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Diversity and Inclusivity in ESIP

ESIP Community Fellow, Katy Rico, highlights diversity and inclusivity and why ESIP should continue to strive to increase both within the ESIP Community. This is a timely post, as ESIP Leadership is currently drafting strategic themes and goals for the next five years, including a focus on just this topic.

Why is diversity and inclusivity (D&I) important? Including a diverse group of people within your community brings forth new ideas and perspectives, expands the talent pool, and provides real-world relatability for recruiting additional members. In the past few years, a number of organizations, companies, and universities have begun to recognize the importance of D&I in the workplace, and many also incorporate policies and language pertaining to such in their mission statements, job ads, and business strategies. ESIP is no different.

For me, one of the most obvious signs that ESIP community members value inclusivity is how often I have heard the phrase “data accessibility” in the winter and summer meetings. Making data accessible and usable for a broad group of users—those of limited funds, variable education levels, different career stages, and various organization affiliations—is a tangible step towards inclusivity when considering who can access, share, and use Earth science data. While ESIP’s primary objective is to provide a collaborative network for the dissemination and application of Earth Science data, inclusivity is actually core to this mission. In fact, “Inclusiveness” is one of the core commitments of ESIP, in that “ESIP is committed to equality and maintain[ing] a collegial working environment.” But what individuals are Earth data scientists and the ESIP community engaging with? Who are we servicing?

As a Latina, I think a lot about what it means to ‘be diverse’ in the Earth Sciences. There are a number of shared experiences amongst my peers that I don’t share, and that made my academic career difficult. For example, I have no childhood memories of things like traveling, hiking, and camping that have ‘fortified a love for the outdoors,’ like so many of my colleagues. My outdoor experiences growing up included day-camp through the Chicago Park District, recess at school, and the occasional stroll through a highway-adjacent nature preserve with my grandmother. Many of my peers have a network of family and peers that understand how higher education ‘works’ because they have been through it themselves, and even have parents that have obtained graduate degrees. Meanwhile, while I have a vast support network amongst family and friends, navigating higher education was up to me, and any advice I received was from mentors sought out from my undergraduate and graduate institutions. It wasn’t really until I reflected upon my identities and how they were or were not represented in the field of Earth sciences that I was able to find my own place and voice as a scientist, and ultimately obtain my doctorate.

My sense of isolation from many of my peers is not rare, because, as it turns out, few ethnic minorities actually obtain doctoral degrees in the Earth sciences. A recent paper uses 40 years of demographic data in the Earth, ocean, and atmospheric, to demonstrate that “the representation of students from underrepresented minorities (American Indian or Alaska Native, Black or African American, and Hispanic or Latino groups) has essentially been stagnant when compared with the proportion of the relevant groups in the US population” (Bernard and Cooperdock, 2018, Nature). In other words, diversity—at least, ethnic diversity—has been stagnant in the Earth sciences for forty years.

What does this mean for ESIP? While ESIP is actively working to be inclusive, it may not be able to easily recruit diverse people, because the number of underrepresented minorities in the Earth sciences are already low. Luckily, steps are already in place to diversify the ESIP community, or at least demonstrate that ESIP leadership values not just inclusivity, but diversity as well. For example, the ESIP Meetings Committee is a relatively new development that has as part of its purpose to advance D&I initiatives at ESIP Meetings. Additionally, as part of a Community Engagement Fellowship Program, Megan Carter (ESIP Community Director) is part of a team that is working on developing a manual that specifically discusses how to build and nurture a sense of community at in-person and virtual events. That manual includes a large focus on diversity, equity, and inclusivity as it pertains to meetings, including topics like speaker selection, facilitation methods that promote empowerment, networking tactics in large groups, and more. Moving forward, I hope that ESIP continues to expand initiatives to make sure that people from all backgrounds feel welcomed, excited, and empowered to be engaged in the Earth data science community. Tangible ways to do so include increasing minority representation amongst ESIP leadership, and taking into consideration representation when nominating community members for awards, or deciding who will attend and speak at meetings. On an individual level, being mindful of your own identities and considering the vast possibilities of others’ experiences can help advance inclusivity, and, hopefully, improve diversity within our ESIP community.

More about Katy: Katy is a Wares Postdoctoral Fellow in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at McGill University. Her work sits at the intersection of geomicrobiology and trace metal geochemistry, constraining how microbiological processes are recorded by sediment geochemistry in oceans and lakes. Currently, she is studying the transformation of trace metals via degradation of phytoplankton– a process hypothesized to be critical for the development of Banded Iron Formations (BIFs). Katy supported the Education Committee as an ESIP Community Fellow in 2019.