staff member in field walking on snow ground
(Photo: Dylan Cembalski/UNAVCO)

Supporting a diverse and multi-talented engineering staff is extremely beneficial to any geoscience-focused institution. Field projects may take place all around the world, and the presence of staff who are familiar with these locations and with the experiences of the local communities is critical in understanding the scientific and societal context for the research that is being conducted. Unfortunately, the geosciences are one of the least diverse of the academic fields, and only small incremental progress has been made on increasing diversity in the last forty years. One significant factor is that many fieldwork environments are not safe or welcoming to members of underrepresented groups.

UNAVCO has recently focused on addressing these issues by examining our internal field practices and policies to identify areas for improvement. An Inclusive Field Safety Subcommittee was created jointly by the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) Committee and Geodetic Infrastructure Directorate. This committee analyzed two papers recently written by members of underrepresented groups within the geosciences, which have concrete recommendations for increasing the safety of minority field participants. We considered each of these recommendations to identify their relevance to the specific type of fieldwork conducted at UNAVCO, what policies we may have that already address this issue, and specific actions that we can take. The full report, which included approximately 25 action items, was approved by the senior management team and we have begun the process of integrating these recommendations into our field practices.

We also recognize that, as an NSF-funded facility, we have a unique opportunity to provide inclusive field safety resources and set standards for the PIs and stakeholders that we support in the geodetic community. While the specific action items that we identified in our report reflect the current practices and range of fieldwork that UNAVCO conducts, we hope that the methodology we used can be a model for other field research groups to develop their own inclusive field safety plans. We also addressed additional topics that may be helpful, including how to reduce burdens on minority staff and legal considerations for initiating these safety discussions with members of protected classes.

We have been working closely on this topic with members of the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Working Group at IRIS in anticipation of the upcoming merger and formation of EarthScope Consortium. IRIS and its subawardees are also strongly dedicated to improving field safety conditions for members of historically underrepresented groups. While UNAVCO started our efforts with a focus on internal practices, IRIS has already begun work on external support and outreach to the PI community. (A joint poster on this topic was recently presented at the AGU fall meeting.) We hope to combine our efforts even more closely as we move forward, developing resources and trainings that will be made available for community use.

We welcome community feedback on this work! What resources would help you in ensuring that all members of your field team are safe and supported? Please email us at ideaat and share your thoughts.

Written by:

  • Annie Zaino, Liz Van Boskirk
  • Posted: 5 January 2022
  • Last updated: 16 March 2022
  • Tags: ,