DEIJ and AOS Culture: Highlighting Your Insights, and Next Steps

As we have previously shared with you, the American Ornithological Society (AOS or Society) is committed to creating an organizational culture that is inclusive, broadly welcoming and supportive, and that meets our members’ needs. In January 2022, in partnership with Diversity Crew, a DEIJ-focused consulting group, the AOS conducted a quantitative survey to evaluate six elements of our Society’s culture, including respondents’ sense of:

  • Belonging within the Society
  • Feeling valued within the AOS
  • Having a voice within the AOS
  • Having access to useful and relevant resources through the AOS
  • Experiencing a collaborative environment within the AOS
  • Perceiving strategic alignment between the Society’s recent actions and our stated DEIJ commitments and goals.

The survey was sent to current and recent past members of the AOS, as well as anyone who registered for AOS meetings between 2019 and 2021, regardless of membership status. The goal of this survey was to obtain comprehensive feedback on our current organizational culture so that we can become a better scientific society for the ornithological community. We extend a big thanks to the 636 individuals who responded to this survey!  

Emerging Results

Overall, the AOS scored well on measures of belonging and collaborative environment: 72% of respondents completely or somewhat agreed with statements in these categories. We scored the lowest overall on “having a voice”– only 59% of respondents agreed or somewhat agreed with statements assessing our constituents’ experience of being heard within the AOS.

While our overall numbers indicate that a majority of our members have positive experiences within these six cultural categories, the AOS is striving for broader inclusion and equity for all ornithologists. It is critical to understand not just our overall scores but also to explore how different groups perceive and experience the AOS, so that we can better support members with diverse needs, backgrounds, interests, challenges, and identities. We evaluated four separate comparison groups to better understand how people with different identities experience the AOS. Our comparison groups were:

  • Men compared to women
  • People who identify as Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color (BIPOC) compared with people who identify as white
  • Individuals currently living in Latin America or the Caribbean compared with those living in the United States (U.S.) and with those living in countries outside of those areas
  • Students and academic professionals compared with professionals outside of academia.

Here, several interesting patterns emerged:

  • Belonging: Although 72% of respondents overall responded positively to statements assessing the experience of belonging, only 63% of BIPOC individuals completely or somewhat agreed with statements about belonging within the AOS, compared with 75% of white people. Also, 73% of people from the U.S. and 79% of people from other countries agreed with belonging-focused statements, compared with only 64% of people from Latin America. These significant differences highlight the continued need for the AOS to create a more supportive and welcoming culture for these groups, and to ensure that BIPOC individuals and people from Latin America are represented at all levels of the AOS.
  • Feeling Valued:  Overall, 63% of respondents gave positive scores on statements that reflected feeling valued. On all six measures within this category, women reported significantly lower scores than men, indicating that women are less likely to feel that their contributions to the AOS, and those of other groups, are recognized and valued. Within this category, the statement that “My contributions to AOS are recognized” received the lowest overall score, with only 58% of respondents completely or somewhat agreeing with this statement. This number was particularly low for BIPOC individuals (48%, compared with 61% of white individuals) and women (49%, compared with 62% of men). These results showcase the importance of recognizing the contributions of ornithologists from different backgrounds, institutions, affiliations, and geographies and better understanding what specific elements can increase feelings of value, particularly for women and BIPOC individuals and communities. 
  • Having a Voice:  Overall, women indicated significantly lower scores on questions related to having a voice (54% “completely or somewhat agreed” compared with 66% “completely or somewhat agreed” for men), and BIPOC individuals also reported lower scores (51%) on questions in this category compared with white individuals (61%). An important next step will be to determine how best to ensure that all voices are heard and valued.
  • Access to Resources:  A high percentage (81%) of respondents across all groups agreed that the resources the AOS provides are relevant to them, and 79% of respondents indicate that the content of AOS meetings and workshops is applicable to them. Meeting accessibility and member involvement in decision-making offer room for improvement to ensure these are equitable among different groups. Significantly fewer individuals among several groups strongly or somewhat agree that AOS meetings are accessible to them: BIPOC (67%) vs. white (77%) individuals; women (63%) vs. men (77%); and people from Latin America (50%) vs. the U.S. (75%). Individuals from Latin America were more likely to find it difficult to afford to participate in AOS annual meetings (78%, compared with 52% of respondents from the U.S.); similarly, women were more likely to find it difficult to afford to participate in AOS annual meetings than men (61% vs. 48%). While the majority (75%) of AOS members find AOS membership affordable, individuals from Latin America were significantly more likely to find it difficult to afford AOS membership (52%) than individuals from the U.S. (20%) or other countries (23%). These findings highlight the need for the AOS to continue to explore and implement ways to decrease barriers to participation in the AOS.
  • Experiencing a Collaborative Environment:  Although only about half of the respondents (48%) considered the AOS their “home society,” an overwhelming percentage (86%) across all groups indicated that AOS conferences and activities provided opportunities for professional growth and networking. Overall, individuals on non-academic career paths were less likely to agree with statements about feeling connected to AOS, with these respondents being significantly less likely to feel that respect and trust form the foundation of interactions within the AOS (51%) compared to students and individuals in academic careers (61%). As we work to create a stronger and more collaborative community for ornithologists across a diverse range of careers, we will further explore how to better support and engage individuals outside of the academic sector.
  • Perceiving Strategic Alignment of AOS Efforts with DEIJ Goals:  Although about 80% of respondents overall felt proud to be associated with the AOS and agreed that our Society has been taking actions to make diversity and inclusion priorities for the organization, BIPOC individuals reported significantly lower agreement (61–72%) for four of the six elements in this category than white individuals did (71–82%). With 83% of survey respondents self-identifying as white, and BIPOC individuals less likely to feel that the AOS values people of all backgrounds, we clearly have work to do to ensure we are identifying and making meaningful and effective changes to better engage, welcome, support, and empower a broader and more representative community.

