Topic: Diversity and Accessibility in the Biological Recording Community
(This has also been posted on the ALERC forum - sorry to those seeing it twice!)
The recent news coverage and social media activity about ‘Black Lives Matter’ has given me an opportunity to address something that I’ve been thinking about for a while.
At SxBRC we are incredibly proud to host the Sussex Biological Recorders’ Seminar each year, which has around 250 attendees to a day of talks and networking. Generally, the majority of attendees are retired, white, and middle class. Since we were able to increase the capacity 4 years ago there’s definitely been an increase in younger attendees (aged 25+) which is encouraging, but on the whole there is very little diversity in our attendees across the board, and the same is reflected in a lot of recording groups. We do make an effort when selecting talks to have a mix of male and female speakers, professional and amateur recorders, and where possible younger and older speakers. I’ve considered deliberately trying to book a BAME speaker, but it didn’t feel right to ask someone to speak just to make us look more diverse, especially since I’m not sure how comfortable they might feel looking out to a sea of white faces.
This is the only event SxBRC runs, as over the last few years my capacity to organise events has been overtaken by more immediately important work, and the Sussex biological recording community is so active in organising their own events that it hasn’t been detrimental to the community for SxBRC to move to promoting external recording events. I have tried to encourage more students to attend the seminar, but this has been largely unsuccessful and I have accepted that holding one event is not going to attract a broader attendee base. And I’ve been in this position myself. I’ve left volunteer committee groups because as the only person under 60 I found it frustrating trying to communicate ideas. But the fact is that diversity makes the community better, and this is true across age, social and racial backgrounds, as well as people with disabilities who also appear underrepresented in the biological recording community. It’s been shown throughout many aspects of science that having a more diverse group encourages better problem solving.
I was hoping that one of the bigger organisations might release some advice for encouraging more diversity in recording groups, but so far nothing much has come forward. In fact, there’s been little acknowledgement generally as far as I have been able to see and I've been feeling pretty disappointed about it. So I’ve been thinking about what I can do to encourage groups to engage with a wider range of people and make everyone feel more visible and welcome to the biological recording community, and improve accessibility for those that need it.
SxBRC started a newsletter two years ago to replace a previous email group, and it’s been a great way for us to engage with readers about local and national topics and events. What I’m hoping for are some resources that I can include in the newsletter to encourage local recording groups to consider diversity and accessibility when organising and running events and recruiting members to their committees and councils, in social media and on websites, and resources that we can use internally to make sure we're doing as much as we can too.
Obviously, the current pandemic situation makes it difficult for anyone to meet up and hold a recording group event, and we don’t know at the moment when it’s going to be possible for things like this to take place. But this seems like a good opportunity to encourage some introspective thinking and new ideas in biological recording. I've got a newsletter due this month, so I'm going to pull together what I can to start this off and see how it goes. I don’t have a lot of answers, but rather than waiting for a solution to be presented to me I think it’s time I tried to find one, and I’d rather do the wrong things and learn from them than do nothing at all.
I’d really appreciate any thoughts, links to resources or ideas on how to take this forward. In particular, if you’ve ever run events that were specifically aimed at younger attendees, have advice for running more accessible events for people with disabilities or if you’re based in an area with a more ethnically diverse population (Sussex is around 97% white according to Wikipedia’ ethnicity stats) and can give me any advice, links to blogs, projects or groups that I can feature, or anything you've found helpful - then I’d really appreciate it.
Also, I’ve tried to use appropriate language but please call me out on any mistakes and I’ll correct them – Thanks!