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South African science academy launches diversity drive

Scheme will create “intentionality” to bring in more women and members with disabilities

The Academy of Science of South Africa (Assaf) has launched an initiative to boost the diversity of its membership.

The initiative, launched in Pretoria at the Science Forum South Africa on 7 December, seeks to challenge the prevailing male dominance in the academy, and to ensure people living with disabilities do not face barriers joining the body.

Tebogo Mabotha, a national liaison officer for strategic partnerships at Assaf, said at present 69 per cent of the academy’s membership is male, and that data on how many of its members live with disabilities is lacking.

She told Research Professional News that the idea is not to change the standards for who gets admitted to the academy but to “proactively work to identify and nominate individuals from underrepresented groups”.

“We need to take intentional steps,” she said in the run-up to the launch.

Action through partnership

The academy has already embarked on a programme of roadshows, where it visits those universities in South Africa that contribute few members to the academy.

This is an attempt to overcome one of the hurdles of nomination, which is that most of the people who nominate hail from a small pool of research-intensive universities that tend to nominate colleagues. But there is talent and excellence outside those institutions, Mabotha said.

The initiative will establish committees within Assaf to drive the academy’s diversity goals, she said. These committees will guide the organisation’s activities, fostering inclusivity and diversity in all aspects of its work.

The idea is also to partner with other organisations in South Africa and beyond to promote gender equality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics more broadly, Mabotha said. “We want to take it beyond the academy,” she said.

After all, she noted, there is inequality at all stages of the academic pipeline that needs to be addressed in order to affect change at the top.

Source: Research Professional News