Overall, I felt that my invitation to participate in this conference was tokenism and a poorly thought-out attempt at improving EDI. Such initiatives are of fundamental importance to science, and we need to treat them seriously. Approaches similar to the one that I experienced are performative and won’t improve diversity in science — they will only damage it.

My message to conference organizers is simply that EDI initiatives require careful and thoughtful planning. There are several questions that you need to ask to create a safe, affirming and inclusive space for everyone. I suggest considering the following issues:

  • Why does your conference need a diversity session, and what are its goals?
  • Is a short session at a week-long conference a serious enough attempt to make your field better? Can it be integrated into other activities to provide year-round opportunities?
  • How are you going to ensure that everyone can participate and feel safe and welcome?
  • Can you avoid placing all the responsibility of organizing the event on members of under-represented groups?
  • What are you doing to acknowledge the effort that these people are putting into developing EDI initiatives?
  • Are you treating the talk as an integral part of the conference programme? Don’t schedule it as a parallel session or over a lunch break, and encourage all delegates to attend.
  • Are you inviting under-represented speakers because you want them there and because you respect their knowledge and the value of what they can teach you? Or do you simply need to satisfy a diversity requirement?

Conferences are still very privileged, patriarchal places. Speaking in these spaces about the barriers that they have faced in their journeys to become scientists can be vulnerable, personal and emotional experiences for members of minority groups. So be respectful, and take your roles in organizing these sessions seriously. Publicly reliving our trauma to satisfy your EDI obligations is not our job.