Childcare Provision at the GSNZ Annual Conference

Childcare Provision at the GSNZ Annual Conference – What the Membership Said

In February 2021, the National Committee received a letter prepared by the University of Otago Diversity and Inclusion Working Group urging for onsite childcare to be provided at future GSNZ annual conferences. This letter was signed by 104 Geoscience researchers from within Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond, including ~53 members of the Society. 

The text of the letter reads as follows: 

“We, Earth scientists, call on the Geoscience Society of New Zealand to ensure that child care be provided on site at future national Geosciences Conferences.  

Conferences are vital, especially for early career researchers. These meetings allow scientists to present their work and build new collaborations or cement existing ones. Often the early career stage coincides with the time when some will be thinking of starting a family. Having young children to care for can make it difficult to attend conferences, which requires extra help. Some families are fortunate enough to be able to draw on the assistance of relatives or friends but too often this is not the case. Not being able to attend conferences and meetings can be the genesis of a lifelong disadvantage and likely contributes to the skewed ratio of male and female researchers in our geoscience community. 

The Geoscience Society of New Zealand must support Earth scientists who are parents of toddlers to attend conferences (as it is provided for other international conferences), to avoid discrimination against a part of the scientific community. 

This letter was prepared by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, Department of Geology, University of Otago and is signed by researchers from throughout New Zealand’s Geoscience community and beyond:” (followed by signatories) 

The National Committee agrees in principle with the important points raised in this letter and we have sought to understand the perspective of the wider membership as to how we can best address these issues. Thus, in February we conducted a survey of the membership to assess the following:

  • Barriers to conference attendance as a parent (e.g. childcare availability vs cost of childcare)
  • The degree to which the wider membership supports the idea of providing on-site childcare.
  • How the wider membership would like to see conference childcare funded.

A link to the survey was distributed to all Society members on the 16th of February 2021. It closed one month later. A total of 111 responses were received (approximately 15.4% of the total membership). 

Here is a summary of the key findings of the survey: 

  • Approximately 55% of respondents expressed that childcare responsibilities have challenged or limited their ability to attend GSNZ conferences at some point during the year.
  • Respondents ranked a lack of suitable childcare at the conference venue, and the costs associated with childcare, as the first and second most significant barriers preventing parents from attending, or participating to their desired degree, GSNZ conferences, respectively.
  • 93% of respondents agreed that on-site or close to site childcare facilities should be offered at future GSNZ conferences.
  • Views on covering costs of such childcare were split across several, however, it can be said that the majority of respondents (72%) thought that it was appropriate for some level of support for childcare costs to come from the conference budget.
  • Out of the 111 respondents, 6 indicated that they would be interested in using childcare facilities at the 2021 conference.

A copy of the full survey and responses is available here.

In light of the majority support for conference childcare in some form or other expressed in the  survey results, the National Committee, in conjunction for the LOC of the 2021 GSNZ conference, are working towards the following initiatives:

  • Securing places at an on-site childcare facility for the duration of the 2021 GSNZ conference, to be held at Massey University, Palmerston North from 30 November to 2 December 2021. These will be available on a first-come, first served basis. More details will be provided once conference registration is open in early July.
  • Assessing what funds are available to provide grants to subsidise childcare costs, and developing eligibility criteria and an application process for such grants. Again, more details on these grants will be available once registration is open.

Assuming this model is successful for 2021, we would look to encourage the LOCs of future GSNZ conferences to explore options for connecting delegates to on site or near-site childcare facilities. However, we acknowledge that depending on conference venue, this may not always be feasible, for example in the instance where there are no suitable (i.e. Ministry of Education approved) childcare facilities in proximity to the conference venue.  

We hope that these changes will make conference attendance easier for our members who are or will be experiencing the joy of parenthood!

Kat Holt, GSNZ Vice-President