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BSN and equality, diversity and inclusion - join our new EDI Sub-committee

BSN and equality, diversity and inclusion - join our new EDI Sub-committee

Article by Sue Thorn, CEO, British Society for Neuroendocrinology

The BSN recently appointed Dr Chi Udeh-Momoh as its Secretary for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). She started by trying to ascertain where we are at the moment with regard to EDI. We carried out a survey a few months ago, which showed that only 2% of respondents thought that the BSN’s EDI practices were bad and less than 1% thought us worse than other societies. So that’s OK then? Well, perhaps not entirely.

Gender disparity

GDPR makes it difficult to assess disadvantage based on race, disability, sexual orientation etc, but we can assess gender disadvantage, and it’s probably fair to assume that other disadvantaged groups will be in a similar position – at least. Our membership is more than half female, but only one third of senior members (senior academic/professor) are female. On the other hand, twice as many postdocs are female as male. Given that the senior people will have started their career at a time when membership may have been more male than female, and also at a time when gender bias was definitely an overt issue, we might assume that this imbalance will correct itself as the current postdocs progress their careers. Well, maybe it will and maybe it won’t. Our task is to do what we can to ensure that it does.

It’s to be hoped that universities now deal with overt bias in recruitment and promotion, but there is still much hidden bias. For example, a study in JAMA Network assessed over 5000 articles in high-impact medical journals and found this:

Author pair Citations, median (range)
Woman primary and senior author 33 (15-68)
Woman primary author and man senior 39 (17-89)
Man primary author and woman senior 42 (19-119)
Man primary and senior author 59 (23-149)

Given that most academic authors will be trying to use the literature in an objective way, that finding is surely really shocking.

Where does the BSN really stand at the moment on EDI?

We collected data on a number of areas. The Committee – the public face of the BSN – currently has 10 female and 5 male Trustees. Two of the three Officers are now female. Three of the Committee are from ethnic minorities, which means the Committee pretty much reflects the UK population numerically on ethnicity. The Grants Panel has 6 females and 2 males, but only 1 ethnic minority member. JNE has fewer female senior editors than male – 41:10. Given that senior editors are mainly senior academics, it’s perhaps inevitable that this list will not be fully balanced, but we can evaluate what we can do about it and also monitor change over time.

We aim to conduct member surveys annually and to collect data on an ongoing basis so that we can monitor change over time.

Another area where unintentional bias can happen is in meetings, where women and other disadvantaged groups can be overlooked when issuing invitations and in other ways. In 2017 the Society for Endocrinology assessed questions in all sessions at their BES conference. Only 21% came from women. They were less likely to ‘self-promote’ during their question and their questions were shorter. Interestingly, if one session chair was female, or if the first question was from a female, this increased the likelihood of other women asking questions. Again, it is not impossible that this situation would also apply to other disadvantaged groups.

2021 EDI survey results

The information above about the BSN relates to the survey we carried out recently.

Join our EDI Sub-committee

There are a number of pointers as to what the BSN can do, but we want our actions to be informed by the people who need them. We are therefore looking for a few members who consider themselves at a disadvantage for any reason to join a Sub-committee to work on this. Please contact our EDI Secretary, Dr Chi Udeh-Momoh on c.udeh@imperial.ac.uk.