February 1, 2019
How you should overcome the hurdle to nominate women and URM for honors, awards, and medals.
Each year organizations and societies such as the AGU recognize deserving earth scientists and professionals nominated or vetted by their peers during the honors and award sessions. Last year (2018) AGU received criticism from people on social media, e.g. on twitter, regarding the lack of diversity in the slate of candidates the organization had honored or awarded for the year. Of the 33 honorees, merely four were women. Although AGU has made great strides towards increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in a variety of areas, https://eos.org/agu-news/agu-honors-program-makes-strides-in-diversity still more must be done in the area of honors and awards. In response to the backlash, the union revealed that the difficulty in awarding women and under-represented minorities (URMs) stemmed from the fact that oftentimes these scientists are not being nominated in the first place. This leaves us with a conundrum: If we are not nominating people we know to be deserving, who should?
I decided to check the AGU records for myself to get a better sense of the situation. I began first by obtaining context for the conversation. According to the AGU demographics report, as of 2018 the Union had 60,000 members with 29% women https://honors.agu.org/files/2018/12/2018_Honors_Cycle_Demographics.pdf. Forty-one percent of all members at AGU are international, that is, claiming nationality from a nation other than the United States https://honors.agu.org/college-of-fellows/demographics/.
Startlingly, the demographic information of the honorees does not even come close to reflecting the current demographics of the AGU. For instance, of the 1381 recipients of the AGU Fellowship, the highest honor that it gives, less than 11% are women and less than 25% are internationals. Similar disparities exist in other major geoscience societies e.g. GSA, SEG, EAG, MSA (Mukasa, 2009).
Unfortunately, no data is available for other URMgroups at AGU at this time, but empirical evidence would suggest similar numbers. The question therefore is this: What can we do about it?
It all begins with a nomination
I think we can all agree that the first step is to nominate deserving individuals including women and URMs for honors and awards. Understandably, with the hectic schedules and to-dos that we all have on our plates, it is often easy to miss these opportunities that allow us to remind ourselves, our collaborators or other professionals in our network that their work matters and has an impact on the lives of many. I would encourage you to be deliberate in thinking about a deserving person (particularly outside your immediate sphere), a women or other URM person who can be nominated in addition to the many deserving majority. This will take intention, planning…and we can do this.
How do you choose a nominee?
This is, perhaps, one of the most important things to consider. The first time I asked this question, I received many answers that made sense but did not quite get to the heart of the question for me. Some of the answers were:
- A nominee should meet the criteria for the award.
- They should excel at work.
- Your nominee should be well-known (i.e. comes with accomplishments).
These answers are no doubt accurate and true since they all apply to many very relevant nomination criteria. However, they do not address the fact that it can be intimidating to nominate someone you know for an honor, especially when the process is open to hundreds or thousands of highly achieving scientists and professionals.
To be clear, nominating someone for an honor does require being comfortable enough with the group to which you are nominating them. It also means realizing that you are, in fact, an integral part of the community with a meaningful voice and legitimate decision-making power who has the ability to recognize those who have had an impact on your professional life and that of others, i.e. You have the power to nominate.
There are many published resources and threads on social media that exist to help us make strong nominations e.g., the How to improve success, workshops to improve success for AGU honors (Ball et al., 2015) or https://honors.agu.org/guidelines-successful-nomination/. For seasoned professionals, I highly recommend following these guides as you consider future nominations.
However, I understand that for some people (e.g. early career professionals, students and scientists at small institutions, URMs, women etc.), these directions can sometimes seem daunting. Therefore, I have compiled some tips and strategies from my personal experience and readings as a primer to help overcome hesitations in nominating the outstanding individuals in our network for honors and awards.
Tip#1: Read the honors or awards criteria very carefully
Chances are that you or someone in your network deserves recognition. However, not every honor or award is the right one for the individual in question. Here is what I would suggest when reading the criteria: Pay attention to and check for key words or phrases that may trigger your thoughts towards certain people.
