Making ecology for all – part 2

Following a 14-week investigation that took place towards the end of last year into what has proved a challenging and complex topic, our report into equality and diversity in ecology is now available online. Using the information from this report, although already committed to increasing and promoting diversity, the BES recognises the need to expand efforts and implement a strategy that spans across the whole Society.

The report summarises the key findings of the investigation, which have been gathered through surveys, membership data and a focus group. The diversity survey, launched in October 2013, received an overwhelming number of responses, the majority of which were from members. Not only has this meant that enough data was collected to give meaningful results, but it has also demonstrated that many members are interested in creating inclusiveness within ecological careers and education.

A snapshot of the findings outlined in the report is given below:

  • 1.4% of respondents to the diversity survey attended a state school, received free school meals whilst at school, were the first in the family to go to university and went to a university close to home. These factors combined may suggest a low SES.
  • Black and Minority Ethnic groups (BME) made up 14.3% and 9.4% of the INTECOL and diversity survey respondents, respectively.
  • Black ethnic groups had particularly poor representation with no respondents of either survey being of a ‘Black or Black Caribbean’ ethnic background.
  • 39.9% of BES members are female. When considering academic employment type, female members are overrepresented at undergraduate and postgraduate levels but increasingly underrepresented at postdoc and staff/faculty levels.
  • 5.0% of all respondents to the diversity survey were disabled. This increases to 8.1% amongst students and decreased to 3.4% amongst the workforce (as determined by employment type).

Following data collection, a number of stakeholders were brought together in a focus group to discuss barriers to increased diversity in ecology. Thoughts were shared, data was considered and ideas were bounced around. Despite gender inequality being most widely documented across science, barriers faced by people of a low socio-economic status (SES) and ethnic minorities were identified as being most important and relevant to ecology. The day was hugely successful and well-received amongst attendees. With a difficult task ahead in removing barriers, this may well have been the first of many focus groups that the BES will hold on the topic of diversity.

Members of the focus group spent some time formulating ideas for an initiative that the BES can implement with the aim of widening participation in ecological education and career pathways. The focuses of most of the ideas were the issues that had been highlighted as most urgent, SES and ethnicity. Of course, the BES acknowledges that other barriers still remain and will still require attention but only by prioritising will the BES be able to target efforts and really make a difference.

Several ideas from the focus group have been developed further and outlined in a version of the report which will go to the BES Council for consideration. If implemented, these recommendations will allow the BES to lay a strong foundation upon which future diversity initiatives can be built.

As well as the Council, the Society itself is encouraged to read the report and to give much consideration to the findings that it outlines. The future of ecology depends on great ecologists; only by widening participation can the BES ensure that potential talent is not being impeded by unnecessary barriers. Finally, there is no compelling reason why barriers to accessing ecology should persist; those who show an interest, no matter what their background, should be able to participate. Ecology needs to be for all.

If you have any comments or suggestions regarding our work in this area, please get in touch.