Miriam Diamond, University of Toronto, and Jen Lynch, SETAC Director of Publications

The SETAC North America annual meeting in Toronto was the inaugural meeting of an ad hoc committee created by the SETAC World Council in fall 2019 with a mandate to bring into operation the recently developed policies and procedures aimed at improving the climate and culture at SETAC events.

For those of you who contributed to the post-meeting survey, you may have noticed that we asked a new question, “Did you see or experience behavior that could have been addressed?” We asked that because we strive to provide a safe and welcoming environment for meeting attendees.

First, the results of the survey: Of the 387 respondents, 34 indicated that yes, they did witness or experience behavior that should have been addressed (8.6%). We provided a comment box on that question in which respondents could provide detail. Many of the comments applauded new efforts and offered suggestions for future committees–how we can better support inclusionary initiatives, better communicate expectations and problem-reporting procedures, and ideas for future keynote topics. Some, however, identified microaggressions, bullying and gender harassment.

Two issues of concern that were noted in the survey had been brought to our attention while we were in Toronto, and we were able to successfully use our newly developed procedures from the ad hoc committee in those instances. In one instance, the complainant wished to resolve the issue themselves. In the other instance, we addressed the situation directly. Since then, the SETAC North America Executive Director spoke with the person who had been accused of causing harm in a “peer-to-peer” conversation and reported the outcome of that conversation to the person who raised the concern–to their satisfaction.

More broadly, we would like to take a moment to outline some initiatives that are underway so that we can take measures in our community that reflect our commitment to high expectations of scientific output and professional and ethical conduct. Tolerance of anything less undermines excellence in the field and creates barriers for talented scientists.

Working backwards, in October 2019, the SETAC World Council issued the declaration on research integrity and linked the SETAC Code of Ethics to it.

In August 2019, the SETAC North America Board of Directors voted to join 119 other academic and professional organizations in the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM, which was created to advance professional and ethical conduct, climate and culture in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics. Jen Lynch, SETAC Director of Publications, attended one in-person meeting at which several society leaders and executives shared their best practices and new initiatives. The ad hoc committee will build on the material and information provided by the Consortium to establish a framework for problem resolution.

The new committee is focused on two-tracks: short-term resources that will establish policies, develop guidance, conduct evaluations and craft communications; and long-term efforts that will build on principles of restorative actions in order to change the climate and culture within the organization and ultimately in the field. Briefly, some ideas that have been put forward include:

  • Providing an ally or bystander program wherein volunteers would be trained ahead of annual meetings on how to provide support to meeting attendees as needed
  • Drafting guidance for violations of our code of conduct and ethics that starts with a restorative approach, which recognizes that most people do not intend to cause harm, though they may inflict it
  • Establishing tiered intervention steps that range from (1) peer-to-peer informal engagements to (5) formal complaints to be handled by committee
  • Reviewing fellows and award policies to ensure we have established the highest threshold before bestowing recognition

Earlier this year, the journals adopted double-blind peer-review in an effort to reduce unconscious bias, and SETAC Europe held a session on gender bias at their Helsinki meeting. We welcome and support the initiatives growing out of our membership to create safe and welcoming spaces. Stay tuned for more to come.

Authors’ contact information: miriam.diamond@utoronto.ca and jen.lynch@setac.org

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