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4 ways we can support racial equality as publishers

October 7, 2020

By Rachel Martin

Elsevier colleagues talk about steps they have taken to become more ethnically inclusive – in webinar with Copyright Clearance Center

Diversity has many facets. It can cover gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, ethnicity and more.

For publishers, the business case is clear; more diverse companies perform better, and publishers who embrace diversity and create an inclusive culture will be more successful today and in the future. More importantly, creating a fairer environment is simply the right thing to do.

However, with such complex issues, many may ask, “How do you take action for lasting change?”

It's a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. In a two-part webinar series with the Copyright Clearance Center(opens in new tab/window), Elsevier colleagues talk about the steps we have taken here to address this important topic. Moderated by Dr. Michiel Kolman(opens in new tab/window), Elsevier’s Senior VP of Information Industry Relations and Academic Ambassador, the conversation outlines some of the actions that set the foundation for a more inclusive future.

The panelists are:

Michiel Kolman, PhD

You can watch the webinars at the end of this post. Here, we detail four important steps to kick-start action on the topic of race and ethnicity:

1. Identify, recognize and benchmark.

John Pham, PhD, is Editor-in-Chief of Cell.

“An important step is that publishers need to recognize the degree to which we are including or excluding certain populations in our processes,” advises Cell Press editor, John Pham:

We need to highlight that Black and underrepresented scientists are part of the process and make their contributions visible.

First of all, we need to identify them;, we have to make sure we know who they are so they can be included. We published an editorial earlier this year titled “Science has a Racism Problem(opens in new tab/window),” in which we outlined what our (the publisher’s) role is in this, how we have failed and what we are going to do to change that.

The first component is making visible those Black and underrepresented scientists, who are part of world-leading science. The problem is if you only see the names on paper, it is very hard to know who those people are and to include them. At Cell Press, we are looking at getting authors to include a diversity statement where they can talk about how they have thought about diversity and inclusion in the design and authorship of papers.

The other component is asking the question, ‘Are you part of our processes?’ Our main process is peer review, and so this is also about diversifying our reviewer pool , and as editors, we can use a lot of help. Elsevier is a data analytics, company and we should have this data. We should be building tools to help editors find diverse reviewers and authors.

2. Set benchmarks.

On this topic, John explained:

Once you have diversified your reviewer pool and authorship pool, you have to set benchmarks. We have done this for gender. For example, at Cell Press. we made it a goal to have a minimum of 30 percent women representation. and we have made our advisory board 50 percent. We should be doing the same things for race and ethnicity. What those numbers are we will need to figure that out, considering the makeup of scientists in specific fields.

If we don’t do this, it will be very hard to make ourselves accountable.

3. Get the terminology right

for Northern Europe, based in London, and founder of Elsevier’s employee resource group Embrace

As publishers, we understand the importance and power of words and for conversations around race and ethnicity it is also vital that we recognize the difference in terminology. Elliott Parris elaborated on the impact of terminology, comparing the terms used in the UK to those in the US:

My identity as a Black person in the UK is that I am of mixed heritage. I am white on my mum’s side and Caribbean on my dad’s side. Only a generation ago, my grandparents’ generation would call me “half caste” – meaning half pure. The derivative of castus is race, from Latin to both Spanish and Portuguese respectively. So while the common term “mixed-race” is deemed an acceptable evolution, the harmful ideology still exists. The category of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) is used by the UK government. Unless the term accompanies anti-racist recommendations and policy changes, BAME only supports otherism and white supremacy

If I lived in the US, I would be called African American, but here in the UK I think it is far more nuanced.

Kevonne Holloway is VP of Education Content at Elsevier, based in St. Louis

The nuances among nations and different parts of their populations further serves to highlight the need to get terminology right. As Kevonne Holloway explained:

Terminology is critically important to conversations around diversity and inclusion. It provides and illuminates a shared understanding as well as a mutual respect of perspective.

At Elsevier, we provide authors and copy editors both style and inclusive language guidelines to ensure the content that we peer review is representative of all individuals and reflects diversity across the spectrum.

4. Have courageous conversations

Getting everyone within an organization up to speed on issues around diversity and inclusion – and indeed race and racism – is a challenge. Kevonne explained how introducing courageous conversations at Elsevier has opened a dialogue for colleagues:

It starts with a conversation – a courageous one at that. Simply put, it is an open and honest conversation in physiologically safe space. The safe space is the foundation to having productive conversation around diversity and inclusion - race and ethnicity. In a safe space people are more willing to engage and share their experience, exchange their viewpoints and allows for learning. It leads to everyone having a clear understanding of one person’s experience vs another and gets them up to speed on issues on race and ethnicity.

John added:

It is also important that leadership be completely behind this. It motivates us here at Cell Press that we need to have these conversations and that it has to be company-wide. This is not an optional sign up. The courageous conversations need to be required, and the importance of doing this needs to be conveyed at the highest lever. Elsevier is doing an admirable job at this.

Watch the webinars

Race and Racism in Academic Publishing_ A Case Study from Elsevier - Part 1 of 2

Race and Racism in Academic Publishing_ A Case Study from Elsevier - Part 2 of 2


Portrait photo of Rachel Martin


Rachel Martin