This survey yielded many important insights that will help guide steps the AOS can take to improve our culture and create a stronger community for all ornithologists. These are emerging patterns, and to effectively change the AOS’s culture to be more inclusive and welcoming, we must identify and address the barriers that have led to these patterns. This work is and must be an ongoing commitment by the AOS. 

Next Steps

Later this year, we will host a Community Forum to address your questions about the survey and the AOS’s next steps. Based on the earlier diversity audit and qualitative interviews, as well as results from this survey, Diversity Crew suggested short- and long-term actions for the AOS to become a more representative, inclusive, and welcoming organization. Over the next several months, we will prioritize these actions and develop a plan to advance and integrate our DEIJ work. Also, as we embark on our overall strategic planning process, we will embed DEIJ goals and actions into our broader strategic planning framework. As mentioned above, we will also continue to evaluate the barriers that lead to the patterns shown by this survey and work to ensure that the actions we take are effective at reducing these barriers.

In the meantime, the AOS is taking concrete steps to respond to your feedback and advance our DEIJ journey:  

  • We are currently revising our DEIJ statement to better reflect the AOS’s commitment to diversity; we anticipate releasing an updated statement in the last quarter of 2022.
  • We are pursuing funding for resource groups, similar to the Rainbow Lorikeets, to develop and support identity-based communities that would foster a sense of belonging and create a stronger voice within ornithology. Led by AOS Councilor Dai Shizuka, the AOS submitted a proposal to the NSF BIO-LEAPS program in June 2022 to fund this initiative.
  • We have added two seats for students on the AOS Council, who will be voting members beginning in 2023. This helps to broaden the pathway to leadership within the AOS and helps ensure that our early-career members, who often represent a broader and more diverse constituency than later-career members, have a strong voice within the AOS. This Bylaws change was formally approved by the AOS Council and Fellows in June 2022.
  • We are considering other ways to broaden our leadership pipeline. To follow up on feedback from our August 2021 Council discussion and our December 2021 Community Forum, we are creating an ad hoc committee to develop concrete next steps to ensure that pathways to leadership within the AOS are transparent and accessible to all members.

Thank you again to everyone who participated in the evaluation of our Society’s culture. Your responses help to guide our work and create a stronger ornithological community, and we look forward to a continued dialogue. Thank you for helping us build a better AOS.

Judith Scarl
AOS Executive Director

Colleen Handel
AOS President

Viviana Ruiz Gutierrez
AOS Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair


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