Where Are the Women in the JSM Registration Guide?
Amanda L. Golbeck, University of Montana
Women make an appearance in the 2012 JSM Registration Guide, but they are not among the most visible performers. The guide contains no pictures of women. Seven keynote speakers are pictured, but there are no women among them. Three speakers with lunch are pictured. Likewise, there are no women among them. Looking beyond the pictures and at the overview up front on Page 2, there are no women among the four introductory overview lecturers, and there are no women among the eight meet and mingle well-known statisticians.
Women had more, but still disproportional, visibility in last year’s JSM registration guide. Women comprise about 30% of the ASA membership. Last year’s guide did contain some pictures of women and did list some women on the overview page, but only 2 of 12 (16.7%) keynote speakers were women. None (0%) of the three speakers with lunch was a woman. One of the four (25%) introductory overview lecturers was a woman, and only one of the five (20%) meet and mingle well-known statisticians was a woman.
It is desirable for women to be engaged as prominent speakers at JSM. Prominent speakerships, such as those in the guide mentioned here, are similar to professional awards. They are markers of individual achievement. They are important for job satisfaction and career advancement. They influence career trajectories. Prominent speakers provide inspiration for other professionals. At an organizational level, visibility of women is a good reflection of the values of the professional statistical community. Visibility of women is an important contributor to the strength and vitality of the organization.
Indeed, a recent column in Amstat News advanced the idea of the ASA as a “big tent” organization. The authors asserted the diverse membership of the ASA in terms of professional and personal backgrounds. They also asserted the inclusiveness of the organization. Their primary message was that “there is more room in the tent,” as well as more room for engaging current members.
One significant dimension of the ASA’s diverse membership is gender. A productive way to help recruit, retain, and nourish women professionals is to provide strong role models for them. A productive way to make the big tent as welcoming for women as possible and to demonstrative gender-inclusiveness is for women to appear regularly among the most visible performers under the big tent.
How can this be accomplished? Selection of prominent speakers for JSM is currently a complicated and uncoordinated collection of individual processes. For keynote speakers alone, there are five selection processes that are administered by three organizations (ASA, COPSS, IMS) and three committees. The ASA president selects the person to give the ASA President’s Invited Address. A nine-member ASA Deming Lectureship Committee selects the ASA Deming Lecturer. The 18,000 or so ASA members elect the president, who gives the ASA Presidential Address. A six-member COPSS Fisher Lecture Selection Committee selects the COPSS Fisher Lecturer. A 16-member IMS Committee on Special Lectures selects the IMS Medallion lecturers.
When the other prominent speakers are considered along with the keynote speakers, there is additional complication to the selection process. The ASA on Statistics in Sports, Business and Economic Statistics, and Health Policy Statistics sections each select one speaker with lunch. The JSM Program Committee chair selects the introductory overview lecturers and the meet and mingle well-known statisticians.
Of the many things that can be done short of coordinating the prominent speakership selection processes, here are six:
(1) Individual members of the statistical community: Consider expanding the pool of nominees for prominent speakerships by nominating individuals who have strong qualifications. This year, all proposals for the introductory overview lectures were accepted. None of the proposals were from women.
(2) Selection committee members: Consider how the guidelines the ASA recently established for awards committees may apply to the selection of prominent speakers. These guidelines provide practices to ensure fairness in award selection processes.
(3) Leaders: Consider the gender of past selection committee chairs and that it might be time for a woman to take a turn as chair. A diverse group of chairs is likely critical to produce a diverse group of prominent speakers. This year, there were women on each of the selection committees for the JSM prominent speakerships, but there were no women chairs.
(4) ASA Council on Awards members: Consider expanding the Award Council’s charge to include oversight of prominent speakerships. Then, the Awards Council could educate and encourage both award committee chairs and prominent speakership committee chairs. Invite COPSS and IMS selection chairs to attend the orientation meeting for incoming selection committee chairs at JSM.
(5) ASA staff: Consider finding new ways to highlight the diversity of the ASA membership. For example, staff could announce and picture in the guide the featured speaker for the JSM First-Time Attendee Orientation and Reception. This year, the speaker is 2011 ASA President Nancy Geller, and last year it was 2009 ASA President Sally Morton.
(6) ASA: Consider developing a stated set of shared core organizational values that include diversity. These common core values can ground and inspire organizational efforts toward various strategic goals in areas such as recruitment and retention. The process of developing a set of core values would further the conversation toward helping to ensure that the ASA can truly serve as every statistician’s professional home.