From where I sit. Changing our defaults

Ginny Hendricks | March 12, 2018

There is so much to say on the subject of workplace equality.  Like everyone, I am a complex mix of history, heritage, experiences, environments—and of defaults.  I am a woman.  I was a child who grew up in the Middle East and Europe.  I have worked and lived in many countries across Asia and America.  I am a working mother with a mixed-race family.  I started on the bottom rung of scholarly publishing in my early twenties.  I am a global citizen with a global job in the global pursuit of better research communication.  So there is much to say.

For this piece, I’m focusing on that last bit, the global job, and hope to challenge our defaults around geographic inclusion in scholarly publishing.  I live in London now, so I’m going to use “we”, “our”, and “us” when I refer to the West and the North i.e. Europe and North America.  When we talk about inclusion, we assume we’re talking about bringing Asia, South America, and Africa into our club.  However, they have clubs that we’re not privy to too.

Here are some perspectives from where I sit, some skills to acquire and hone, and advice that may potentially help us all start to reset our thinking.

Africa and South America and Asia can teach us much: The quiet rise of the Public Knowledge Project’s OJS platform, probably used by around 8,000 journals worldwide, shows us that emerging publishers are taking open source tools and communicating research their own way.  Most Crossref members now reside in Asia.  That means most publishers are not from North America or Europe… gasp!  The growth in Asia and elsewhere isn’t a result of benevolence or a result of western efforts to be inclusive, it’s these countries demanding inclusion, governments leading to mandate and invest in better support for research communication—for example, watch what Poland and Indonesia do with their research institutions next.  When we look at “metadata maturity” among Crossref membership, we don’t see lots of American and Western European publishers, we see e.g. the Korean Association of Medical Journal Editors, miles ahead in terms of global infrastructure adoption and machine-readable content.  We see emerging publishers that were born open, and born digital, unencumbered by legacy systems and policies.

Communicate differently – check your timezones, conference calls, meetings, tools, and terminology: Start using UTC as your default timezone. This is the universal coordinated time (and means everyone outside this timezone only needs to remember one conversion).  If anyone at Crossref accidentally uses EST or GMT in a public communication, that’s probably the one thing they’ll fear my reaction to!  Try a conference call at night, run a webinar at 3am UTC and watch how many people from Asia interact.  If you can’t do that, record everything.  Record everything anyway; English speakers have diverse accents and speak way too fast. ESL people run recordings through translation and subtitle services.  Add auto-subtitles when you upload to YouTube.  Also, know that people in China and some other countries can’t access YouTube so upload to Wistia and embed elsewhere.  Don’t assume Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn are the global barometers, use WeChat and Weibo and others in addition.  Stop using “global south”; South America isn’t the same as Africa or Australia.  There are only seven continents, you can probably list the ones you really mean instead of global south.  Do you really mean “Africa”?  Or a specific country?  Then say so.  Equally, don’t always lump a whole continent together; Indonesia is very different to India and Nigeria different to Namibia.  Even using the word “International” reveals that your default is “national” and all else is “other”.  In person, offer small breakout groups to encourage the quieter (often ESL) participants to share an opinion.  And please explain in advance “Roberts Rules” and other meeting habits to new non-westerners.

Recruit blind, and give typos a break: Have your HR department remove applicants’ names from CVs/resumes so your recruiting panel’s biases don’t unwittingly prohibit e.g. muslim or female candidates from progressing.  They could also remove universities to avoid class bias too. People speaking English as an additional language may have typos in their CVs but we need to start giving the typo-makers a serious break.  They probably speak and can write in several more languages than you do which would bring so much to our industry.  Even this pedant has learned to put expression and essence of message above accuracy.  Spelling can be learned.  Also, don’t make fun of phrases from ESL customers/members/users, they probably had to use google translate to get you to understand their very simple question so they’re not thinking they’re the dumb ones.

Take your meetings elsewhere: In 2017, I took the Crossref annual meeting to Asia for the first time.  This decision was discussed in great detail and with surprising fervour in a board meeting a year in advance, and then re-raised at a second board meeting, where some US publishers again complained that Singapore was “just too far”.  Far from where?  It’s only far if your default is America!  For the large majority of publishers, their starting point isn’t America or Europe.  Turns out we had the largest and most diverse crowd we’d ever had at an annual meeting.  Oh, and 2017 was also the year that our membership voted overwhelmingly in favour of being represented on our board by women and by non-westerners.  Just sayin’.

One of the things I love about scholarly publishing is that we serve one of the few purposes that is truly cross-border.  We share oceans, air, food, diseases, habits, a planet—so research cannot progress if it’s contained within borders.  And borders can change anyway.

So that’s my global view.  Now let’s change our defaults.