Historically excluded groups in ecology are undervalued and poorly treated

published Mar 7, 2023 11:17am

Hostile workplaces undermine efforts to make the ecological sciences more inclusive and welcoming. A new study surveyed ecologists to provide a snapshot of workplace experiences. The bottom line is that identity matters. While workplace climates are positive overall, hostile and exclusionary behaviors still occur surprisingly often and disproportionately affect people who have been historically excluded from the field. The results were published this week in the journal " Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment."

The study included responses from 384 ecologists regarding their identity, how often they experienced positive and negative workplace experiences in the prior year, and the potential outcomes of these experiences.

The majority of respondents (78%) reported having some positive workplace experiences (e.g., receiving mentorship). However, Dr. Erika Marin-Spiotta, one of the co-authors, emphasizes that "good workplace environments are not good for everyone all the time." Approximately one third of all respondents experienced bullying (36%), devaluation of their work (35%), or insulting remarks (29%).

Historically-excluded groups, including scientists of color, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, pansexual, asexual, and other non-heterosexual (LGBQPA+) individuals, and those who identify as disabled, on average experienced 50% more negative workplace experiences (e.g., sexual harassment, interpersonal mistreatment, and insulting behaviors) than white men. Dr. Tara Miller, another author, notes that, "Historically-excluded groups were also more likely to report opting out of professional opportunities, 50% more likely to consider leaving their institution, and twice as likely to consider a career change."

"Ecology is often showcased as a diverse field compared to other STEM disciplines, in that it has greater representation of women, particularly white women, than other fields," Dr. Rebecca Barnes explains, "but there is a low representation of people of color, and these exclusionary behaviors still occur."

These findings point towards theneed to improve workplace climates and to promote behaviors that sustain an inclusive, equitable, and safe workplace. There is a need to shift from focusing mostly on diversity in the recruitment and hiring process to greater emphasis on retention of personnel once they are hired, and to address how harmful behaviors and their tolerance affect retention.

The study highlights the difficulty of dealing with a hostile workplace. Dr. Richard Primack describes a key issue, "Only 17% of ecologists surveyed report that they are satisfied with the outcomes of complaints that they filed with their institutions; clearly the current system for dealing with bad behavior is not working." The authors provide recommendations for professional associations, academic institutions, and other employers of ecologists to address interpersonal mistreatment through culture and policy changes. These include leaders promoting respectful and supportive behaviors, classifying hostile behavior as academic misconduct, and developing tools that discourage and prevent hostile behaviors.

This research was conducted by theADVANCEGeo Partnership team, with additional funding from the National Science Foundation to extend into the field of ecology. We thank the Ecological Society of America for relaying our survey to their membership. Our team of authors includes ecologists, geoscience researchers with expertise in strategies to advance diversity and equity in STEM, and social scientists with expertise in assessing workplace climate, including a psychologist who is a leading expert in measuring organizational climate.

Article: Richard B. Primack, Tara K. Miller, Carina Terry, Erika Marin-Spiotta, Pamela H. Templer, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Emily J. Diaz Vallejo, Meredith G. Hastings, Vicki J. Magley, Allison Mattheis, Blair B. Schneider, and Rebecca T. Barnes. 2023. Historically excluded groups in ecology are undervalued and poorly treatedFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2613