with it. What counts is that we need diversity and inclusion to help us solve problems in better ways and to identify new avenues, whether in scientific approaches or other challenges in the working force.

With this in mind, many Learned Societies, including the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB), have set out to implement a roadmap on equality, diversity and inclusion. The roadmap will serve as a framework of guidance and support for all SEB members on issues related to gender, race, disability etc. In the specific context of the SEB, an internationally active academic Society, the roadmap intends to raise awareness on equality of people originating from different nationalities, affiliations and career stages. Over the past two years, the SEB+ Section of SEB, and the Equality and Diversity convenor group worked to gain commitment, identified and discussed the benefits and the limiting factors of the roadmap in committee meetings, and elected Champions and advocates to help promote this initiative. Last year, SEB Council signed off the roadmap.

We realised very quickly that we needed to do our homework first, articulating our aims so that we could then evaluate any impacts of the roadmap. To begin with, we are looking at gender equality, but in the future we will be tackling other areas of equality and diversity. To establish a baseline, we looked at the active participation of women as presenting speakers at the SEB’s Annual Meetings, or as awardees of the President’s Medal in the different scientific areas. We identified the following status quo (Table 1).

Table 1: Number of women SEB President’s Medallists 1990-2017 
 Animal  Plant   Cell  EPA/SEB+
 5/22  6/21  4/18   6/9 

The above numbers show that, with a contribution of ca. 25% to each of the animal, plant and cell sections, women are not yet as well represented among the medallists as they are in the current cohorts of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Will we therefore ‘just’ have to wait another couple of years until the upcoming generation of experimental biologists will be equally represented as 50:50 men: women, just because more women are pushing into the academic job market? Well, science tells us this won’t happen easily. Rather, studies in this context suggest that, as soon as men and women are more equally represented, the actual wage level drops and, even more astonishingly, the societal recognition and the number of women in leading positions drops in such conditions.

There is no need to be too pessimistic, though. Rather, the SEB as an important, international learned Society in the biological sciences, with over 2500 members, represents an ideal platform for establishing professional connections, collaborations and driving change. Thus, it may significantly enhance and propel forward people’s careers - one major benefit of membership, if not the main purpose of an academic Society nowadays. And by openly discussing equality and inclusion issues, and working together with our members to overcome these, we can make a visible difference.

With that in mind, dear reader, we need you. To make our roadmap a lively document as intended, we would like to invite you to get involved in our activities by i) regularly attending the Diversity Dinner at the Annual Meeting, ii) considering equal representation of gender, career stage and nationality when inviting speakers to the scientific sessions, iii) nominating women for the President’s Medal, and iv) contacting us to make suggestions and foster discussions on this most important topic. As an academic Society, the SEB in general and the SEB+ Section with its Equality and Diversity convenor group are just as lively as its members are. Thus, the more you feel the urge to foster diversity and inclusion, the more you should get involved with us. We have just started the process, but we would like to do more with your help. Get involved!
Category: Equality and Diversity
Teresa Valencak

Teresa G. Valencak

Teresa is the SEB Equality and Diversity Group Convenor and works as an Assistant Professor in Wildlife Biology at Austria’s University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna. She is a passionate lecturer in animal physiology, conducts experiments on wild and laboratory animals and commits to science communication both in Austria and China where she partly works. Teresa is happy to be contacted on all aspects related to (women’s) career development in mainland Europe and share her vast experience in hunting for fellowships and grants.