All stories, all storytellers: A report on NASW diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts in 2020

The National Association of Science Writers, an organization of 2,800 journalists, authors, editors, producers, public information officers, students, and people who write and produce material intended to inform the public about science, health, engineering, and technology, is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We value these principles for how they enrich our profession. This commitment applies to every aspect of NASW and extends to the broader field of science writing.

For the last five years our leadership, volunteers, and committees have worked to assess and address the myriad areas and initiatives in which we can support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within NASW and in our field. Here, in our first annual Diversity Report, we examine how we are doing and what we have yet to do.

To be clear, we have far to go. Although a majority (63%) of our membership identify as female – traditionally underrepresented in sciences in general – NASW is predominantly (82%) white. We have much work to do to represent the full breadth of storytellers and stories. Thank you to all the volunteers and community members who have been part of these efforts, both implicitly and explicitly. Please reach out by emailing director@nasw.org if there are ways that you would like to be involved.

What we believe

Guiding our efforts to celebrate and support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are three core beliefs:

We believe:

  • It is impossible to identify and communicate the full range of stories about science without incorporating the perspective of storytellers, subjects, and sources that represent the breadth of human experience.
  • Efforts to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility should infuse all programs, projects, initiatives, and functions and should be the work of all members, volunteers, and committees. These efforts should be championed at the highest levels, and they should not be invisible work borne by marginalized groups.
  • It is important to track our efforts and progress with meaningful metrics.

What we are doing

We are explicitly defining excellence and expertise to support diversity and inclusion in our awards and grants.

In conferring awards, grants, and other honors, professional societies like NASW set the standards for professional excellence.

For 2021, the Awards Committee has updated the description and purpose of the Science in Society Journalism Awards and Excellence in Institutional Writing Awards, to emphasize the importance of diversity:

“We especially seek to recognize science writing that is shaped by a variety of perspectives, because such writing enables us to tell more broadly relevant stories that better serve our readers and communities. Therefore, we consider diversity in topics, sources, audience, and authors to be a critical component of excellence.”

To aid judges in assessing this component of the entry and to additionally signal the importance of diversity, entrants are given the option of answering the question: “In what ways does your entry reflect diversity in the topic(s), sources, audience(s), and author(s)?” The Awards Committee will also hold an online training session for all volunteer judges to emphasize our intention to make diversity a key aspect of excellence in science writing.

NASW also believes that professional misconduct is incompatible with excellence. For the second year, award entry rules stated:

“NASW reserves the right to disqualify any entry or Entrant or revoke an Award if NASW determines, in its sole discretion, that … an Entrant has engaged in, or is the subject of investigation of claims of, fraud, harassment, unlawful conduct, or any other act that is inconsistent with the Purpose of these Awards or with any NASW policy, including but not limited to NASW’s Code of Ethics, Code of Conduct, and Operating Principles.”

Prior to being conferred an award, winners must attest in writing that they have not been the subject of a filed allegation, complaint, investigation, sanction, or other legal, civil, or institutional proceeding, where there was a finding of misconduct.

NASW also supports diversity through grants we disburse. Each year, NASW’s Peggy Girshman Idea Grants program awards about $25,000 for projects that support the field of science writing. As of 2018, the call for proposals explicitly seeks projects that serve or are led by underrepresented audiences, and prioritizes proposals that support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility:

“We are especially interested in projects led by and/or that serve underrepresented audiences and groups. In addition, any funded projects that solicit multiple voices, whether in the form of panels, events, writing compilations, etc. will be expected to showcase a broad diversity of voices from varied perspectives and backgrounds, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, physical ability, nationality, age, socioeconomic status, and belief. The best proposals will outline plans for diversity, equity, and inclusion in project development, execution, and outreach.”

This year, in response to the challenges of COVID-19 and in keeping with its commitment to fostering a more equitable and accessible future, the Grants Committee prioritized projects that directly address systemic racism and/or the pandemic, awarding $15,000 to five projects in December.

We are supporting targeted projects and programs through our Diversity Committee.

The NASW Diversity Committee focuses on projects and programs that support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in science writing. These initiatives are intended to support writers from underrepresented communities and bring new members into the field.

The Diversity Summer Fellowship Program, one of the committee’s flagship programs, received 27 applications this past year. It provides financial support to science writers from underrepresented communities who are working in summer internships that may not pay the bills or don’t offer relocation support. Because many summer internships were cancelled this year, NASW lifted the requirement of completion of an internship as long as the fellows worked intensively to develop their careers this summer. Three fellowships of $5,000 each were awarded.

Also last year, the Diversity Committee decided, and the Board agreed, to use some additional monies to fund reporting grants. Five grants of $1,000 each were awarded in October to support high-impact story proposals, involving one or more freelancers, that focus on how a science or health-related issue is affecting marginalized communities. By January 2021, two stories have already been published, one by recipients Elora Apantaku and Charmaine Runes and one by Ambika Chawla.

In April 2020, the Diverse Voices in Science Journalism project – an ongoing collaboration between NASW and The Open Notebook that aims to examine the experiences, expertise, and perspectives of science journalists from communities that are underrepresented in science journalism – won a continuation and a $10,000 increase in funding for another two years from Science Sandbox. This will enable the publication of up to eight new stories in the series per year, increase the rate paid to writers and editors, as well as pay for the translation of up to three stories per year. The Diverse Voices editorial team, which includes a subcommittee of the Diversity Committee, works to evaluate pitches and develop story ideas for the series. Prior stories in this series include articles on navigating newsrooms as a minority, making writing and reporting transgender-inclusive, entering science writing as a child of immigrants, reporting on Indigenous communities with respect and sensitivity, and many other topics.

We are infusing our commitment throughout the organization.

An organization’s leadership sets the tone in the ways that it chooses to allot resources, in the issues it addresses, and in the reflection of values. The NASW Board issued a statement of solidarity standing with the Black community in June, following the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black people.

The Board also formed a Standing Ethics Committee in 2020 to deal with NASW member complaints, in keeping with provisions in our Bylaws approved in 2019. Once convened, the committee engaged in training sessions for handling issues such as harassment and case studies in order to develop internal procedures further. An update and exposition on the process was published separately in January 2021.

We believe that an important aspect of supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility involves working closely with other organizations. NASW is an inaugural member of the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM, launched in 2019. In addition, in 2021 we will convene a monthly meeting of a small group of Board members from both NASW and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to update each other on ongoing and prospective projects, initiatives, and ideas of each organization related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility and to brainstorm areas of strategic collaboration and to discuss questions, resources, and challenges related to supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within our respective organizations.

In 2019 and 2020, the Board commissioned two working groups to recommend steps that NASW can take to better support diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and then to follow through on those recommendations. An initial result of those working groups’ efforts is NASW’s public statement underscoring our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We worked with the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to have the language adopted for the ScienceWriters conference on which we partner with CASW. All of the 2019 working group’s recommendations for the annual ScienceWriters meeting, such as offering registrants the option to print pronouns on badges and addressing physical accessibility in all meeting spaces, have now been implemented.

With the 2020 conference going virtual, special attention was given to translating accessibility into a virtual space. We prioritized meeting platforms with accessibility in mind, publicized features and limitations clearly ahead of time, and invited all registrants to request specific accommodation as part of online registration. Live captioning was provided for the majority of sessions and professional captioning was completed for all post-conference videos. Members of AAJA, BlackAFinSTEM, NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA, NLGJA, SACNAS, SAJA, and the Trans Journalists Association were invited to register at the NASW member rate. We also updated the Conference and Meeting Code of Conduct to address virtual events, covering aspects of digital privacy like screenshots.

In terms of conference content, NASW emphasized diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility to volunteer session organizers. The session proposal form requested that proposers “highlight how your proposed speakers include underrepresented groups and diversity in job roles and geographic location.” Members of the Programs committee also worked one-on-one with session organizers to support a diversity of speakers reflected in sessions.

What we have yet to do

Much remains to be done to create lasting and meaningful change. Currently, our outstanding work covers three significant and fundamental areas:

  • We need to set concrete and actionable goals regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
  • We need to develop reliable and transparent metrics to track progress on those goals.
  • We need to develop more robust strategies for connecting with and supporting writers from underrepresented communities and ensuring that they feel welcome and well-served within NASW.

We must set goals and track metrics

The 2020 Diversity Working Group focused on potential metrics for tracking diversity-related efforts within NASW. They identified six areas: Leadership, Membership, Student membership, Conference, Fellowships, Grants, and Awards.

