“Equity, diversity and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility”

Associate Professor Felicity Mae Davis is the third recipient of the Biomedicine Diversity Award. She believes that we are not even close to reaching the goal on equity, diversity and inclusion in academia.

Photo: Simon Byrial Fischel

On June 22, Felicity Mae Davis received the Biomedicine Diversity Award, and it made her happy for a few reasons. Firstly, because she got to read each of her nominations, which confirmed to her that the members of her newly formed team at the Skou Building feel safe, welcome, happy and included. And also because the awarding of an annual prize for inclusive leadership is a step in the right direction.

“Academic institutions often view excellence in terms of numbers of papers and grant income. This is an important part of our jobs, but we need to expand this definition of excellence and begin to recognise and value efforts to create diverse, inclusive and supportive work environments. This award is a great start, but these values also need to be part of our recruitment strategy” she says.

This is one of the reasons why Assoc. Prof Davis chose to become a member of the Committee for Gender Equality at Health and she is optimistic about the change that lies ahead at AU.

To be honest, one of the first things that I’d like to change is our name. Equality is wonderful concept in equal systems, but it ignores the sexism, racism, biases and exclusionary attitudes that exist in the world. What we should be striving for is equity.”

Assoc. Prof Davis has worked extensively in research environments in the US, the UK, Australia and Europe and acknowledges that many of these issues require global attention. But coming to Denmark in 2021 as a young, female, first-generation scientist, has been a particularly interesting experience, the Australian-born Associate Professor explains.

“A lot of Danes think that gender issues have been fixed, or that it is untrendy to talk about them. That isn’t accurate or fair. You sometimes have to convince the person that you are talking to that there is an actual problem, before you can begin addressing the problem. That is a real shame. It is not the role of women or marginalised groups to educate intelligent colleagues about these issues. Everyone, particularly those in leadership positions and those who benefit from privilege, need to take an active role in improving their own awareness and understanding of these topics”

Reimagining the conference experience

Felicity Davis is a member of the organizing committee for an upcoming conference at Aarhus University called “Emerging Concepts in Cell and Developmental Biology”. The conference, funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Company of Biologists, takes place in September 2022, and equity, diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of the planning and the program.

“Researchers may be unable to physically attend conferences for a number of reasons, including financial, geographic and personal circumstances. We are doing our best to try to remove some of these obstacles by having a hybrid meeting, with generous travel support, that does not schedule events on the weekend, and which includes some structural changes that aim to support, for example, breastfeeding mothers. All of this is built on the backbone of a diverse line-up of speakers and a platform for sustainable conferencing,” Assoc Prof Davis says.

“When talking about this conference, I have been tempted to divide the program into “scientific” and “research culture” elements. But actually, science and environment discussions belong together. They affect each other and they go hand-in-hand. It comes back to this concept of redefining excellence and the things we value. Being an excellent scientist or being a leader in one’s field is more than just publishing in the best journal. Of course, we should talk more about these things,” she says.

The part of the program she is most proud of happens on the last day at the conference, when diversity consultants from The Living Institute are doing a three-hour session on how to create meaningful change in academic systems.

“We aim to have a conversation on how each of us could create change in our labs, departments and institutes, so that people don’t walk away feeling powerless,” Felicity Davis explains, and utilisation of diversity consultants in these conversations is something that she would like universities to do more often.

“Instead of tapping the same women on the shoulders and asking them again and again to share their experiences, we should bring in external consultants. We should ask people, who have done degrees on this topic, how we can best create change, rather than relying on women and other underrepresented groups to explain to us how they managed to survive in an unfair system.”

Code of Conduct-document

Another nominator of Felicity Davis says that all members of her lab have been asked to read a “Lab Ethos” or “Code of Conduct” document, to help ensure a safe, respectful and inclusive environment for each individual. That is eight pages addressing everything from mental health issues and how to treat animals in the lab to the PI’s open door policy and expectations when it comes to working hours and authorship.

“Many conflicts at work arise from misaligned or unclear expectations. For example, our document informs new members of the lab that whilst I might email you out of normal working hours, you don’t have to immediately read or reply to the email. Things like this might seem obvious to some people, but it is all about being transparent and open,” says the scientist, who is a Novo Nordisk Young Investigator.

The document is built for Assoc Prof Davis’s particular research environment but is available on request, if anyone outside the lab wants to read it or create something similar.

The Biomedicine Diversity Award comes with DKK 10,000 and Felicity Davis plans on spending it on a social fund or “creative club” for her growing lab, with members in both Aarhus and Australia.

Examples from the nomination:

  • “Serving on the Aarhus University Health Gender Equality Committee, she is a leading member of the organizing committee for an upcoming conference at Aarhus University: “Emerging Concepts in Cell and Developmental Biology”. This conference centres inclusion and diversity through providing accommodations to permit all interested scientists, including those with accessibility challenges, or new parents, to participate fully.”
  • “We have all been asked to read a “Code of Conduct”, to ensure a safe, respectful, inclusive and mutually supportive learning and working environment for each individual.”
  • “To promote gender equality in science, Felicity has introduced additional chemical safety for women who are or are considering becoming pregnant. In Felicity’s laboratory, we work towards visualizing and risk assessing chemicals or working methods that could potentially harm born or unborn children. Thus, as a woman, it is possible to work safely and enlightened without having to tell the entire laboratory about a potential pregnancy.”

The Biomedicine Diversity Award:

Was launched in 2019, and was awarded two times before – to Christian Kanstrup Holm and Helle Hasager Damkier.

The nominee should be a role model to promote diversity and inclusion by criteria such as, but not limited to:

  • Distributing responsibilities across genders and age
  • Allowing flexible working hours for parents and having a positive mindset about parental leave for both genders
  • Supporting initiatives to ensure well-being of students and colleagues
  • Recruiting students/employees based on advertisements that are carefully worded to be inclusive
  • Having the courage to express inclusive attitudes publicly

Evaluation committee members

Read more: https://biomed.medarbejdere.au.dk/organisation/diversity-award