Diversity & Inclusion from a Publisher’s Perspective

Q&A with Umbrella Founder, Nancy Roberts


Recognizing the growing need for diversity and inclusion practices in academic publishing, Maverick Publishing Specialists and AI diversity monitoring and analytics provider, Umbrella Analytics, have partnered to provide diversity and inclusion analysis, monitoring, and advice across the publishing industry.

While the industry is united in the merits of the movement, we are still in the early stages with publishers who understandably have questions about implementing and benefitting from such an initiative. Umbrella founder and Head of Technology & Content for Maverick, Nancy Roberts, Ph.D., provides answers to the most common questions from our publishing clients in this exclusive interview.


1. Why and tactically how should we consider enhancing diversity and inclusion in our organization, and what are the possible value outcomes?

Diversity and inclusion have been shown to have a range of business benefits, including increased profitability, quicker and better decision making, and increased innovation. However, we should not ignore the moral and social imperatives to improve diversity in the sector. We know that bias exists throughout the academic publishing process, for example against less prestigious institutions or against female scientists. It’s incumbent on all of us to identify how that bias might be creeping into publication decisions, and how this might be standing in the way of good research reaching a wider community.


2. How exactly can you assist us in better understanding the diversity of our editorial boards, peer reviewers and authors?

One of the big challenges publishers face is the volume of research they’re dealing with, which continues to grow year on year. Getting to grips with this data can be daunting, as can understanding what it means. Many publishers wish to know if they’re doing well or badly but lack reasonable benchmarks against which to measure themselves. At Umbrella we enrich publisher data with other sources of information, such as diversity of graduates in the field, global diversity of research, etc. And we help publishers to see where there may be challenges, and where they may need to do more to attract and support new researchers in getting published. We believe what gets measured gets done, so we help publishers get a clear view on where they stand, and to set goals for improvements.


3. What role does AI have in diversity assessment?

AI gives us the opportunity to fill in the gaps in our data. As a publisher, you may have limited information on your peer reviewers – perhaps just their name, email address and institution. You may well not know their gender and ethnicity. And filling these gaps can be hard. We know that surveys are often ignored, and when publishers have tried to survey their communities to get a clearer view on demographic diversity, they can see response rates as low as 20%. Using AI, we’re able to infer gender and ethnicity from names, with an accuracy usually reaching around 80-90%. AI therefore represents a cost-effective, scalable way to enhance your data and get a more accurate overview of the demographics of your community. We view AI as helping with the “heavy lifting” of data enrichment; human validation then takes over to ensure the outcomes are robust and reliable.


4. As our data grow, what on-going assistance can you provide to continuously measure diversity?

We provide a range of monitoring and measurement tools to help customers understand their data and tell the story of the work they’re doing to improve it. We encourage customers to set goals, and to visually track and share their progress through visualisations and dashboards. Over time, the changes they see in their data deliver new insights into what interventions have been successful. We can then share these insights with other clients to help them implement very effective strategies for change.


5. What exactly is meant by an “inclusive work culture?”

At the simplest level, an inclusive work culture is one where everyone has equal access to the same outcomes. In other words, it’s a culture where everyone can achieve their potential, and no one is made to feel that “their face doesn’t fit”. Inclusive cultures are open, transparent, and receptive to challenge. They question where bias might be entering their processes, whether that relates to employment decisions or publication decisions.


6. How can you assist us to ensure all our messaging is more inclusive and appealing?

Humans are highly sensitive to language use, and we tend to naturally “decode” hidden messages and connotations in language. For example, we know women are less likely to respond to job advertisements that emphasise words like “competitive” and “aggressive”. Building on 20+ years of academic research in this area, we’ve developed a Natural Language Processing platform which can analyse corporate messaging and communications to ensure that gender, racial or other biases are not creeping into language use. This platform can also ensure we’re optimizing our communications for inclusion. A simple text editor analyses the text and makes real-time recommendations for changes and edits, to help our customers ensure they’re writing with inclusion in mind.


7. How does inclusiveness relate to editorial integrity?

If our editorial processes are biased, how can we claim to have editorial integrity? Editorial integrity only exists where processes are – as far as possible – fair and equitable. For example, as I mentioned earlier, studies have been done which show that the same paper will receive different treatment if it’s submitted from a more, or less, “prestigious” institution. Clearly, the decisions being made here are not purely down to the quality of the research. Editorial integrity comes when these biases are identified, questioned and – if possible – eradicated.


8. What’s the best way for society and association publishers to move forward with evaluating D&I, given the need to maintain budget vigilance?

Even publishers on a budget can take some steps on this road. Our tools and services are technology-enabled for exactly this reason. We know that many smaller organisations can’t afford expensive consultancy, and we want to ensure that everyone can access our services.

For a small organisation, I’d suggest starting with simple people analytics, looking at gender and ethnicity representation across the business and also benchmarking pay. Our gender and ethnicity pay-reporting tools give you a simple upload wizard, and access to a basic dashboard for a reasonable monthly subscription. These tools give businesses the beginnings of some valuable, and importantly actionable, insight into any underlying issues in their business.


9. Is there any advice for publishers who are in the early stages of developing a D&I program? Where do you see D&I heading over the next few years?

One of the concerns I have about publishing’s approach to D&I is that we seem to have jumped to focusing on inclusion without addressing issues relating to diversity. We know we’re a very white (in the West), well-educated industry, and that gender and (probably) ethnicity pay gaps are prevalent. Whilst focusing on inclusion is a worthy goal, we need to start with more basic issues and get those right first. If you were to ask me if I’d prefer to be paid fairly or to “feel included”, I’d definitely choose fair pay! So, I think publishers do need to go back to basics a bit and think about why our industry is so homogeneous, and what can be done to address that. Then we can move on to think about how we ensure everyone feels included and has an equal chance to succeed.

Alongside that, and more positively, I would expect to see publishers becoming much more focused on metrics, both about employee demographics and publishing output diversity. This is an ongoing project which will need regular attention – when you don’t consciously include, you are probably unconsciously excluding voices. And if our role is to be the gatekeepers of knowledge, we can’t afford to erode public trust in our independence and reliability by continuing to allow bias in editorial decisions.

Nancy Roberts is the Head of Technology and Content for Maverick Publishing Specialists and founder of Umbrella Analytics, a technology startup that uses data analytics, AI, and machine learning to help businesses achieve the benefits of a more diverse workforce. She has worked in a variety of production and operational roles across publishing for the past 20 years, following on from the completion of her postgraduate publishing diploma at West Herts College. She has a PhD in Postcolonial Feminist Literary Theory and an Executive MBA from Cranfield University.


Download Maverick’s Diversity and Inclusion Analysis and Monitoring Services information sheet or email info@maverick-os.com to learn more.