Diversify & Expand Governance & Community Support

NAASC Contact: Joanna Friesner, Executive Director, arabidopsisconference@gmail.com

Contributors: Anna Stepanova, Dior Kelley, Gloria Muday, Joanna Friesner

The North American Arabidopsis Steering Committee (NAASC) is a small grassroots non-profit organization with one Executive Director (part-time, compensated) and 10 community-elected volunteer steering committee members. The priorities of NAASC are (1) organizing North American International Conferences on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR), (2) advocating for Arabidopsis as part of fundamental plant biology research, and (3) advocating for Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity and Belonging (DEIB) in the Arabidopsis Community. From 1992-2012, NAASC members were predominantly men. After 2014, a gender shift among NAASC members occurred. Today, women are the majority in NAASC. In our capstone project for Root & Shoot x MVMT we sought to (1) better understand why fewer men are now willing to serve on NAASC and (2) determine if changes could be made to NAASC structure to enable equitable governance that involves more men, trans, and/or non-binary community members.

Based on an analysis of NAASC nomination/ballot history, we hypothesize that several factors may contribute to the current gender imbalance on NAASC. First, community members may be hesitant to serve due to increased community-supportive workloads and the perceived role on NAASC as a “non-promotable task”. This is especially true of early-career and pre-tenure community members who may not be able to accommodate increased service loads, particularly steering committee terms of 5 years. Second, the recent emphasis of DEIB activities by NAASC and the requirements for NAASC nominees to self-describe their efforts in such areas may be a hurdle. Third, increased workload without commensurate funding has hampered the sustainability of NAASC as the current part-time staff support person is not compensated for the actual level of effort required to support NAASC and the community.

Moving forward, we will perform data collection to gain insight into how we may create a more equitable governance structure. A survey will be conducted with hundreds of past nominees who did not choose to participate in the election process to identify patterns or recurrent themes. These data will allow us to better understand the roadblocks to volunteering to serve the community as a member of NAASC. In addition, we will revise the NAASC nomination process to clarify the roles of NAASC members and identify the benefits of serving on NAASC. We anticipate that the newly formed Arabidopsis Community group (initiated by NAASC in January, 2023) will expand community engagement and ensure gender equity among NAASC.

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