GSA collects demographic data to measure changes in representation.

Science benefits from diversity: people from different cultures and socioeconomic groups contribute different perspectives that broaden the reach, impact, and innovation of science (McKinsey 2015, Phillips 2017, Powell 2018). The STEM community has been busy building structural changes to attract, support, and retain a more diverse workforce. At the Genetics Society of America, we are continuing our push toward an inclusive and equitable future through programs like the Presidential Membership Initiative, implementing a framework for inclusive conferences, and much more.

“What gets measured gets done.”

Although we have worked to develop programs aimed at increasing the diversity of GSA membership, we need to understand who we are now so that we can watch how we grow and change. We can measure the current and future composition of our community by collecting demographic data. Demographics tell us how we compare to the general population; can inform our recruitment and retention efforts of scientists from underrepresented, historically excluded, and minoritized populations (Burnett et al., 2022); and give us a way to measure the effects of these ongoing and future efforts.

In its recent consensus study on Measuring Sex, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine underscore the rationale for asking these questions: “People deserve to count and be counted…Regardless of how data are collected, they reflect the identities and experiences of people and communities that deserve to be heard and respected. Everyone should be able to see themselves, and their identities, represented in surveys and other data collection instruments.” In essence: representation matters. GSA joins a growing number of organizations expanding their demographic surveys in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts (Else and Perkel, 2022, Rushworth et al., 2021). 

Historically, GSA collected basic race/ethnicity and binary gender data on our membership. In the fall of 2021, we significantly expanded our demographic survey to better capture diversity along a number of axes. We now ask for information on race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), disability status, and disadvantaged background status.

Security and sensitivity

We understand that asking for information on your identity is asking you to trust us. We have worked hard to put together an inclusive membership form with data security at the forefront: 1) Identity data will only ever be reported in the aggregate. We will never post, publish, or share individual information, and we will group small categories where necessary to avoid revealing individual identities. 2) Your identity information will not be displayed alongside your name and contact information on the membership profile available to GSA staff. It will be displayed to you when you access your membership profile, but it will not be visible to any other members. 3) Your data is stored on a secure cloud-based system. GSA uses Salesforce to manage membership data; access is restricted to staff members based on data-level permission settings, and staff identities are verified through multi-factor authentication at login.

Demographic data is most powerful when we have high response rates, which is why these fields are required in our membership form. However, we understand that you may be hesitant to share this information with us, and we respect that point of view. You will never be required to provide information you’re uncomfortable sharing; you may choose “Prefer not to answer” for any demographic question. Choosing “Prefer not to answer” will not reflect negatively on you in any way. You are also free at any time to change your answers.

Additionally, we recognize that the wording of demographic questions and this kind of data collection are never perfect because you are humans, not data. We have carefully considered the fields we have included and the choices available within each field, but it’s likely these will evolve over time as our understanding of the nuances of various identities evolves.

From diversity to equity

With all of this in mind, we encourage you to provide demographics so that we can make data-driven assessments and ensure that we are moving the Society forward in terms of representation. This data will let us ask specific questions such as, “Does this panel represent the diversity of GSA?” and, “Are we improving representation of Black Americans in GSA?”

We hope you’ll take a moment to visit your membership profile and update your demographic information. Thank you for helping us build toward the goal of an equitable and inclusive future.