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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Diversity needs change on various levels: Towards more diverse award recipients!

10.05.2021, by Tina Keil in opinion

by Kai Sassenberg, IWM & University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany & Ángel Gómez, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, UNED, Madrid, Spain

Already in 2017/2018, the EASP Diversity Report identified the EASP awards as one area in which the association was falling behind its own diversity standards. Accordingly, at the time the EASP Executive Committee (EC) identified this as a challenge—and we continue to strongly believe that in particular the diversity of the awardees remains a challenge for the EASP. Therefore, we would like to share the lessons we learnt over the years.

When the calls for award nominations were sent out in 2019, the EC made sure that the calls stressed the importance of diversity. The EC had hoped to receive many diverse nominations, but unfortunately this was not at all the case: Indeed, the number of nominations was very small and the nominees were by no means diverse. For seven awards that the Association was planning to award, based on nominations it received, only 18 nominations in total. Thirteen of the nominees had an affiliation with a university in the UK or the Netherlands.

Even more concerning, people mostly nominated potential awardees from their close research environment (i.e., collaborators and friends). To make the challenge of reflecting diversity in awards for future award committees easier, each and every one of us should consider nominating more potential awardees and to furthermore consider those whose work largely impress us, whilst at the same time refraining from nominating people with whom we work directly or with whom frequently interact.

Sadly, it was not only the low number of nominations that rendered selecting diverse recipients difficult. The award committee, on which one of us served, talked extensively about each candidate before selecting three potential award recipients. Almost all these nominees definitely were strong candidates for the respective awards. Yet, when we started to compare nominees, female and male candidates from the Netherlands and the UK clearly outperformed all other candidates on several dimensions. Even when we tried to consider people’s empirical or theoretical contribution as an additional factor (putting numbers of publications, citations etc. aside), the same picture emerged. This committee ultimately decided to decorate three truly outstanding people – however, and once again, this decision did not live up to the association’s diversity goals.

We would like to be clear that we are fully convinced that all EASP’s 2020 award recipients most certainly deserved being awarded. At the same time, we would like to share with members that we were frustrated by the low degree of diversity among these award recipients. In a discussion ensuing from both of us sharing this frustration, we came to the conclusion that the 2020 EASP award committees (and most likely many previous award committees) may not have applied the most appropriate means to select the best and most deserving people, because we only focused on nominees’ performance. As social psychologists, we should bear in mind and consequently consider that performance does not only depend on person characteristics, but also on situational and context factors. In light of working conditions clearly differing between European countries (e.g., in terms of teaching load, availability of resources, etc.), exclusively using performance as an indicator of nominees’ merits will result in decorating excellent people (i.e., the top performers), but it will not necessarily lead to the selection of the people who deserve the awards the most. Instead, the only bias such practice will result in will be a bias favoring those among the top performing nominees working under the best conditions. In short, focusing exclusively on performance ultimately undermines any efforts to promote diversity.

From its early days it has been a part of the DNA of the Association to do justice to people’s working conditions, such as the economic situation in the different countries, for example, by offering discounts for membership fees Why has EASP to date failed in recognizing the fact that regional differences in terms of resources naturally impact on the performance of potential awardees? The award committee mentioned above, for instance, in our opinion did not select awardees based on equity – a necessity to promote diversity – but rather in terms of equality of output. This is to say, neither were strong differences in opportunities to conduct research considered, nor was the access to financial resources for research or individuals’ administrative or teaching load taken into account.

Based on the above, we argue that EASP should seriously consider changing how award winners are selected. Specifically, nominees’ working conditions are a factor that needs to have a substantial impact on the award committee decisions. It should be required that nominees include information about teaching load, resources provided by the university, and other central information about their working conditions in their applications. Further, it might be worthwhile to consider a restriction of the number of publications listed and to focus exclusively on the citation of a selected few top-cited papers. Committee members should ideally read some of the nominees’ work to gauge its depth and impact. Last but not least, letters of recommendation should be seriously considered in the evaluation process, because they can provide background information going far beyond other elements of the standard application package.

Taken together, and based on our experience, a larger diversity among EASP award recipients can only be achieved when we as members of the association start to nominate people more broadly–and when committees will factor nominees’ working conditions into their decision.