Suggestions for Improving Invited Speaker Diversity To Reflect Trainee Diversity

J Microbiol Biol Educ. 2020 Apr 10;21(1):21.1.22. doi: 10.1128/jmbe.v21i1.2105. eCollection 2020.


Within the field of biomedical research in the United States, the proportion of underrepresented minorities at the Full Professor level has remained consistently low, even though trainee demographics are becoming more diverse. Underrepresented groups face a complex set of barriers to achieving faculty status, including imposter syndrome, increased performance expectations, and patterns of exclusion. Institutionalized racism and sexism have contributed to these barriers and perpetuated policy that excludes underrepresented minorities. These barriers can contribute to decreased feelings of belonging, which may result in decreased retention of underrepresented minorities. Though some universities have altered their hiring practices to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the applicant pool, these changes have not been sufficient. Here we argue that departmental invited seminar series can be used to provide trainees with scientific role models and increase their sense of belonging while institutions work towards more inclusive policy. In this study, we investigated the demographics (gender and race) of invited seminar speakers over 5 years to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan. We also investigated current trainee demographics and compared them to invited speaker demographics to gauge if our trainees were being provided with representation of themselves. We found that invited speaker demographics were skewed towards Caucasian men, and our trainee demographics were not being represented. From these findings, we proposed policy change within the department to address how speakers are being invited with the goal of increasing speaker diversity to better reflect trainee diversity. To facilitate this process, we developed a set of suggestions and a web-based resource that allows scientists, committees, and moderators to identify members of underserved groups. These resources can be easily adapted by other fields or subfields to promote inclusion and diversity at seminar series, conferences, and colloquia.