“Representation Matters” – this message was the driving force behind CSHL’s Women in Biology Speakers’ List, an updated beta version of which was unveiled at a presentation Thursday September 21. A collaboration between CSHL WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) and Meetings and Courses, the Speakers’ List will be a freely accessible and easily searchable list of female biologists who are available to give talks and serve on panels.
Although women have been making great strides in many areas of science, especially at the level of PhD and post-doctoral students, they remain grossly underrepresented in positions of influence, including at scientific conferences, where male speakers tend to dominate – a problem so prevalent it has its own hashtag, #YAMMM (Yet Another Mostly Male Meeting), thanks to Dr. Jonathon Eisen at UC Davis. Lack of female representation often arises because conference organizers tend to be men who tend to invite other men (often peers they’ve known for years) to speak. Interestingly, studies have found that women are also more likely to invite other men to speak. End result: a self-perpetuating cycle of a narrow group of mostly men being asked to give talks at conferences around the world.
It is vital to the future of science to hear fresh voices and ideas from scientists of all genders and with diverse backgrounds. Therefore, on the inspiration of WiSE President Emeritus Jackie Giovanello, WiSE teamed up with Dr. Charla Lambert, Manager of Outreach, Training & Evaluation for Meetings and Courses, to integrate data on CSHL’s past speakers (many of whom are students and early career scientists) into a searchable interface.
There are currently a number of speakers’ lists available, helping combat the YAMMM problem, but they tend to be discipline specific; these include Anne’s List, a list of female neuroscientists hosted by CSHL’s Dr. Anne Churchland and a list of Women in Cell Biology (WICB) compiled by the ASCB (Association for Cell Biology). We aim to integrate data on women speakers from lists such as these into an easily searchable database that covers a broad spectrum of biological disciplines.
Last summer, WiSE intern and Stony Brook University (SBU) undergrad Victoria Liu helped get the project off the ground, constructing the framework for the database and collecting and formatting information on the women who have spoken at CSHL. This summer, our second intern, SBU Master’s student Fahimeh Mirhaj built a pipeline to integrate this database with speakers’ lists from other organizations; the current database includes over 2,000 speakers from CSHL and the ASCB, with plans for soon integrating speaker data from EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization) and EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory)
Dr. Lambert will unveil the joint CSHL/ASCB Speaker’s List at this year’s joint ACSB/EMBO meeting. Beta testing will continue through early next year, with hopes of taking the site live by the end of 2018. Once the site is open to the public, Lambert plans to take it “on the road,” helping to integrate the Speakers’ List and other diversity measures into standard conference planning practice. We hope that this list will help put an end to the “We didn’t know any women to invite” excuse and help conference planners reach beyond their sphere of close colleagues to increase the diversity of speakers.