Toolkits for equity, diversity and inclusion in scholarly communications

June 9, 2023
Dave Hazzan

By Dave Hazzan, writer and academic, completing his PhD in History at York University

Many of the various avenues of communicating scholarly ideas, including lectures, classes, and seminars, disappear into the ether in time. Our theses – with the peer review stamp of approval – are archived through our books and journal articles for the long term. And if you are one of the talented and lucky few who have made a breakthrough, your work may become “canonical.” And as Deborah Poff, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, says, “What counts as canonical is who has access to institutional knowledge and the resources to use those knowledges” – scholarly publications. 

In 2021, Poff wrote a discussion document on equity, diversity, and inclusion for the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE). She said it was “very complex,” with many dimensions and facets to explore, and it was exponentially longer than most documents COPE produces. She concluded that, though scholarly publications serve “a fairly elite population,” within that category, people are not treated equally concerning access to scholarly publications. 

This is not (necessarily) by design – it’s self-perpetuating, with university rankings, workforce discrimination, and underrepresentation in peer reviewing and editorial decision-making all contributing to the problem. 

The result is that under-represented groups tend to publish elsewhere and sometimes use non-mainstream research and writing methods. Poff pointed to ChatGPT, non-mainstream journals, and paper mills as examples of how some people get around barriers to publishing. 

So what are the solutions? Sylvia Izzo Hunter, Marketing Manager of Community and Content at Wiley Publishers, is working on one solution, “The Toolkit for Disability Equity.” Hunter describes it as “an online, dynamic resource for people with disabilities in the scholarly communication industry and for those who live and work with people with disabilities.” Hunter says the toolkit is constantly changing and is not something you can download or print as a PDF. “Because this conversation is rapidly developing,” then “to help people, [the toolkit] also must be capable of rapid development.” 

Divided into three sections – a Welcome, an FAQ, and Resources – the point of the toolkit is action to support scholarly publications in reaching their EDI goals. They plan to add more sections about Community, Employment Lifecycle, and Governance in the future. Over one billion people, or fifteen percent of the population, live with a different ability set than the rest of the population. Despite this, they do not account for fifteen percent of the bylines in academic publishing. 

Thane Chambers, Librarian at the University of Alberta, presented via video on the “Antiracism Toolkit for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.” Chambers was one of the BIPOC scholars who produced the toolkit through the Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications. “Academic publishing and librarianship are very white,” she says. “It can be stressful for non-whites who don’t live in North America or Western Europe and don’t speak English as a first language.” 

The toolkit’s focus is on “help[ing] those in the industry to implement procedures and norms” that advance and allow “BIPOC scholars to thrive.” Like “The Toolkit for Disability Equity,” the “Antiracism Toolkit for BIPOC people” is dynamic and constantly changes as the conversation grows and scholars learn more.  

Jenny Peng, Senior Publisher at Oxford University Press’ “Guidelines on Inclusive Language and Images in Scholarly Communication” is “a living document” and “never meant to be finished.” Peng says they constantly call on the publishing community to help them grow the guidelines over time. 

Peng said the guidelines were “born out of a growing need for a more comprehensive and global toolkit to address bias and discrimination in published scholarly research.” When we talk about those issues, says Peng, there are two types of bias we often discuss. The first is “explicit bias, overt and intentional”; the second is “implicit bias,” and can be hidden. By looking for bias, Peng says, we can look to more inclusive dissemination of scholarly research. The toolkit features twelve categories: summary, recommendations, literature, and resources. 

Hopefully, with enough time and effort, EDI in scholarly publishing will grow more equitable and reach a point where personhood ceases to be a discriminatory factor in research publishing. 

Toolkits can be found via the Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications website.