The ROOT & SHOOT RCN Inclusive Conference Working Group was created to generate an RCN-wide system that develops and implements practices and policies that promote a safe and inclusive conference environment.
Acknowledging a history of inequitable practices at such gatherings, the Working Group’s effort intentionally focuses on increasing the representation of marginalized groups (e.g., based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, immigration status) to address this history and more accurately reflect the diversity in our organizations. Given the critical role of conference participation for the success of individuals in the scientific research ecosystem, the effort will constitute an important step in achieving equity in the plant sciences.
This Working Group is made up of a diverse set of volunteers from across the RCN-participating societies, including early career researchers (e.g., graduate students and postdoctoral researchers). Together, this Working Group centers equity and care for others in its efforts to enable a powerful shift in the safety and inclusiveness of our conferences.
The Inclusive Conferences Working Group had as its charge to generate recommendations, codes, and guidelines relevant to this goal for all seven societies. Five “subcommittees” were formed to accomplish these tasks, and they are:
- An RCN-wide Community Agreement for conferences and participants, outlining principles and standards that support equity and inclusiveness
- A reporting structure that ensures accountability and compliance with the Community Agreement
- Recommendations for a transparent site selection process that incorporates considerations regarding safety and inclusion of all potential attendees
- Guidelines for practices that improve conference accessibility, including for those with disabilities and young families
- Guidelines for inclusive selection of speakers and equitable programming
Working Group activity is encompassing a full year, starting in August 2022, with the goal of assembling a set of recommendations for distribution to the seven participating Root & Shoot organizations, such that implementation can begin during the 2023 conference year.
In addition to the primary tasks above, the Working Group is documenting its processes and rationale, which will culminate in a final report to the plant science community, submitted for publication in an appropriate outlet.
The Inclusive Conferences Working Group comprises 23 participants, assembled via a community-wide call for interested members of the seven Root & Shoot organizations:
- 11 Graduate Students, Postdoctoral or Research Associates;
- 7 Assistant Professors, Associate Professors, or Academic Advisors;
- 2 Full Professors; and
- 3 Non-Academic PI, Non-PI Government or Industry or Society).
There are also 5 Steering Committee members serving as facilitators (John Fowler, Roger Innes, Leslie Holland, Denita Hadziabdic-Guerry, and Marcia Puig-Lluch).
Members were compensated according to a “tiered” stipend model. The RCN had $12,000 allocated for stipends for this Working Group, and rather than splitting the funds equally among members, it was thought to be more equitable to disburse the funds according to career stage. The rationale was that more senior members have service built into their contracts at their institutions and typically make a higher salary compared to graduate students and early career scientists. We noted that unclaimed or donated stipends would be allocated to future Working Groups.
- Applications for the Working Group opened. This opportunity was promoted on Twitter, through the ROOT & SHOOT mailing list, and by each organization.
- Working Group participants were notified of acceptance in early August. We received 25 applications, and after deliberation all 25 were accepted.
- Due to the high number of volunteers, participants were asked to fill out the interest form to rank which subcommittee they’d like to join. Each participant received either their first or second choice of subcommittee.
- August 22: First large group meeting to set expectations and announce subcommittees.
- The meeting covered the overall goals of each subcommittee and how groups would function. For example, the first person (randomly selected) listed on the subcommittee assignment sheet would be responsible for scheduling and facilitating their first meeting, after which the facilitator role would rotate.
- Google Drive will house meeting agendas, resources, templates, etc.
- Each subcommittee has a different focus and charge; timeline and scope will differ. Each subcommittee is responsible for putting together a plan of action
- Stipends were sent to Working Group members.
- Subcommittees met in small groups.
- October 2: Second large group meeting to further iron out expectations of the Working Group (the context/goal of this work, timeline, and what a “final product” could look like), receive subcommittee updates (what’s working, what’s missing, what’s needed, and identify potential overlaps with other subcommittees), and identify next steps.
- It was decided that each subcommittee would be responsible for providing a first draft of recommendations by the end of October, which would be reviewed internally (by the other subcommittees).
- The plan for feedback was:
- Groups A and B exchange drafts (A reviews B; B reviews A)
- C reviews D
- D reviews E
- E reviews C
- November 10: Third large group meeting, where each subcommittee provided an update on their progress.
