Creating a More Welcoming and Inclusive AOS

The mission of the American Ornithological Society (AOS) is “to advance the scientific understanding of birds, to enrich ornithology as a profession, and to promote a rigorous scientific basis for the conservation of birds.” This mission is best served by nourishing and supporting what can be the greatest asset of our Society—a diverse membership working together to achieve our common goals. The AOS is committed to embracing the principles of equity and inclusion and to supporting ornithologists that represent a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives. Many of you are aware that we are working to develop a process to change harmful English bird names. This is one of several initiatives that we are undertaking as we work towards becoming a more welcoming Society that promotes a sense of belonging and support. We are excited to share with you some of the initiatives and changes we are pursuing to build a better AOS.

Diversity Audit and Strategic Planning

AOS must critically reflect on our leadership and organizational structure, policies, communications, and overall culture to identify where and how to make lasting change that will result in a more diverse and inclusive community. We must be responsive to feedback from you—our members and the broader ornithological community—about how we can improve our Society to be more welcoming of ornithologists from all backgrounds. To this end, AOS is working with Diversity Crew, a diversity-focused independent consulting group, to conduct an AOS-wide diversity assessment that examines our policies and practices and our current diversity initiatives. Based on this assessment and additional community feedback, Diversity Crew will guide us in building a strategic plan for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) at AOS. This plan will establish a set of priorities for AOS moving forward, identify a strategy for addressing key priorities, and suggest concrete action steps to advance these strategies. Through this process, we will develop a mission and vision for AOS’s diversity and inclusion work and create a common language for our efforts. These efforts will build on the work of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee and will more broadly integrate DEIJ principles throughout AOS’s programs and policies. We hope that many of you will share your perspectives on how best to direct and inform these efforts. AOS members and 2021 meeting attendees can look for a link for a survey from Diversity Crew later this year that will collect confidential feedback to inform this strategic planning process.

Celebrating and Highlighting Diverse Perspectives at Our Annual Meeting

At our 2021 Annual Meeting, AOS highlighted and promoted important perspectives that haven’t always been emphasized in our Society. Doctoral student Monique Pipkin moderated a Black Women Ornithologists’ roundtable, in which biology teacher Baiyinah Abdullah, environmental scientist and photographer Courtney Akinosho, and biologist and professor Janet Buckner spoke about their experiences as birders and scientists. Each shared how being a Black woman affected her experiences in these spheres. Another featured symposium, “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice: Research and Practice in Bird Conservation,” included several first-time AOS presenters and highlighted social science, personal experiences, and case studies to offer insights on how to better engage groups that have been historically excluded from ornithology. The Rainbow Lorikeets, AOS’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual+ (LGBTQIA+) committee, organized a panel discussion on LGBTQIA+ narratives within ornithology, and also hosted their 5th annual social event to promote a strong sense of welcoming and friendship within AOS’s broader community. We recognize the importance of featuring diverse voices at our annual meetings, and we invite everyone to participate in similar events at future meetings. If you attended our meeting but missed these presentations, they are available on demand through our meeting platform until 11 November 2021. If you aren’t registered for the meeting, it’s not too late to register to watch these recorded sessions.

Increasing Transparency and Accessibility in the Leadership Pipeline

AOS recognizes that our leadership, from our elected Council members to our Committee Chairs, does not reflect the diversity of identities and perspectives that exist today in ornithology, nor the diversity across the United States and Canada. Latin American ornithologists, important partners in our efforts to learn about and conserve migratory birds throughout the hemisphere, are also not well represented within AOS’s leadership structure. We acknowledge that the path to leadership within the AOS has not always been transparent. To address this, we are evaluating our leadership pipeline and taking steps to make that pipeline broader, more transparent, and more inclusive of ornithologists who have historically been underrepresented within AOS’s leadership. At our Council meeting on 6 August, Councilors and Committee Chairs identified barriers to leadership within AOS and brainstormed about how to overcome those barriers. Our work will continue on this issue during the upcoming months. Our Nominations Committee performed a similar evaluation on the process for becoming an Elective Member or a Fellow of our Society. Later this fall, AOS leadership will host a Community Forum, featuring short presentations from our Membership and Nominations committees, at which AOS members will have the opportunity to provide additional feedback on barriers to leadership within AOS and how we can work to overcome those barriers. Watch for an announcement on this forum later in October.

Awards Equity

Last year, our Council commissioned an ad hoc Awards Oversight Committee to evaluate award nominations and selections, and to recommend ways to make this process more equitable. Following the recommendations of this ad hoc committee, on 6 August, AOS President Mike Webster, with the support of Council, established an ad hoc Centralized Awards Committee to standardize guidelines, procedures, and term limits across the various awards committees, to evaluate eligibility for multiple awards per individual, and to assess the potential for new awards. These modifications are designed to increase the equity of our awards distribution by eliminating potential sources of bias and promoting transparency in the awards process.

New Leadership Brings New Opportunities

As you may know, AOS’s first full-time executive director, Melinda Pruett-Jones, retired in July, and Judith Scarl became our Executive Director on 6 July. One of the paramount criteria for AOS’s new executive was a proven commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice work. Before coming to AOS, Judith developed a DEIJ Community of Practice for the bird conservation community and spent several years helping this community think more broadly about partnerships and inclusion; see the North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s Field Guide to Developing Partnerships for one example of Judith’s broad partnership-building work. Judith’s experience with DEIJ and building inclusive partnerships will help shepherd in a new era of increased inclusion and equity for AOS.

How to Get Involved

We are working to increase opportunities for our members and those from the broader ornithological community to have a voice in the future direction of AOS. Here are some ways in which AOS members can participate in this important work:

  • Inform Diversity Crew’s DEIJ assessment and strategic planning process. Look for an email later this year, which will be sent directly from Diversity Crew to AOS members.
  • Attend our next Community Forum on leadership development within AOS, and provide feedback on how we can minimize barriers to more diverse representation within AOS leadership. Stay tuned for an announcement of our next Community Forum, which will be held later this fall. 
  • Help to shape the work of our committees, which address topics ranging from awards, to conservation, to professional ethics, to meeting coordination, to student affairs. Check out our list of committees and contact us if you’d like to get involved. 

AOS strives to be a Society with its eye on the future—a Society that is committed to becoming more equitable, welcoming, and inclusive. Thank you for being part of the AOS team.

Mike Webster
AOS President

Colleen Handel
AOS President-Elect

Judith Scarl
AOS Executive Director


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