Elsevier CEO on why inclusion and diversity matters – and why inclusion comes first

In podcast, Kumsal Bayazit talks about trust, inclusion and diversity, and lessons learned in her two years as Elsevier CEO

By Ian Evans - June 18, 2021
Kumsal podcast image
For this Unique Contributions podcast, Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit is interviewed by Elsevier Chairman YS Chi. Here, you can read highlights and listen to the podcast.

Why does inclusion and diversity matter? And what is Elsevier doing to nurture it, internally and in the wider research and health communities?

These are among the questions discussed in a recent Unique Contributions podcast, where Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit talked with Elsevier Chairman YS Chi about her learnings and insights into building trust and creating an inclusive mindset. You can stream the discussion below, and here are some of the key points:

Listen to the podcast

1. Trust matters

Responding to a question from YS regarding the need to build trust with the research and health communities Elsevier serves, Kumsal reflected on the vital importance of trust, and how the pandemic has made a difference:

I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making; in some ways Covid-19 has accelerated that progress. When I took on my role at Elsevier, I spent a lot of time first on the road, and then via Zoom, meeting all the communities that we serve: researchers, librarians, research leaders, funders, hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, medical educators, students. All these areas have wonderful people who work hard to leave a positive impact on society.

Some of the most disappointing meetings I had were the ones where I could feel the lack of trust. There are many stakeholders I met who trusted Elsevier universally, saying that we stood for quality and they trust us to deliver. But there were also deep pockets of mistrust within the communities, with pricing and open access the main concerns (find out more about how Elsevier supports open access).

The good news is that we are making progress. I can see the feedback coming from our customers, qualitatively and quantitatively. Our number one operating principle at Elsevier is putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes, as a key ingredient for building trust is being able to look at issues from the vantage point of others. By doing that, we are finding some creative solutions to longstanding issues. Trust builds over time, but we’re on the right track.

2. Why inclusion and diversity matters (including the order of the words)

Noting that Kumsal is the first female CEO of Elsevier in its 140 years, YS Chi asked about inclusion and diversity, what that means at Elsevier, and what is being done to foster a culture of inclusion. Kumsal responded:

There’s mounting evidence that shows diverse teams drive better progress. And that’s important. But what is more important is to do what’s right. And I think it’s critical that people feel comfortable in their own skin and have equal opportunity to progress in any environment and community. …

We have to give credit to our Head of Inclusion and Diversity here because he has educated all of us on this. Diversity is an output and inclusion is the input. So that’s why you start with inclusion, which leads to diversity.

We focus on things like unconscious bias training and psychological safety and coaching and mentoring because all of those help build an inclusive mindset. If you can actually achieve that, a lot of the diversity outcomes you want to drive will come more naturally.

3. How we’re helping drive inclusion and diversity in research and health

I think our people again take credit for this; I’m surfing the wave they started. But we’re very committed to working with our partners to build more inclusive health and research ecosystems. Inequities in academic research are manifested in many ways. It can be the underrepresented groups of tenured professors, lower rates of grants awarded to women, and researchers who are members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, to the lack of appropriate sex and gender-based analysis and research studies. In healthcare, we’ve witnessed the disproportionate impact COVID19 had on minorities in the UK and US and elsewhere.

We believe Elsevier can actually make a real impact in three primary ways. The first one is by providing analytics to make evidence-based decisions. Our gender reports provide data by discipline and by country on how representation of women is evolving and identify where there are gaps and where there is real progress.

View Elsevier's gender reports

We also do analytics of sustainable development goals (research) to show the impact of research on the achievement of these goals, and the striking absence of sex and gender dimensions in sustainable development goals such as climate change.

Prof Londa Schiebinger, PhDThe second point is that we work to ensure that our content and solutions are as inclusive as possible. This comes alive with efforts such as supporting researchers to factor in gender, sex, and race to research design. This is a real issue and one of the members of our Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Board, Londa Schiebinger, has some case studies showcasing things like AI facial recognition failing 35% of the time for black women, or showing that pulse oximeters don’t work as well on dark skin. So we need to factor in race and gender and sex into research design. We do a lot of training with early career researchers on this, and we work on improving accessibility in our own products.

Thirdly, we support a rich pipeline of research and health professionals to enhance inclusion across gender race and ethnicity, generations, and geographical dimensions. That comes alive in enabling diversity in our editorial boards and conference speakers, which supports career progression for researchers.

4. What are the most important lessons of the past two years?

It’s been a little over two years since Kumsal joined Elsevier as CEO, and YS took the opportunity to ask her about the most important lessons she’s learned in that time. Kumsal replied:

I’ve learned so much – it’s like drinking from a firehose. The last two years reinforced and showed, with crystal clarity, the critical role researchers and healthcare professionals play in improving societal progress, and how we all need to be working very hard to find new ways of supporting them and enabling them.

In the last 200 years, thanks to the tireless work of researchers, there's been just incredible, incredible progress in society. Things like life expectancy globally has almost tripled. The global population living in extreme poverty has decreased from 85% to 9%. And literacy amongst adults has increased from I think 10% to 86%. I mean, these are enormous developments.

And now there's a new set of challenges that the research community is addressing. Of course, climate change, food and water security, helping people live longer and healthier lives, reducing social inequalities while also driving economic growth. The last two years made it crystal clear for me how important the communities we serve are for societal progress, and how important it is for all of us to continue to support them to the best of our ability.

And I think my lesson learned there is that there is a toll to the activism and the fight that individuals put into driving positive change. That comes in terms of time commitment, and emotional energy. I constantly think about how we as leaders can lighten that burden and recognize and reward the efforts of these individuals better, who are really putting their heart and soul into driving positive change.


Ian Evans
Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier six years ago from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.

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