Building a More Equitable Future with Data: A conversation with some of the WE Survey’s Next Generation

Five years after the landmark Workplace Equity Survey first benchmarked the state of diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) in the scholarly publishing industry, a second iteration was conducted early in the summer of 2023. We are now analyzing the data to uncover whether real change, as measured through workplace experiences and perceptions, resulted from the pandemic’s workplace disruptions and the public reckoning about racial and gender injustice. A future-facing instrument, the survey will pick up on emerging needs to help forge a more equitable path forward to the individuals and organizations in our industry. A full report on the results is scheduled for release early in 2024.

Passing the Torch

For the WE Survey to be sustainable, it needs to be a long-term industry commitment, measuring change over time and evolving with new voices and fresh perspectives. Vital to that is succession planning, and so we are proud to report a generational shift in survey leadership. Of the original founders – Simone Taylor, Susan Spilka, and Jeri Wachter – only Simone is continuing in her original role as project leader; the others have stepped back (though not bowed out) as their professional lives change. Chhavi Chauhan has leaned into the challenge to co-direct the project with Simone, and many others have taken on the responsibility for the project’s foundational roles.

This post introduces three more of the survey’s next generation: Anne Stone, who is leading marketing; communications for the 2023 survey, who spoke with Camille Lemieux (Springer Nature) and Paige Wooden (American Geophysical Union), the pair who are currently analyzing the 2023 data and comparing it to 2018’s baseline – which is a huge undertaking outside their day jobs, both of which make them uniquely prepared for the task at hand.

Anne: When the WE Survey founders Simone, Susan, and Jeri started working in publishing in the ’80s and ‘90s, the top jobs were filled with mostly white males, while the industry was, and remains, majority female. There were barely any people of color. A senior leader once told Susan, “she can take the fast track or the mommy track,” in response to a colleague’s request for a flexible work arrangement after maternity leave. I’ve seen walls and meeting rooms lined with portraits of the white men and thought, “those send the wrong message and need to come down!” We have made progress since then – just look at how so many publishers are now run by women. But we are definitely not there yet!

Paige: It’s hard for me to evaluate what we’re doing by looking back. Of course, I’ve read about the feminist movement, but I’m not emotionally connected to measuring our progress against past milestones. I grew up in a world where girls were equal. Title 9 had already happened. I never felt that because I was a girl I was less or couldn’t do something boys were doing. My impression was that girls were as smart and could compete for better grades than boys (we also matured earlier!) I wasn’t aware of any discrimination. I am looking to the future and what that will look like. There is a lot of work to do… for example, around career breaks – being able to continue to progress in your career if you take some leave.

Anne: The perspectives that you — Camille (early career) and Paige (mid-career) – bring will deliver us to a better future, with your unwavering commitment to improving inclusivity and creating respectful workplaces where people feel they belong.

About the Data Analysts

Camille is relatively new to scholarly publishing, having joined Springer Nature (SN) in 2022 as a Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager after working in research and evaluation at global non-profit EDC. At Springer Nature, she sets and monitors key performance indicators (KPIs) for the company’s internal DEI programs and conducts evaluations to understand program efficacy. Her passion for social justice issues led her to the DEI position, where she has “the privilege of working in a community of more than 10,000+ people to improve their workplace experience.” She leads an annual internal inclusion and diversity survey to gather feedback from colleagues across the organization about their day-to-day experiences related to inclusion and equity. As with the WE Survey, the responses are analyzed by demographics, business area, and location to determine how the DEI team can better plan its initiatives throughout the year – an annual practice that underpins the DEI program’s success.

Camille says she is fortunate because every day she works closely with people who are invested in promoting an inclusive environment: “We provide formal DEI training and are committed to giving people the tools and information they need to foster inclusive environments.” She sees the impact of Springer Nature’s eight DEI employee networks. More than 1,400 colleagues in over 35 chapters at company locations have created a sense of community around the world. “I am really proud to see through our surveys that the network members tend to experience more inclusion than non-members. There’s so much potential here to tap into.”

Paige has been in publishing for 15 years; before that, as an undergraduate, she worked in a university library. She brings a unique and valuable skill set to the WE Survey analysis. For most of her career, she has managed peer review. She switched to doing data analytics four years ago, a role where “I take large uniquely structured data sets and shape them into databases — sets of relational tables — which facilitates my identification of significant insights and trends.” “Our community of scholarly publishers is mostly women, whereas the scientific community that my organization serves is mostly men. In the past, everything about hiring was the resumé, what the candidate had to offer – but that is changing. In recent years as we have become more culturally aware that someone’s unique personal experiences can provide additional value to what they offer, and AGU has prioritized recruiting/hiring more diverse teams. If we’re going to do things differently from the way that they’ve always been done, we need diverse perspectives. To dismantle the racism, sexism, etc. that is baked into our systems, we need to question the structures put into place long ago.

At AGU now, DEI is being integrated into everything we do, from bringing in more diverse candidates, making sure that’s also true for our society honors and awards, to showcasing individuals from underrepresented demographic groups. AGU stepped up to deal with the sensitive topic of field-work dangers for women due to harassment by co-sponsoring a summit, Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Respond. We also launched a program called Thriving Earth Exchange connecting our expert geoscientist members to local communities to provide expert guidance for dealing with pressing societal issues.”

About the Analysis

Camille: “It’s always interesting to see who’s responding to surveys. Though the analysis of the 2023 WE Survey is still underway, the demographics show greater participation of individuals from marginalized communities — there are significantly more people of color and people with disabilities responding, for example, than there were in 2018, bringing more voices and perspectives into the work we are all doing to communicate science and scholarship. There appears to be a wide range of feedback that will provide many interesting stories and perspectives in the industry. One surprise: I anticipated that people from marginalized communities might report less positive workplace experiences, but I’m seeing a lot of nuances. We are seeing things through an intersectional lens. I can relate to this — when I experience a microaggression, it’s hard to know which aspect of my identity (e.g., age, ethnicity, gender, physical conditions) are being challenged. I think we all benefit from some privileges and struggle with some barriers because of our many identities. The analysis we will perform on this data before the end of the year will give us more insight into this. I think we should look forward to some potentially surprising stories when we present the report!”

Paige: We’re creating demographic slices of the responses. Each piece of data is coded and linked by a unique anonymized user ID for each person who takes the survey. The ID is assigned by Survey Monkey, and there is no privacy risk. Anne wrapped up the interview with a question about what they foresaw happening as a result
of the 2023 survey.

Camille: I hope that the survey results motivate organizations to enact positive change, partner up, and conduct more research to advance DEI. Even though this is a broad landscape study, there are ways to realize the insights, which we can propose through recommendations in the report.

Paige: Maybe we need to create a Toolkit to provide organizations support in bringing the insights to life?

Their responses sound like calls to action! Who’s ready to sign up? Don’t miss Paige Wooden and Anne Stone’s presentation on the Workplace Equity Project, at
the GW Ethics in Publishing Conference today (October 12, 2023). You can see them in person or watch them remotely (no charge for the latter), by registering at: