Community Spotlight : Interview of Dr. Simone Taylor, co-founder of the Workplace Equity Project & Publisher

Image: Workplace Equity Project - Dr. Simone Taylor

Does the science publishing workforce reflect the diversity of the general population? And why, in the female-dominated world of publishing, do women fill relatively few management positions? Why is diversity important? Cue: Dr. Simone Taylor, publisher and co-founder of the Workplace Equity Project. An advocate for fair access to resources and opportunities for all demographics, Simone explains why it is important to address these questions, and how the Workplace Equity Project’s Survey aims to do this. Read on to hear more about equity in publishing from a strong voice in this ongoing dialogue. You have until March 14th to complete the survey!

Feel free to connect with Dr. Simone Taylor and discover her work!

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Nia Cason: Hello Simone, could you tell me about your professional background? What was the subject of your thesis?

Simone Taylor: My thesis was based on magnetic ceramics. Ceramic components made from powders are typically manufactured by what’s called a mixed oxide or solid state route, and all that means is the powders are mixed together to form a homogeneous mixture, then processed and sintered to get the finished component. I worked on magnetic ceramics, specifically soft ferrites, and I looked at how silicon dioxide and calcium oxide – which are often present as impurities in metallic oxide powders – influence the processing and properties of these materials, including the magnetic properties of the finished product.

NC: And to a layman…?

Ha! It was in the field of Materials Science, with broader applications in engineering – soft ferrites are used in a range of industrial applications, mainly in the electronics sphere. Soft ferrites are often designed specifically for their applications, and the composition of the starting powders is important because it affects the properties of the finished component. For example, starting powders with a high level of impurities could lead to products being manufactured that don’t have the magnetic properties that you want them to have. Understanding how additives interact and behave during processing allows for better control of the properties of the final product.

NC: Could you tell us about your professional/personal expertise?

ST: It’s a mixture – I’ve kind of built on everything that I’ve learnt. I was a research scientist by training and moved from research into publishing. As a research scientist, I’d always been interested in the presentation side of my work. Moving into publishing gave me the option to work on the ‘other side’ of research, so I was no longer doing the research myself, but I was publishing results in the field. Interestingly, I didn’t start off in Materials Science when I started publishing, I started in Engineering. I was a production editor on engineering journals, and I did move briefly into Materials Science where I learnt how to write news articles and report in the field, but that was mainly for practitioners in the industry, so not people who were doing the actual research but people who were benefiting from the research. We would report in newsletters, magazines, we would forecast what the industry would be aiming to develop and how we thought materials might affect that. These skills proved useful when I worked in technology transfer at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK. Then I moved back into publishing, working more on acquisitions and business development – not doing so much of the writing, but actually signing up authors to write books and making sure that the journals we published had the right sort of information to meet the needs of their communities. So I guess my expertise would be enabling authors to present and publish their scientific and technical work, and making sure that the information meets the needs of the audience they’re targeting.

I have an interest in trying to help authors get their work published, especially those in under-resourced parts of the world or for whom publishing in English – the language of professional research – might be a challenge. In Europe, most postgraduate courses are taught in English, which can present an issue for some who don’t have English as a first language; accessing the information and reporting their work in a language they’re not familiar with might be difficult. These are things that I try to introduce into my work – to help authors get their work published, create a robust archive for their scientific work, and also try to improve accessibility to that research. The good thing about the (gold) open access model, where authors pay a publication charge, is that information is free immediately – so that theoretically helps solve the access problem. For authors in low income countries who might not be able to afford that charge, many publishers will work from the World Bank’s classification tables to either offer authors from those countries a waiver or a discount, depending on where those countries sit on the economic indicators. This is something I welcome about the open access model, which makes it possible to help authors who might otherwise not be able to publish their work.

NC: Do you have any personal experiences regarding gender/other issues in publishing?

ST: Not with publishing specifically... It’s always difficult to tell these things from a personal perspective because you don’t have full information about how other people might see things, so I’ll base my response on what’s been published in the literature, as that gives a framework against which I can describe my own experiences.

Making yourself heard in meetings is an example I like to use – meetings are often a challenge for people who are introverts anyway, and who don’t necessarily see meetings as the best means of communication. Earlier on in my career, I only spoke in meetings if I absolutely had to or was asked a direct question. Yet I had a manager who was also female who tried to encourage me to speak and to engage with the process. I got more comfortable. I realised that I had to speak up especially when it became my turn to run those meetings! It’s important that you overcome any innate dread you have of talking in meetings, especially when you are the person chairing and leading it – I’ve had to develop tools to cope with meeting behaviour; you learn to listen, to ask questions, then when it’s your turn to speak, absolutely hold firm against interruptions

It’s also interesting that women speaking out in meetings are seen very differently from men speaking out in meetings. Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg wrote an article in the New York Times on speaking while female – men who speak loudly or often in meetings are rated as being competent and decisive, whereas women who do the same thing are rated, even by other women, as being aggressive or not necessarily competent at their jobs. A better balance of women in more senior roles might go some way towards changing these perceptions.

NC: How did the Workplace Equity Project come about?

ST: I participated on a panel covering women in professional and scholarly publishing last autumn as part of the Learn, Grow, Connect Seminar on Women in Professional and Scholarly Publishing. Susan Spilka and Jeri Wachter [the two other co-founders of the Workplace Equity Project] moderated the panel. The panel engaged colleagues across the industry, primarily early career women, to talk about the opportunities the industry offered and how other women had navigated challenges around maintaining a sustainable work/life balance, professional training and development, mentoring/coaching, networking, career growth, workplace and meeting behaviours, and compensation negotiation.

