I got involved because everybody should feel safe

Phill Jones | January 8, 2019

Just less than a year ago, a group of four scholarly publishing industry colleagues were chatting over drinks in a tiny pub in London after an industry event. We came to the conclusion that something had to be done.

The colleagues were Laura Cox of Ringgold, Nancy Roberts of Umbrella, Alice Ellingham of Editorial Office and me. We’d all just participated in a workshop at the Researcher to Reader conference that explored how to advance the conversation around diversity and inclusion in our industry. (Nikul Patel of OUP, and Dannielle Ormshaw, a colleague of mine at Emerald joined the group a few months later.)

I’ve been asked a few times why I decided to get involved in D&I in this way. Back in March 2018 I wrote a piece for the Scholarly Kitchen on why I think it’s important for those with privilege to play an active role in diversity and inclusion efforts. I argued then that it’s unfair for those of us who aren’t members of underrepresented groups to leave all the work to those who are. That is only half the answer.

Stories of unfairness and inequality have always been upsetting to me, as they are to all right minded people. Frustratingly, the issues have always felt systemic and complex, making them hard to tackle. Something changed for me about two years ago when an academic that I know attended diversity training as part of her job. During a discussion that she later relayed to me, she heard that some members of certain groups, with histories of being discriminated against, will tend to feel unsafe almost by default. It seems a fairly obvious truth in hindsight but the point is that simply not discriminating isn’t good enough. Organizations and people need to actively make people feel welcome.

Armed with this knowledge, she started to engage in small acts of active inclusion, like hanging a rainbow flag in the break room of the lab that she runs, just to signal that all are welcome. The effect was palpable. Within a week, one of her PhD students came to her to tell her how much difference it had made to him personally and asked to stay on as a postdoc in her lab.

As I began talking to people in my industry about this, I heard more and more similar stories from people who feel that they have to hide who they are. I remember on one occasion after a diversity and inclusion panel I had organized, somebody told me that it had taken a while to get comfortable saying the word husband in public. I hope that it was my imagination, but it seemed that even in that conversation, he hesitated, just for a split-second before saying it.

The idea that people, some of whom I may work with, might be assessing each new situation to see if they’re safe, isn’t one I’m prepared to tolerate. The thought that a person might avoid using gendered pronouns when talking about their partner or even pretend to have a different gender identity to the one they have just doesn’t work for me.

So there you have it. That’s the answer. That’s why me, and that’s why now.

Phill Jones is a technologist and scholarly publishing professional and also an occasional blogger and public speaker. He’s worked in product and technology management, Scientometrics, outreach, consultancy and in a former life was a cross-disciplinary research scientist.