Antiracism in Scholarly Publishing

Last week, two of our academic and STM specialists, Alice and Shalini, attended the Oxford Publishing Society webinar covering this incredibly important – but very sensitive – topic, and learned a lot! What was most interesting, was that they had included speakers from across the globe so we got a real insight into the scholarly publishing industry from various perspectives; what was even more interesting, was that the core principles are incredibly similar. On the panel were Melanie Dolechek (Executive Director of the Society for Scholarly Publishing), Niccole Leilanionapae‘aina Coggins (Editorial, Design and Production Coordinator and Assistant Project Editor for the University of Virginia Press), Axelle Ahanhanzo (Customer Success Manager for Corporate Markets in France and Southern Europe, Elsevier and Co-Founder of Embrace, an Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on Race, Ethnicity and Culture) and Dr. Heejung Chung (Reader in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Kent, and Associate Editor of Wiley Publishing journal Social Policy & Administration).

They all agreed that taking just a top-down or bottom-up approach is not the solution; if this is something to be tackled effectively, it has to be holistic. We have to become allies, building trust between different communities and lean into the difficult conversations. Being “anti-racist” is about challenging racist behaviour rather than being standing by and being passive when it happens in front of us. Everyone should take accountability for this, and when it comes to being allies, there were 5 steps highlighted:

  1. Coming to terms with white privilege and recognising the disparity in racial dynamics, and being aware of our own role and power
  2. Listening to other’s experiences without judgment or defensiveness, being open to the difficult conversations and listening with the goal of understanding their point of view
  3. Diversifying the groups we build relationships with and meets at conferences, and talk to them about injustices they’ve witnessed
  4. Taking action to interrupt racist behaviour, even if it’s just a shared look with the victim. We can also engage with the victim afterwards and check on them (Ihollaback.org has lots of information about how to do this)
  5. Actively create communities where everyone thrives

In line with these steps, Axelle explained that Elsevier have placed a focus on inclusion and diversity, implementing a reverse mentoring programme in the workplace, where people of different ethnicities coach the management team. There has also been a drive towards anti-racist technology to fix biased terminology (tech labels such as “master” and “slave”), as well as to give laptops to disadvantaged communities. Science and science communication has the power to spread truth, and they’ve made it their role to enable younger potential publishing professionals to enter the industry in a more inclusive environment. Elsevier have also developed a new resource centre and Group for Racial Equality (GRaCe) taskforce within The Lancet journal, launched a Rising Black Scientist award and are appointing a Diversity Officer with Cell Press and have committed to diversifying their content to eradicate racism in science and healthcare by placing a priority on gathering and reporting data on ethnicity.

At an institutional level, Dr Chung highlighted that there is a need to decolonise the curriculum by decolonising journals and academic publishing – they very much go hand in hand. Academia is white male centric and, in her field, they learn about white male sociologists; she strongly believes that students should be able to see themselves in role models so that they can in turn develop into potential academics and scholars themselves; they should be educating students more on the diverse voices of authority and power so this can happen.

There are things we can all be doing, at every level, in every workplace within publishing to help create a more diverse and inclusive environment: be vulnerable and empathetic, encourage people to share their stories and experiences by making spaces for their voices to be heard. Empower employee-led initiatives, like Elsevier and many other publishers are doing across the industry, to remove roadblocks, and enable anti-racist efforts with funding and time. To be able to improve diversity in the industry, we must improve the scholarly content being published to not educate potential future publishers, but encourage them to want to move into the industry as a community.