The Need for Diversity and Inclusivity in Presenting Scientific Research

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Nora Volkow

Diversity and inclusion are paramount in all sectors of society, especially in the sciences. Yet it is a well-known (and frequently lamented) fact that males continue to dominate the speaker programs at scientific conferences. My colleagues and I at NIDA, along with the leaders of other NIH Institutes and Centers, strongly support NIH Director Francis Collins’ recent call for increased fairness and diversity in biomedical research and in the presentation of that research at professional meetings.

On his blog, Dr. Collins announced that he would no longer accept invitations to speak at conferences that did not include gender-diverse speaker panels, setting an example for scientific leaders and sending a message to conference organizers that women need to be included in their programs as much as possible. The same goes for ethnic minorities underrepresented in science. We need, as Dr. Collins said, “a level playing field, where scientists of all backgrounds are evaluated fairly for speaking opportunities.”

I am proud to work in a biomedical field that boasts so many major contributions by women scientists. And the gender and ethnic diversity of the young pioneers recognized by our annual Addiction Science Awards makes me confident that tomorrow’s leaders in the study of the brain and the search for new scientific solutions to drug misuse and addiction are going to be strongly representative of all genders and ethnicities. But we cannot simply wait for a more diverse future to happen on its own.

It is important that today’s leaders across science, health, and academia have inclusivity and diversity foremost in their minds when inviting speakers to events and when planning meetings. The same goes for eradicating biases in hiring, publishing, and recognizing new research advances. We must all work together to create the level playing field Dr. Collins calls for.