One good and one bad response to statistics’ diversity problem

(This is Dan)

As conference season rolls into gear, I thought I’d write a short post contrasting some responses by statistical societies to the conversation that the community has been having about harassment of women and minorities at workshops and conferences.

ISI: Do what I say, not what I do

Let’s look at a different diversity statement by the International Statistical Institute, more commonly known as the ISI.  Feel free to read it in full–it’s not very long. But I’ll reproduce a key paragraph.

ISI is committed to providing a professional environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, colour, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and politics.

On the face of it, this looks fine. It’s a boilerplate paragraph that is in almost every code of conduct and diversity statement. But let’s actually take a look at how it’s currently implemented.

One of the major activities of the ISI is a biennial World Statistics Congress, which is one of the larger statistics conferences on the calendar. Last year, they held it in Morocco. Next year it will be held in Malaysia.

In Morocco, the penalty for same-sex sexual activity is up to three years in jail. In Malaysia, the penalty for same-sex sexual activity is up to twenty years in jail (as well as fines and corporal punishment).

That the ISI has put two consecutive major statistics meetings in countries where homosexual activity is illegal is not news to anyone. These aren’t secret meetings–they are very large and have been on the books for a few years.

But these meetings manifestly fail to live up to the new diversity statement. This reflects a lack of care and a lack of thought. The ISI World Statistics Conferences do not provide a professional environment free from discrimination.

By holding these meetings in these countries, the ISI sending a strong message to the LGBT+ community that they do not value us a statisticians. They are explicitly forcing LGBT+ scholars to make a very difficult choice in the event that they get invited to speak in a session: do they basically pretend to be straight for a week or do they give up this career opportunity.

The ISI has released a diversity statement that it does not live up to. It is a diversity statement that anyone organizing a session at the next ISI World Statistics Conference will not live up to (they are participating in organizing a hostile environment for LGBT+ scholars).

This is pathetic. It is rare to see a group release a diversity statement and actually make the situation worse.

That they did it at the beginning of Pride Month in North America is so bleak I actually find it funny.

ISBA: A serious, detailed, and actionable response

For a much better response to the problems facing minority communities in statistics, we can look at ISBA’s response to reports of sexual harassment at their conferences.

ISBA has taken these reports seriously and have released a detailed Code of Conduct that covers all future events as well as responsibilities and expectations of members of the society.

This was a serious and careful response to a real problem and it’s a credit to ISBA that they made this response in time for its forthcoming major meeting. It’s also a credit to them that they did not rush the process–this is the result of several months of hard work by a small team of people.

The level of detail that the code of conduct goes into in its complaints procedures, its investigation procedures, and the rights and responsibilities of all involved is very good. While it is impossible to undo the harm from not dealing with this problem earlier, this code of conduct is a good basis for making ISBA a safe place for statisticians from now and into the future.


PS (added later): There was some concern shown in the comments that the two countries I mentioned were Muslim-majority countries. There were no other ISI meeting I could see in the same time period that happened in places with similar anti-LGBT legislation. (Although such places exist and the laws are justified using a variety of religious and social positions.)

The last ISI WSC to be held in a Muslim-majority country before Morocco was 20 years previous is Turkey, which, to my knowledge, did not have anti-LGBT laws on the books then or now.

It is always a mistake to attribute bad laws to faith groups. People who share a common religion are diverse and assigning them responsibility for a law would be like assigning every American blame for everything Trump (or Obama) wrote into law.

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