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Published 20 June 2017

Committed to diversity but we acknowledge we need to do more

An open letter from Emeritus Professor Richard Bedford, President, Royal Society Te Apārangi

The lack of diversity in the composition of the speakers of the Royal Society Te Apārangi 150th Anniversary Branch lectures has caused many to question our commitment to diversity. We thank those who took the time to voice their concern over the speaker composition and look forward to further engagement on these issues.

As part of the 150th Anniversary programme, we asked our Branches to select an excellent speaker on a future-focused topic of importance to their region but we did not specifically ask them to consider diversity when making their selections. The final selection of speakers showed only 3 female speakers out of 15 over the 10 events. We acknowledge that our processes failed us in this instance.

Furthermore, we recognise the complexity of the road ahead in achieving equity in the Society’s membership and fellowship across our roles in the wider New Zealand research sector. The Council of Royal Society Te Apārangi has decided to form a new group to specifically address gender issues as part of our wider diversity work. We will seek people with wide-ranging backgrounds within this group and will consider the suggestions people have made to us through correspondence and on social media as well as some internal ideas we have on what can be done specifically to address gender inequality in our processes.

We seek to reconfirm our commitment to diversity. In our 2015−2018 strategic plan we identified embracing diversity in all that we do as a cross-cutting theme.

In 2016 we published a diversity policy, outlining our commitment to providing an inclusive and diverse environment throughout the Society and our processes. 

Since then we have refined the eligibility criteria of many of our selection processes to ensure equal opportunity for all regardless of different characteristics, including gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, ethnic background, employment context, religion, culture, disability, economic background and education.

In pursuing diversity, we are committed to publishing data on the make up of panels, nominees and recipients across Royal Society Te Apārangi’s activities. The first data set, due to be published soon after the end of our financial year (30 June 2017), will provide a stock take from which we can set future targets.  We believe it is important to be open and transparent about our progress. (Updated: view diversity stocktake)

We will also be updating our diversity plan to better reflect the knowledge we have gained as we have undertaken this work and to make it more comprehensive.

The Society also contributed to a national working group for diversity and equity issues for the New Zealand research community. This group considered adopting the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter as a way to encourage and recognise the commitment of organisations to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM).  However, the group decided a national approach to diversity for New Zealand needs to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally, and bring alongside that inequity and diversity issues in a holistic manner. The group therefore decided not to pursue the Athena SWAN Charter for New Zealand. Nevertheless, the Society will continue to actively engage with organisations with similar goals to address diversity and equity issues.

In closing, I seek to affirm that Royal Society Te Apārangi has been taking steps to embrace diversity because we believe that growing the diversity in our organisation and the wider research community brings great benefits to us all. 

Yours sincerely


Emeritus Professor Richard Bedford
President, Royal Society Te Apārangi

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi