Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

The power of science to change lives for the better is not confined to the lab. In 2021, AAAS brought evidence-based guidance and hard work to address issues around social justice and systemwide inequities across the scientific enterprise that have moved to the front of political and public conversations. We have not shied away from looking at how our own programs and policies – and those across the sciences – can be transformed to ingrain DEI to drive scientific excellence.

For the United States to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, cure cancers, go to Mars, understand the fundamental laws of the universe and human behavior, develop artificial intelligence, and to build a better future, we need the brain power of not just the descendants of Native Americans, Pilgrims, Founding Mothers and Fathers, Enslaved People, Ellis Island arrivals, but of those that dream of coming to this country whether as immigrants or nonimmigrants to contribute to the U.S. research enterprise.

Sudip S. Parikh, Ph.D.

Expanding Who Drives STEMM Innovation

AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh was invited to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in June 2021 to share growing evidence that innovation in STEMM requires a diverse and equitable workforce. In his testimony, he encouraged Congress to support immigration policies that welcome a wide range of international researchers and support education programs that encourage homegrown talent from across the United States. These policies are urgently needed, he said, to keep the country technologically innovative and economically competitive.

At the 46th Annual Forum on Science & Technology Policy, policymakers from the executive and legislative branches of government, corporate leaders, university presidents, and science policy experts met virtually to discuss ways to close the country’s innovation gap through the “diversity dividend,” as AAAS Senior Advisor Shirley Malcom, Ph.D., said in the Gilbert S. Omenn Grand Challenges Address.

  • In a plenary  panel, AAAS President-Elect Gilda Barabino, Ph.D., joined scientists from 3M, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan to talk about innovation driven by DEI.
  • Speakers from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy called on the research community to share ideas for how to expand equity and inclusion, launching The Time is Now: Advancing Equity in Science and Technology Ideation Challenge at the forum.
  • Other panelists discussed policies that can advance or constrain the ability to build a more inclusive science and engineering enterprise.

2021 was a banner recruiting year for the AAAS SEA Change program, which works with universities and colleges to transform cultures and policies to support DEI in STEMM fields. Led by Director Shirley Malcom, Ph.D., SEA Change now includes 26 full charter members developing plans to break down institutional STEMM biases and barriers. In 2021, charter members the University of California, Irvine, and Arizona State University earned bronze awards for the progress they have made toward these goals under SEA Change. The program is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Heising-Simons Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and other generous foundations and individuals.

AAAS SEA Change released Diversity and the Law: 2021 to guide higher education institutions and legal counsel as they craft policies to diversify their student bodies and staff within current legal parameters. The 20 policy and legal resources, released with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, have increased in importance as court cases challenging these policies have made it all the way to the Supreme Court and will be reviewed during the 2022-2023 session.

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The HBCU Making and Innovation Showcase highlights the inventive and entrepreneurial talent of HBCU students from across America with the goal to support and advance innovation and research capacity at HBCUs to address local and global problems.

Photo courtesy of David Poole/NCAT

Taking Responsibility for Our Actions

AAAS’ renewed commitment to DEI principles across the scientific enterprise continued in 2021 with our second report following up on demographic trends of AAAS/Science career-enabling functions as well as with programs that raise awareness and drive progress in DEI.

The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, led by its new director, Rashada Alexander, Ph.D., is an outstanding example of our efforts to create a diverse class of fellows and minimize systemic inequities in our processes. In 2021, 67% of the incoming fellows were female and 28% were researchers from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

As a representative voice of the scientific enterprise, AAAS is committed to supporting broad access to rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific information to drive scientific innovation while ensuring that open access policies and publication mandates do not unintentionally lead to growing inequalities in who can publish their work. We have conducted a series of stakeholder discussions across the scientific community to understand barriers to publishing across underrepresented groups including researchers at minority-serving institutions and early-career researchers, among others. Additionally, we have provided guidance to federal agencies and legislators as they explore open access policies.

The Science family of journals is committed to high-quality scientific publishing and takes a measured approach to open access. In January 2021, AAAS updated its terms to allow authors funded by cOAlition S organizations to place special licenses on their accepted manuscripts to enable open access distribution. This approach reflects our desire to limit undue financial obligation on authors, which could freeze in place or further exacerbate long-standing inequities for authors across race, gender, geographies, disciplines and institutions.

After a year that saw global public protests around racism and inequity, scientists have taken on the responsibility to ensure that their own profession is held accountable on these issues. A major investigation conducted by Science Correspondent Emiliano Rodríguez Mega on sexual harassment charges at a Mexico laboratory led to widespread discussions and calls for more institutions to investigate their own faculty. This and other hard-hitting investigative reports were supported by Dan Pinkel, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, through the Science Fund for Investigative Reporting.

You need as many paths to success as possible, ensuring that people who have been underrepresented, less seen, less engaged, not always thought about — they should be part of the conversation.

Rashada Alexander, Ph.D.
Director, S&T Policy Fellowships

Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Highlighting the Importance of Social Justice

In 2021, Science offered an outstanding outlet for research that does and should inform policing and social justice. The Feb. 12 issue contained a study on the impacts of different policing strategies among white, Black and Hispanic officers, findings that were amplified by wide coverage at the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting. Later that year, the magazine presented its inaugural NOMIS and Science Young Explorer Award to a co-author on the same study, Dean Knox, Ph.D., whose work has demonstrated the value of applying new tools and statistical techniques to reveal the severity of racial bias in policing. In an Oct. 15 special issue on criminal injustice, researchers explored the intersection of mass incarceration and systemic racism.



Asian Americans must become central to the discourse on race in America.

wrote Jennifer Lee, Ph.D., and Tiffany J. Huang, Ph.D., in a March 2021 Science editorial. Lee, the Julian Clarence Levi Professor of Social Sciences at Columbia University, became a Science guest blogger in December 2021. She continues to write about the experiences of Asian scientists around the world.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lee, Ph.D.

Addressing Racial Bias and Social Inequities

At the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting in February, Science Robotics authors and academic co-leads of the organization Black in Robotics participated in a special session highlighting how robots are not immune to bias and injustice. They called for roboticists and AI developers to consider racial biases and inequities when developing new technologies, including by ensuring the creators of such technologies are diverse.

Funded in part by Microsoft, the Artificial Intelligence: Applications/Implications (AI)² Initiative further explored how the development and application of AI can alleviate, rather than exacerbate, social inequalities. For instance, after conversations with focus groups from historically underserved Black, Hispanic, Southeast Asian and Native American communities, the initiative released a report about ways to improve public understanding and trust of AI technology addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also in 2021, Science celebrated the 20th anniversary of the publication of drafts of the human genome with a special issue: Complicated legacies: The human genome at 20. In a Policy Forum in the issue, a collection of experts weighed in on fruits of the Human Genome Project as well as the growing pains that point to challenges that remain – among them, a need for scientists to address bias in the algorithms that analyze genomic data.

An April 2021 Perspective in Science applauded efforts to promote fairness in technologies in a variety of technical disciplines but identified this work as lagging far behind for medical devices. The author called on medical engineers to embrace the lessons learned from addressing bias in computer science to achieve fairness in medical devices and prevent health inequity.

Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

The AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors program includes 125 women from a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers to serve as high-profile role models for middle school girls. Supported by a grant from Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the ambassadors share stories of their STEM journeys through original online and broadcast media, in-person visits to classrooms and informal science events, and a digital asset library, among other outreach projects.

In 2021, the ambassadors wrapped up more than 90 different She Can Change the World public engagement projects they developed with mini-grant funding provided by Lyda Hill Philanthropies. They were celebrated in #IfThenSheCan — The Exhibit, a collection of 120 3D printed statues of the ambassadors that contains the most statues of real women ever assembled in one place. The exhibit debuted in 2021 at NorthPark Center in Dallas, Texas, before moving to museums in and around the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2022.

Photos courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection
Photos courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection
The four female scientists who starred in the 3M docuseries, Not the Science Type, attended the film’s premiere in 2021. Pictured left to right: Jessica Taaffe, Ph.D., microbiologist; Gitanjali Rao, 16-year-old inventor; Jayshree Seth, Ph.D., chief science advocate at 3M; and Ciara Sivels, Ph.D., nuclear engineer.

Photo credit: Getty Images for 3M

3M Joins as the First Member of the AAAS Corporate Circle

Donor Spotlight

In 2021, 3M became the first member of the AAAS Corporate Circle, which links AAAS with companies seeking to elevate the role of science in society. Under the auspices of the Corporate Circle program, AAAS builds custom partnerships that help companies like 3M raise awareness of important issues facing the scientific enterprise and the world. 

AAAS worked with 3M to identify two AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors to be featured in Not the Science Type, a four-part docuseries produced by 3M in partnership with Generous Films and AAAS. The film celebrates four female scientists who confront stereotypes as they rise to prominence in their fields. It has been translated into 12 languages for screenings around the world and to date has been accepted to more than 10 film festivals, including Brand Storytelling, a sanctioned event of the Sundance Film Festival.

We are so grateful for the partnership with AAAS to help bring this film about STEM equity to light. 3M created Not the Science Type to spark a conversation about equity for underrepresented groups in STEM.

Jayshree Seth, Ph.D.
corporate scientist and chief science advocate at 3M
Photo courtesy of Robert Bullard, Ph.D.

Robert Bullard, Ph.D.

Member Spotlight

Welcome to the Front Lines of Environmental Justice

Robert Bullard, Ph.D., a distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, has spent the past four decades researching, writing and talking about environmental injustices and inequalities. He is a leader in the study of environmental racism — the race-based discrimination in environmental policymaking and enforcement and the deliberate targeting of communities of color with toxic waste and pollutants — or as Bullard likes to say, “Who gets what, when, where, and why in terms of pollution?”

His 1990 book Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality was one of the first books on environmental racism in the United States. This book is one of the reasons he is credited as the founder of the discipline. Since then, he has documented different aspects of environmental racism across sectors and nations in 18 books (and counting).

The civil rights and environmental movements have finally converged into a massive groundswell, according to Bullard. “That’s why I say these are exciting times. The level of commitment to make transformative change is there; not just baby steps, but giant transformative steps that can turn this country around when it comes to the arc toward justice.”

Relating scientific breakthroughs and research that are consequential to human health and progress through diverse lenses is critical to connecting with and promoting our collective well-being. My experience as a AAAS Mass Media Fellow helped me to communicate science and technology in compelling ways and was instrumental in launching my career as a television writer. I am delighted to provide the opportunity for young science writers to work with the premier journalists at Science to learn these skills through the Diverse Voices in Science Writing Internship.

Neal Baer, M.D.
TV writer, executive producer and showrunner (Designated Survivor, ER, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Welcome to Chechnya and much more)