- Questions asked: What are some areas you felt like you would have liked to have had more resources? Any areas for improvement/addition in your document? How is the review process going?
- Subcommittees then created a second draft of recommendations by incorporating the feedback from their reviewing group into their original document.
- Draft recommendations were sent to the ROOT & SHOOT Steering Committee and Experts Committee for their feedback. Committee members provided their feedback by December 5.
- The Working Group Subcommittees then reviewed the Committee feedback and created a third draft of recommendations by December 12.
- The five subcommittee set of recommendations were consolidated into one document (fourth draft) for the leadership of each organization to review.
Final Document: Inclusive Conferences Working Group Recommendations
- Each organization was asked to review the recommendations and provide comments and feedback by January 20. The organizations were asked to consider the following questions:
- Is the recommendation feasible?
- Is the recommendation cost-prohibitive?
- Are there any areas for collaboration with other RCN-participating organizations?
- What would be easy to implement? What would be difficult to implement?
- Which recommendations could be implemented right away?
- February 8: The ICWG Facilitators met to discuss the feedback received by the organizations.
Final Document: Inclusive Conferences Working Group Recommendations: Consolidated Feedback from Organizations
- The facilitators decided to go through the comments and feedback and create a 10-page (1-2 page per subcommittee) Executive Summary of the items the organizations considered to be “high priority” and feasible for this conference season. This Executive Summary would then be shared with the Working Group for their review.
- March 7: Fourth large group meeting to get feedback on the Working Group process. Questions asked included:
- Was the Working Group process what you expected? If not, what was unexpected?
- What other materials or support from ROOT & SHOOT would you have found helpful?
- Was the workload too much, not enough, or just right?
- Did you find the tiered stipend model equitable and/or fair? Do you feel it adequately reflects the time commitment and effort put into this project? If not, what would you suggest to make the stipend more fair?
- How likely would it be for you to participate in another ROOT & SHOOT working group?
- Feedback from Working Group members
- March 27: The Executive Summary was sent to the Working Group for their review. This included links to the draft that the organizations commented on, for full transparency. The Working Group was asked to make sure the Executive Summary aligned with the intent of the Working Group, and if anything was removed that shouldn’t have been.
- April 5: Fifth large group meeting to debrief on the organization’s feedback and finalize the Executive Summary. Dra. Nicole Cabrera-Salazar and Alma Ramos, from Movement Consulting, also joined the meeting and provided valuable feedback on the summary.
- April 17: The Executive Summary was finalized and shared with the Steering Committee and Experts Committee to share with the leadership of their organizations.
Final Document: Inclusive Conferences Executive Summary
We had multiple rounds of reviews, some of which had a very tight turnaround. While the subcommittees were able to quickly revise their drafts based on the comments they received, it would have been better to have more time. We also should have more clearly defined a timeline earlier on in the process, informing the Root & Shoot constituent societies to improve communication and the feedback process.
While a few subcommittees reached out to their networks with surveys on conference safety and accessibility, the ICWG would have benefitted from a better mechanism for obtaining information and input from the community as a whole.
Each organization has the Executive Summary and Recommendations and should ideally be considering those as they continue to plan their conferences.
In the meantime, the ROOT & SHOOT Steering Committee is working to identify a joint ombuds for the remainder of the 2023 conference season.
ROOT & SHOOT has scheduled a Bystander Intervention Training for members of the RCN, provided by the ADVANCEGeo partnership. These workshops will be held on Tuesday, June 27 from 11am-2pm EDT and Monday, July 10 from 3-6pm EDT. Steering Committee liaisons will be in charge of coordinating sign-ups from their organizations. If you are interested in participating in this training, please email Marcia Puig-Lluch, ROOT & SHOOT Program Facilitator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a final note: if desired, arrangements can be made for a few members of the ICWG to be available to society leadership to answer questions or further describe the process. We welcome and encourage the community’s feedback on the RCN’s efforts!
To stay up to date on ROOT & SHOOT initiatives, please join the ROOT & SHOOT mailing list. We will keep you posted on how to join future Working Groups.