Consider the description of qualities and skills mentioned in the criteria such as “exceptional”, “distinguished”, “outstanding”, “creative”, “courageous”, “achieve”, “develop”, “service”, “significant,” etc.. Other tips include checking for conjunctions such as: “or,” “and”, “for,” etc., or boundary phrases such as “this award is for…” (career stage or age limit for nominee, or other classification), “…presented to individuals from…” , “…for people with…” (specific location, section, institution etc.) and so on. These words and phrases give us an idea of how specific or exclusive the honor may be.
Tip#2: Use your knowledge of people in your network
You know your collaborators, mentors, sponsors, mentees, and associates best. Most people will not decline to be considered for a nomination unless there is a conflict of interest (COI). On the other hand, in the same spirit, do not be afraid to ask someone in your network to nominate you. Finally, also keep in mind that you may have the ability to nominate yourself. You know your work best, and, if you have the option, you should not be afraid to put yourself in the running.
Tip#3: Do not self-eliminate
Self-eliminating is a common mistake that women and other URMs make. For women and URMs, imposter syndrome often causes us to believe that we are not deserving, have not done enough, or that there is someone better. I implore you to believe that you are that “someone better.” We often decide before trying that we are not enough, and we cannot be selected. As a result, we do not submit or ask to be nominated. By doing so, we let our doubts win. If someone thinks you deserve an award, let him or her run with it, if you think you qualify, put yourself in the running (unless it is a situation of COI). Do not do the work of the selection committee by declining!
Tip#4: Offer/Ask for help
If you are aware that someone is nominating you for an honor or award, offer to help or assist him or her whenever possible. Help them to understand how best to present you/ your work. Do this by:
- Providing your nominator with your updated CV,
- Sharing a résumé that summarizes your most recent accomplishments,
- Writing a statement of your significant accomplishments that address the award requirements.
Similarly, if you are nominating someone for an award. Do not be afraid to ask the nominee for the aforementioned materials so that you can write a letter that will allow them to shine.
Tip#5: Reach out to your network of collaborators
If you are doing the nomination, reach out to the collaborators and colleagues of the candidate to request letters of support or endorsements. If unsure, ask the nominee to suggest people you should reach out to for letters. They know their network best. If you are unable to ask the nominee, I find that social media can be a great resource to find people within your mutual network who know the candidate.
Tip#6: Use anecdotes to tell inspiring stories about your nominee
The best stories are always those that moved you personally. These are observations, instances, actions, and situations about or concerning the nominee that have stuck with you over time. If you cannot recall any, talk to people who know the nominee. Check the website, or Wikipedia page of the nominee (if they have one). If you follow them on social media, that could be another great place to find compelling anecdotes and other interesting facts about the nominee.
Tip#7: Start now!
Once you have decided to nominate someone or yourself, start working on the nomination packet immediately. These can be a major task, and leaving them to the last minute could disadvantage your nominee. Just like with all our other writings, ask for peer review of your nomination packet before submitting.
Tip#8: Do not be discouraged
If your nominee or your nomination was not selected for the honor or award, do not be afraid to revise the packet and submit again. There are so many well-deserving nominees, and every year only a few are selected. You may also re-visit the award categories to see if the nominee has a better chance in another category. It may take multiple trials to succeed.
Ensuring that more women and URMs have the opportunity to be considered for awards and honors is a group effort. It is not something that should be left to your other colleagues, but something that you should take into consideration as you look for opportunities to recognize your colleagues, supervisors, students, and even yourself in 2019 and in the coming years. Good luck nominating!
Hendratta N. Ali, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Geosciences (Petroleum Geology Coordinator), Fort Hays State University
Sam Mukasa, 2009, Underrepresentation of Women and Minority Awardees in Geoscience Societies.
Ball, J., E. Davidson, T. Holloway, M. A. Holmes, J. A. McKenzie, S. Mukasa, B. Paredes, C. Pieters, M. Sivapalan, and J. Vrugt (2015), Improving your success in AGU honors, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO026143. Published on 10 March 2015. https://eos.org/agu-news/improving-your-success-in-agu-honors