Elizabeth Long, GSA Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Anyone who is aware of and concerned by issues around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the geosciences is probably familiar with the fact that our field is one of the least diverse disciplines in the United States. The title of a 2018 paper by Bernard and Cooperdock comes up again and again in these circles: No progress on diversity in 40 years. When I discuss this problem with others in the field, most people want to focus on recruitment. The idea, it seems, is that if we could only recruit more geoscientists of color, or LGBTQ+ scientists, or women geoscientists, or geoscientists with disabilities, or any of the other dimensions of diversity, we could quickly solve our diversity problem and move on. Bernard and Cooperdock (2018) clearly show that this approach hasn’t worked, a finding echoed by Behre et al. (2022) and many others. A new paper by E. Marin-Spiotta et al. (2023) sheds important light on some of the mechanisms behind this lack of diversity. To understand what’s going on, we need to think beyond the “D” and focus more on the “E” and the “I.”

The title of the paper clearly and cleanly lays out their findings: “Exclusionary Behaviors Reinforce Historical Biases and Contribute to Loss of Talent in the Earth Sciences.” It makes for sobering, but unfortunately unsurprising, reading. The authors distributed a “workplace climate” survey to five professional organizations, including GSA. They found that geoscientists from historically excluded groups were far more likely to have negative interactions at work, including bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, and to be on the receiving end of negative or discriminatory language. Interestingly, the authors’ findings also show an effect of a power imbalance that is all too common: early-career scientists (students, trainees, and post-docs) are more likely to experience sabotage or devaluing of their work than more senior scientists. 

It’s absolutely worth reading the article for yourself and digging deeper into the findings. But if you take away nothing else from this work, pay close attention to Section 4.6: “Negative Experiences Have Professional Consequences.” For me, this is the most powerful and persuasive argument to come from this study: People are avoiding professional activities (conferences, fieldwork, interactions with colleagues and supervisors, etc.), thereby harming their career prospects and instead prioritizing personal safety and emotional well-being. In a just, inclusive, and equitable workplace, nobody should have to make those choices. 

Across all historically excluded groups, a large percentage of respondents reported that, as a result of negative experiences in their professional settings, they had altered their behaviors in ways that almost certainly negatively affect their careers. This number was larger for members of historically excluded groups. This means that the dominant groups have more access to activities and networks that help them build and advance their careers. No wonder we see a lack of progress in diversity in academe, publishing, scientific awards, and leadership. More than a quarter of respondents considered a career change, with almost as many considering leaving the discipline. This survey wasn’t designed to capture the number of people who actually have left the discipline because of these behaviors, but it’s clear to me from the results reported here that we need to ask ourselves these questions. Recruitment won’t solve anything when institutional cultures create a hostile and exclusionary environment. 

So how to fix these problems if recruitment alone isn’t the answer? The authors point out that many of the behaviors reported here are not unlawful in many countries, but nonetheless have negative impacts on important metrics, including retention. The authors write that we need “serious attention to the commonplace behaviors that contribute to hostile climates and low retention” (Ali et al., 2021; Berhe et al., 2022). They urge us to collect a broader range of demographic data; to reconsider the availability and use of alcohol in professional settings; better include accessibility in DEI efforts; better assess negative or discriminator behaviors such as bullying and discrimination; and classify those behaviors as scientific misconduct.

I’ll leave you with this quote: “Regardless of whether it stems from loss of talent from the field, we should actively work toward improving workplace culture and climate because everyone deserves to learn and work in a safe, healthy, welcoming, and equitable environment.”


Ali, H.N., Sheffield, S.L., Bauer, J.E., Caballero-Gill, R.P., Gasparini, N.M., Libarkin, J., et al., 2021, An actionable anti-racism plan for geoscience organizations: Nature Communications, v. 12, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23936-w.

Berhe, A.A., Barnes, R.T., Hastings, M.G., et al., 2022, Scientists from historically excluded groups face a hostile obstacle course: Nature Geoscience, v. 15, p. 2–4: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00868-0.

Bernard, R.E., and Cooperdock, E.H.G., 2018, No progress on diversity in 40 years: Nature Geoscience, v. 11, p. 292–295: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0116-6.

Marin-Spiotta, E., Diaz-Vallejo, E.J., Barnes, R.T., Mattheis, A., Schneider, B., Berhe, A.A., et al., 2023, Exclusionary behaviors reinforce historical biases and contribute to loss of talent in the earth sciences: Earth’s Future, v. 11, e2022EF002912, https://doi.org/10.1029/2022EF002912.