The attendance at the seminar was great, and the energy of the discussion and the feedback from the attendees was wonderful. So, we felt that this topic had clearly resonated with many of our colleagues and we wanted to continue the conversation, and to incorporate perspectives from all the diverse voices in the industry. That’s how I became involved in the Workplace Equity Project. We wanted to keep the momentum going, and understand better how we could learn from those perspectives to drive change. The issues surrounding gender equity in publishing have kind of grown into a question of inclusivity in its most complete sense, also focusing on age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and geographical location.

This is your chance to join the conversation and take the survey!

NC: Why do you think people should complete the Workplace Equity Survey?

ST: From my perspective, I think that it’s very important for us to tease out answers to questions around perceptions of disparity. Digital Science did a similar study in 2015; that survey showed that women make up 63% of the academic publishing workforce and only 44% of management roles, that men dominated roles in senior management and technology, and that the workforce was predominantly Caucasian (87%). So, learning more and doing a survey now means that we can find out whether things have changed since that set of data was reported, whether outcomes diverge for different colleagues, and whether we can close any identified gaps that become visible once we get the results and start looking at them in detail.

 NC: And concerning the survey itself; what does it involve and what are its objectives?

ST: Ultimately, it’s an opportunity for us to capture data on workplace experience and practice from the perspective of the individual, and allow us to map the parameters that currently define the workforce. From there, we can go on to make comparisons, analyse the data, and see what these data are telling us. It’d be interesting to use the last [Digital Science, 2015] survey as a guide to see whether things have shifted, and, because the Workplace Equity survey is open to all, hopefully we can create a comprehensive dataset. It is likely that there are questions that will come back, and there are things we may want to refine and do further studies on later, but at the moment this gives us a broad way of mapping out what the key questions are.

The survey was crowd-sourced – we asked over 35 leaders in the industry to review it, because we wanted to be sure that questions were free from inherent bias and relevant for a global audience. It’s divided into various sections covering work-life balance, career breaks, professional development, mentoring and coaching, career growth, and then we have a couple of optional demographic questions at the end, such as age and gender. We’ve also tried to capture data on salary, which can be a sensitive topic, but the data will of course be anonymised.. The demographic questions are essential to evaluating perspectives, so we do encourage respondents to provide that information.

NC: What’s been the response to the Workplace Equity Survey so far? How many have participated?

ST: We’ve had an incredibly supportive and encouraging response! We’ve received nearly 800 responses so far … The survey doesn’t close until the 14th of March, so we’ve still got some time and hopefully we can increase that number.

NC: Who has endorsed or supported the survey?

ST: Well, we’ve got quite a range of supporters. These include MyScienceWork, the Association of University Presses, CrossRef, Emerald Publishing, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, the Australian Publishers Association, the Association of Publishers in India, the Council of Science Editors, the International Society of Managing & Technical Editors (ISMTE), UN Women NC UK, the National Federation of Advanced Information Systems, the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers, the International Association of STM Publishers, and the Society for Scholarly Publishing. It is encouraging to receive support from societies outside of North America and Europe. Hopefully we’ll see some really comprehensive data from a range of regions.

NC: How you will you communicate the results of the Workplace Equity Survey to others (e.g. stakeholders/the marketplace)?

ST: We will present the findings at a session at the Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting on the 1st of June. We also plan to publish a full report on the findings after the presentation.

NC: What’s the next step for the Workplace Equity Project?

ST: The main thing would have to be to activate the findings in some way. We’re currently building an advisory board of professionals who will provide their expertise; with their help, we will use these results to see what the data are telling us, then identify areas that we might need to focus on, provide solutions, and drive change by continuing to build this coalition of voices.

NC: What is your vision for equity in the next 5 years? What kind of evolution do you imagine or hope for?

ST: It would be great if we could use the results to measurably advance equity in our industry. That’s one of the advantages of actually implementing the Workplace Equity Survey, in that we can establish a baseline, and if by using what we learn from it we find solutions, then we can advance equity. It can be done if we can incorporate perspectives from a wider range of voices.

In an article on the topic published in Scientific American (2014), Katherine Phillips pointed out that diversity enhances creativity, makes us work harder to reach a consensus, and leads to better decision making, so if we make a concerted effort to measurably change the publishing industry workforce to something that better reflects the diversity of the general population, then that would be a sign of success. For example, if we can measurably show that the percentage of women in higher-level positions is increasing, then that would be a measure of success. And when you sit back and think about it, it’s logical: when you have different perspectives, then people get things done in a different way and can bring different solutions to the table – when you bring in different people, it allows you to bring in new ideas and a different way of working, and that tends to get different results… and sometimes those different results are better!

It’s not a challenge unique to the publishing industry, either. Mercer and colleagues (2016) – the most recently published results – showed that women constitute about 41% of the corporate workforce globally and yet make up only 33% of management roles, about 26% of senior management roles, and only 20% of executive roles. So there is some correlation there if you compare publishing to the general corporate workforce. What makes publishing for me more disappointing and at the same time a more optimistic target for change, is that publishing does have more women in the workforce than the corporate average – so, we will hopefully get to a higher proportion of females filling management and executive roles.

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Source: Society for Scholarly Publishing

Source: Society for Scholarly Publishing