Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Survey Your Society to Gather Demographic Data

If you have been to a scientific conference and looked around a bit you see students, postdocs, faculty and other professionals. We care mostly about the scientific abilities of these folks - how well they present their findings, the significance of their work, the ambition of the young, and the impact of the senior members. But we should also care about the demographic make-up of the members of these academic societies. (If I have to explain why diversity is good stop reading here.) Each society should know: What is the ratio of the sexes: 50/50? How may folks are internationals/locals? Are there members with disabilities? What about the make-up of different races and ethnicities? Does your academic society look like the general population? Does it even look like your academic institution?

I would like each member of a society to ask their governing body to send out a simple demographic survey to all its members to gather these data anonymously. The survey below is crude and oversimplified and based on the one from the National Science Foundation, but it is better than nothing. Keeping this anonymous ensures that no members should feel uncomfortable revealing this information. The results of the survey should be presented as simple pie charts of the metadata presented on a groups public website.

So why do this survey? For starters you can learn how well your society is doing recruiting and retaining a diverse membership? You won't know without a baseline survey. Doing the survey annually will tell you if you have a problem with retention and recruiting. It can help you improve your groups diversity. Does your society have few female members - have you thought about having more female members as part of the governing body, balancing the gender ratio of invited speakers, and perhaps having some parental care options for young parents attending your conferences? Does your society have few African Americans - have you thought of sending some members to recruit and visit at HBCUs?

I hope that every scientific society starts keeping track of this kind of information. We can compare across groups that way. Those comparisons will help us know if there is a general problem across academic societies, or if it is just an issue in some sub-disciplines.

As the Chair of Diversity Committee in my college I know we try to get a diverse pool of candidates to apply to open positions in my university. Part of the way we do that is by contacting groups with a diverse membership. If your scientific society lacks a diverse membership, you won't be helping with our goal. A simple survey like the one below can help you identify potential issues and help you begin the process of trying to solve them.

Please try to convince your academic societies that this survey of membership demographics is important.

send out an email to members and then send out an anonymous survey monkey questionnaire.

Dear XXXX Members,
We want to collect diversity data from our membership.  You will get an invitation to participate in a survey monkey questionaire from
Please complete the survey by xx/xx/xx.

As a society we want to be aware of our ability to recruit a diverse group of scholars from different backgrounds, this survey will help us better understand how well we reflect the general population and compare to other scientific and academic societies and organizations. Please help by taking a few minutes to fill out this survey.

ETHNICITY (choose one)

_____Hispanic or Latino

_____Not Hispanic or Latino

_____Do not wish to Provide

RACE (choose one or more)

_____American Indian or Alaskan Native


_____Black or African Amerian

_____Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders

_____Other (describe)

_____Do not wish to Provide

DIABILITY (choose one or more)

_____Hearing Impairment

_____Visual Impairment

_____Mobility/Orthopedic Impairment

_____Other (describe)


_____Do not wish to Provide

GENDER IDENTITY(choose one or more)*
_____Other (describe)
_____Do not wish to provide

And then adding

SEXUAL ORIENTATION (choose one or more)*
_____Other (describe)
_____Do not wish to provide

*UPDATED - thanks to Jeremy Yoder (@JBYoder) and Allison Mattheis for providing these categories from their Queer in STEM survey

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