Report from the EPSC-DPS Allyship meeting at EPSC 2020

At Virtual EPSC 2020, the Europlanet Society Diversity Committee announced that it is planning to initiate a new working group for all planetary scientists that would act as an ally to others in less privileged situations. Based on the DPS Allyship meetings organized in the US in the past, the Diversity Committee organized an EPSC-DPS Allyship Splinter Meeting to discuss about strategies developed in the past within DPS, the different “target groups” that need allies, and the possible differences there between US and Europe. They also talked about what specific actions potential allies could take, and what guidance or suggestions could be forwarded to organizations, networks and communities and possible actions to conduct in such organizational frameworks. This splinter meeting was specifically targeting individuals who identify with privileged groups (e.g., men, straight, white, able-bodied, or cis-gendered) to be more aware and proactive in support of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The vice chair of the Diversity Committee, Lena Noack, opened the meeting and summarized the previous activities of the Committee, which was so far mostly focussing on gender equality, inclusion of early-career scientists, and inclusion of east-/central-European countries. Other diversity topics such as the unfair treatment of people of color were so far not studied in sufficient detail. On the other hand, members of the Diversity Committee also realized that none of them has had any much experience with the topic so far, and are thus a bit behind the curve on issues surrounding initiatives like BlackLivesMatter, Strike4BlackLives, or ShutdownSTEM. To address potential next steps to take within the Europlanet Society, the Committee decided to found a European version of the DPS Allyship Group at EPSC, after a successful DPS Allyship splinter meeting organized in Geneva at EPSC-DPS2019 (see this blog post). The first tasks of the new European working group will be to initiate itself and to recruit members that can share with us their experiences, expectations and hopes.

After the introduction explaining the purpose of the splinter meeting, a discussion started between several participants from EPSC, members of the Diversity Committee, and colleagues from DPS organizing the DPS Allyship meetings and being proactive in the PCCS of DPS – all in all 24 participants joined for the splinter meeting. The discussion quickly turned to the question if an “Allyship group” would indeed be the right name for such a work group. At what level should anyone “claim” to be an ally? It is one thing to have an allyship with underrepresented groups as a goal, but the wording of being an ally (or pursuing an allyship) somewhat implies putting oneself into the spotlight, and not the actual activities and goals in mind. In addition, the new work group that is initiated by the Diversity Committee should include not only potential “allies”, but especially members of underrepresented groups. However, some of the splinter meeting participants expressed concerns that it is always more difficult to stand up for oneself instead of for others. Those from underrepresented groups should stand up and share their voice, but it should not be their task to correct unfair treatment by privileged groups. Here a parallel can be drawn to the goal of strengthening the voice of underrepresented European countries in European activities and networks – western Europeans for example tend to lead scientific debates and aim for coordination of larger projects; often not sufficiently ensuring that others are equally involved in discussions and enabled to feed into processes and decisions.

Within the Europlanet Society, for this reason a Regional Hub structure was initiated, where countries involved in Europlanet are divided into 10 Hubs (Benelux, Central Europe, France, Germany, Ireland & UK, Italy, Northern Europe, Southeast Europe, Spain & Portugal, and Switzerland). Each hub has a representative in the different committees of the Society (including a Diversity Officer, an Outreach Officer, an Industry Officer and an Early Career Officer). This means that the Diversity Committee is well represented with respect to European nationalities, but not yet that well with respect to other aspects such as gender, people of color, ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation.

The Diversity Committee feeds directly into the Europlanet Society Executive Board. The Europlanet Society has as a main rule to reach everybody while focussing on diversity, instead of being a top-down organisation, but especially with respect to reaching diverse members and participants at EPSC, we still feel that we are lacking the right tools for that.

Our American colleagues mentioned at that point of our discussion, that in DPS, every 10 years a decadal survey is implemented on where the planetary society should go, including papers for example also on diversity and representation. These and similar articles give several recommendations of how we can strengthen diversity and equality in planetary sciences. In that regard it also became increasingly common in the US to provide a diversity and inclusivity statement when applying for faculty positions – an approach that is still rather rare in most European countries or networks. It was suggested that a survey within the Europlanet Society could help us gain more information on the different issues concerning equality, diversity and inclusivity in Europe in comparison to the US. 

A big challenge in that regard for the diversity committee, is related to statistics. We do not have data and information related to sexual orientation, age, gender etc from some European countries. However, from this year onwards the EPSC has started taking the demographic information in the registration form on a voluntary basis. One of the participants suggested to start involving hub leads and members of the regional committee to take statistics from their regions. This will help the committee to get more information from all over Europe.   

Similarly, instead of trying to build a basis for a stronger allyship, it might be beneficial to first bring the attention of the group to specific experiences of individuals. 

In that direction, a group of early- to mid-career professionals from Europe started a new project a few years ago called “Did this really happen?”, collecting stories about discriminating behaviour in the scientific world (focussing mostly but not exclusively on gender-related incidents) and transforming them into easy-to-grasp cartoons. We could try to support this group by actively searching for similar examples of bad behaviour observed by privileged individuals, exclusion in work places or meetings, and other incidents that would need our attention. Such data would also help the Diversity Committee or the new working group to work on new policies and tasks.