  • Leadership: Percentage of candidates and elected board members who are from historically marginalized groups
  • Membership: Percentage of members who are from historically marginalized groups, broken down by group and career stage
  • Student membership: Percentage of student members who are from historically marginalized groups, broken down by group
  • Annual conference: Percent of attendees, session organizers, and speakers who are from historically marginalized groups
  • Fellowships: Percent of fellowship applicants and recipients who are from historically marginalized groups
  • Grants: Percent of grant applicants and recipients who are from historically marginalized groups
  • Awards: Percent of award applicants recipients and judges who are from historically marginalized groups

Properly developing and analyzing metrics is contingent upon accurately gauging how a member, candidate, or awardee identifies. Inconsistencies and lack of best-practices guidance presents difficulties, especially in our efforts to analyze previous years’ data. Currently, we feel that, while imperfect, the best way to gauge how an individual identifies is to ask them an optional question with the ability to select multiple group identities and a text box for other or additional self-identifications. As we look to gather data, including by sending an optional survey to grant, award, and fellowship recipients from 2018-2020, we will ensure that identifying information is collected with respect for privacy concerns and in keeping with all applicable laws.

Our goal is to share these metrics year after year with members and the community in an annual report.

We must work on engagement

We must own the work to support underrepresented communities, but we must also create deep relationships with members of these communities to ensure that the support we propose is useful and appropriate.

The 2019 Diversity Working Group recommended that the board prioritize relationship-building with groups that represent professionals and students from marginalized communities. If we intend to offer meaningful support, it is crucial that we establish and nurture relationships in which we listen.

For instance, in 2020, NASW offered complimentary award entry into the Science in Society Journalism awards and Excellence in Institutional Writing awards contests to members of the Asian American Journalists Association, the Association of LGBTQ Journalists, BlackAFinSTEM, the Native American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the South Asian Journalists Association. The Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science, and the Trans Journalists Association were added for 2021.

Only 11 of 477 award entrants selected this option, however, suggesting that our publicity efforts were not sufficient and indicating that for writers who are members of these communities, cost may not be the most significant barrier to entry for NASW’s awards contests. For 2021, a group of several volunteers will identify published pieces that meet the criteria for our awards and that reflect one or more aspects of diversity (with respect to the writer, topic, audience, or sources), contact the writers of those pieces, and invite them to enter the Science in Society Journalism awards and Excellence in Institutional Writing awards (at no cost) or, if preferred, enter the pieces on their behalf.

This is one step forward developed internally to increase the diversity of entries. Going forward, conversations and relationships with other associations are crucial to uncover the most effective ways to increase the diversity of topics, sources, audience and authors with the intentional understanding that these conversations are not just about soliciting awards nominations, but developing our understanding of how we can better support diverse communities as an organization, as well as how we can help support those other organizations.

In conclusion

We are committed to the sustained attention and effort to do the work of making NASW a welcoming, diverse, inclusive, and accessible community. We look forward to reporting on these ongoing efforts, as well as failures and successes, annually.

Acknowledgements

This report was developed with the assistance of many contributors. Material was drawn from working group reports and annual committee reports submitted by our volunteer chairs and pulled together with the help of Jane Lee and Rodrigo Perez-Ortega, co-chairs of NASW’s Diversity Committee, Alex Witze, chair of the 2020 Diversity Working Group, current president Jill Adams, past president Siri Carpenter and NASW’s print and digital editor, Sarah Nightingale. Current members of NASW’s Diversity committee include Pakinam Amer, Shraddha Chakradhar, Maggie Koerth, Amy Reyes, Christina Selby, Ramin Skibba, Ashley Smart, Nidhi Subbaraman, Kelly Tyrrell, Marcus Woo, and Phil Yam. Members of the two Diversity Working Groups in 2019 and/or 2020 were Shraddha Chakradhar, Jenny Cutraro, Lila Guterman, Jane Lee, Sandeep Ravindran, Matt Shipman, Ashley Smart, and Phil Yam. Thank you to all those who work is reflected within this report and to all those who, in myriad ways, contribute to creating a diverse, inclusive, equitable and accessible community of science writers.

Feb. 5, 2021

Hybrid 2022 AAAS Annual Meeting