Let’s Talk about Diversity! Celebrating the Human Dimension in Ecology

Whenever we do a search for the word “diversity” in ecology journals, many articles pop up focusing on “biodiversity” but rarely does one refer to “human diversity” in ecology. The fact that ecologists focus their research and teaching on biodiversity conservation but rarely include “human diversity” in their discussion prompts us to elevate the discussion of the human dimension in ecology. The 2022 ESA annual meeting’s theme (“A Change is Gonna Come”) and programs are showcasing ESA’s latest proactive and visionary approaches to applying our broad range of human cultural perspectives to enhance environmental research and education.

Over the last thirty years, ESA has been consistently working to address the lack of diversity in the environmental professional membership and how that can affect the discipline. As a society we have grown from being pleasantly surprised at seeing people of color at the ESA annual meeting to focusing organized oral sessions and symposia on how to increase diversity of ecologists by enhancing our teaching methods, community participatory research, mentoring our diverse student populations and networking ESA members with similar human diversity interests.

ESA’s award-winning SEEDS undergraduate student mentoring-program has developed environmental leaders and increased capacity of the environmental workforce for 25 years but still the diversity of ecologists is consistently lower than ten percent and the world’s environmental problems point to the need for a broad range of ecological perspectives to lead environmental conservation.

people outside an exhibit

ESA SEEDS students at the 2019 ESA annual meeting. © ESA

Our ESA 2022 plenaries continue to showcase leading ecologists from underrepresented groups but a few a year is still not enough. The Black Lives Matter movement made ESA members become more acutely aware of the need to raise the level of integration of the human dimension in all societal activities, including our journal publications. ESA created its DEIJ Task Force in 2020 which provided recommendations to address the urgent need to nurture and increase representation of diverse perspectives in the practice of ecology.

In September 2021, the Ecological Society of America established the ESA Diversity Committee to implement the DEIJ Task Force’s seventeen recommendations and provide guidance to ESA in all programs toward the following goals:

  • Building Awareness of our Diverse ESA Members and DEIJ Issues in Ecology
  • Building Support for Career Development of Diverse ESA Members
  • Building a Network of Diverse ESA Members and DEIJ-focused Partners

The new ESA Diversity Committee reports directly to the ESA Governing Board as one of a few Board Committees which oversees all types of ESA activities, following the new governance format instituted in the 2021 revision of the ESA Bylaws.

To date, the Diversity Committee has implemented the DEIJ Task Force-recommended Excellence in Ecology Scholars  initiative to showcase ESA members who integrate DEIJ issues into their applied ecology research. The four chosen scholars are presenting their work at a symposium at the ESA 2022 annual meeting in Montreal and their work is in the forefront of elevating the human dimension to deal with global climate change (link to new ESA press release. We continue to infuse diverse career development and community support in the ESA mentoring programs (Diversity Leadership Workshop, Diversity Forum and Diversity Luncheon) and to collaborate with ESA human diversity-focused sections to enhance our networking effectiveness in building a diverse environmental workforce. In addition, in Montreal, the ESA Education Committee is initiating many conversations on the wide range of applied ecology careers, environmental tech careers in community colleges and approaches to teaching climate change. These conversations have broad implications for increasing the participation of underrepresented minority groups in ecology.

ESA staff Adrienne Sponberg and Teresa Mourad discuss their career development partnership efforts with MANRRS president, Olga Bolden-Tiller, at their 2022 annual career fair in Jacksonville, FL. © ESA

Besides working internally through committees, ESA has sought external resources and collaborations to address DEIJ in our society and our discipline through a new project funded through the NSF LEAPS program, Realizing Inclusion in Societies for Environmental Biology (RISE) (Award #DBI-2202639). Through RISE, we have formed a partnership with other environmental professional organizations (American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences -MANRRS, Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Sciences, Society for Freshwater Science, and The Wildlife Society) that will focus on leadership, examining the power structures within societies and exploring best practices to create inclusive environments.  We are also pleased to participate in another LEAPS initiative of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) (Award #DBI-2134624) to transform how ESA and other participating societies engage with Indigenous scholars and communities and improve their inclusion. The Ecology Plus pilot project, funded through the NSF INCLUDES program (Award #DBI-1744501), seeks to provide more effective access to environmental internships, job skills guidance to strengthen recruitment of diverse ecologists into the workforce.

Now is the time to expand our efforts to truly showcase the broad array of talents and perspectives needed in our society to help solve 21st century major environmental problems. Join in the conversations at the multiple range of sessions related to Diversity and Inclusion in Montreal or contact Carmen Cid, ESA Diversity Committee chair, with your questions and suggestions. We look forward to your input and invite you to submit future blogs on celebrating ESA’s human diversity to the ESA DEIJ special blog series to promote a love of ecology from diverse perspectives and voices!


ESA Diversity Committee Chair Carmen R. Cid

Director of Education and Diversity Programs Teresa Mourad

Society Programs Director Adrienne Sponberg