From past experience and discussions (in European networks, but also within the DPS allyship group), different recommendations for both individuals and institutions were already suggested:

  • Organize bystander trainings and implicit bias tests and/or trainings at institutes and conferences
  • Write recommendation letters without gender-blended usage (some suggestions can be found here)
  • Nominate candidates from different backgrounds for awards (could be accomplished as a group work, for example from such an allyship working group)
  • Pass on opportunities (seminars, invited talks, etc.) to under-represented colleagues
  • Keep the discussion alive on how to increase diversity, equity and inclusion, and share material and ideas with as many people as possibly
  • Create specific ressources pages (from seminar pages to larger networks such as AGU)
  • Write descriptions and requirements for prizes and positions in a way that they do not exclude any groups
  • Formalize the review process for prize nominations and selections

The splinter meeting ended with an euphoric group planning to continue to meet at a regular basis throughout the year in a virtual meeting, discuss the current state of the situation, while inviting and engaging individuals from underrepresented groups to build up a strong network, from which something like an allyship group can indeed be built from. 

In contrast to a statement that one of our splinter meeting participants was recently told — “Allyship costs if you’re doing it right” — a true allyship should be a natural behaviour towards anyone coming from a less privileged group and should not be seen as an additional workload (or worse) to increase your competition. In the end, it is up to those of us that identify with the standard privileged groups (e.g., men, straight, white, able-bodied, or cis-gendered) that are the ones that have to become more active and involved!

Are you interested in becoming involved in the discussion group that will meet virtually at a regular basis to discuss different diversity, equality and inclusivity issues, recommendations, allyship approaches, or want to share your experiences? Then please get in contact with

Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity

Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity

Europlanet Society Statement on Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity

The Europlanet Society is committed to building a diverse, inclusive planetary science community in Europe and to ensuring that individuals within that community experience equal opportunity, regardless of gender, disability, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marital status, age, nationality or socioeconomic background.

Europlanet Diversity Committee

The Europlanet Diversity Committee acts as a strategic task force to advise, coordinate and champion activities across the Europlanet Society that further the Society’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusivity.

  • Interim Chair: Arianna Piccialli (BIRA-IASB)
  • Vice-chair: Solmaz Adeli (DLR)
  • Secretary: Marina Molla

Regional Hub and Committee Diversity Officers:

  • Benelux Hub: Arianna Piccialli (BIRA-IASB)
  • Central Europe Hub: Anna Łosiak (University of Exeter)
  • French Hub: Lea Bonnefoy (Cornell)
  • Germany Hub: Open
  • Italy Hub: Federica Duras (INAF)
  • Ireland and UK Hub: Open
  • Northern Hub: Markus Ambrosch(Vilnius University)
  • Southeast Europe Hub: Marina Molla
  • Spain and Portugal Hub: João Faria (IA, Porto)
  • Switzerland Hub: Open
  • EPEC Representative: Open
  • Executive Board Representative: Ann Carine Vandaele

Inspiring Stories – Motivational Journeys

Inspiring Stories – Motivational Journeys

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Rutu Parekh, a second year PhD student at the DLR Institute of Planetary Science and Chair of the EPEC Diversity Working Group, tells us about a recently launched EPEC project entitled ‘Motivational Journeys’. 

‘Motivational Journeys’ is a collection of interview recordings which I started together with several of my EPEC colleagues. The story behind this idea is very much personal to me. As a doctoral student, every day I struggle to improve myself in work and sometimes this struggle gets ahead of me. As a consequence, it takes me hours and sometimes days to get back to my work. During these tough times, I need a reminder of my capabilities and an assurance that all this struggle will be worth it one day. To overcome these feelings, I used to look for talk shows or books to provide me with reassurance. I realised how these narratives help to rebuild my confidence and that’s why I decided to create ‘Motivational Journeys’. Later I discussed this idea with my colleagues and they encouraged me to transform it into reality. 

Initially the execution seemed deeply challenging. However, later on Maarten Roos and Anita Heward stepped in to provide all the necessary support in filming the interviews and putting them online.

For the ‘Motivational Journeys’ we have interviewed scientists who are specialised in their respective field. They have shared their journey to become a scientist – a path which has been full of obstacles, difficult choices and hard times.

Each of them was brought up in a different environment and culture. The only thing in common between them is the quest for science and courage to never give up on their dreams under any circumstances, even though they were aware of the fact that their passion demands constant dedication and hard work. Today each of the scientists are successful in their respective field and have managed to put forward some wonderful scientific work with their constant commitment. 

In today’s era, early career scientists face lots of troubles regarding mental pressure, difficulty in surviving academia, gender biasing and constant issues of self-doubts. This sometimes has led them to leave the scientific career or can lead to mental and physical health problems. Many of them are not always comfortable sharing their problems out loud or discussing it with their colleagues or friends. In tough times, they may need a bit of motivation to give them reassurance and help them to pass the rough days. With this series, we hope to reach younger generations and inspire them to become successful researchers in the years to come.

By participating in this project, I have not only heard new stories, but it has also helped me to understand the true meaning of struggle. While talking with all of them I realised that it is not necessary to always be successful in the work we do. It’s not the only the successes that matter, sometimes failure also teaches us lifelong lessons. I believe that sharing such stories is beneficial not only for young scientists, but also for the public because it shows the level of dedication that has been put into every minute detail, and the circumstances that scientists work under. We should not only show the results of our work publicly, but it is also important to make sure that future generations of students are aware how academia and research work. 

To date we have released three interviews, with five more scheduled. You can hear the personal stories narrated by scientists here or follow Rutu on: 

Twitter: @icy_planetnerd

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!