There is a leaky pipeline in psychological science: fewer women than men and fewer Black than white individuals advance beyond early career stages. As of 2018, women made up more than 70% of psychology doctorate degree recipients, and yet only 44% of authors of psychology articles1 and about 50% of tenured psychology faculty were women2. There is also a publication gap for minoritized individuals, based on race3 and disability status, and at the intersection of identities4,5. The causes of this inequitable representation in academic psychology are multi-faceted and hotly debated6.

One dimension that is rarely addressed in conversations about the leaky pipeline is the insularity of research networks. Psychological science is increasingly collaborative7 and relies on collaborations between individuals with different skill sets, areas of expertise and perspectives. Because a strong publication record is required for career advancement, collaborations and the resulting publications impact which researchers are able to advance in academia.

There are several concrete steps that researchers can take to diversify their network of collaborators. The suggestions here are primarily aimed at faculty in majority groups (including individuals who are men, white, cisgender, and/or straight), because there is evidence that underrepresented scholars frequently seek out collaborations with diverse colleagues1,8. There is no easy fix; these suggestions involve a long-term, multi-step reorganization of workflow and work style. However, this restructuring brings great value. New collaborators bring their own expertise and skills to projects, and diversity of gender and race in project teams leads to increased creativity and innovation9. Moreover, researcher assumptions and perspectives shape research questions, experimental design, study populations, and data analysis and interpretation. By working with collaborators with different lived experiences, researchers can do better science.

Read more widely

A necessary foundation for expanding one’s network is to develop ongoing practices to increase exposure to work by a wider range of scholars. As researchers progress in their careers, they often begin to exclusively follow work from particular individuals, labs, or journals; to cite the same studies in every grant and paper introduction; or to read new work only when serving as a peer reviewer. To fight this drift, researchers can subscribe to email alerts for specialized journals and carve out a few minutes to peruse these alerts each week. From here, the next step is to create a folder in one’s citation software or desktop with interesting articles. When writing, that folder can be a great resource for newer studies to read and cite. Further, by visiting the websites of authors found in this way, researchers can learn more about their work and understand the distributions of researcher identities and backgrounds in the field. This process will expose researchers to other researchers in their field who might be good collaborators.

Academic Twitter is also a great platform for finding out about new research and emerging scientists. Unfortunately, social media presents opportunities for sexist and racist interactions and can be used to further entrench insular circles of communication. However, it is possible to use Twitter in a way that attempts to minimize these problems. Twitter users can indicate their research topics and an interest in following new voices in their profile. Researchers can then curate their Twitter feed by not only following scholars who are already in their network, but also following other psychologists, including graduate students and post-docs, whose tweets are retweeted or suggested by the algorithm. New Twitter users can also follow accounts that highlight work by minoritized scholars (such as @SocietySpark and @BlackinPsych) or tweets related to ongoing conferences (check the program for the relevant hashtag). Another way to find researchers to follow is to ask: post a tweet asking others to recommend scholars from underrepresented groups in the field and tag other researchers to leverage their knowledge. More tips for academics new to Twitter can be found in ref.10. By spending just 15–30 min a day on Twitter, majority researchers can begin to learn what underrepresented scholars are working on and what concerns they have about academia. As with expanded reading practices, tweets and the articles they link to can be saved to create an expanded library of research.

Cite and teach broadly

Researchers can use their expanded library to cite and teach literature published by a more diverse set of scholars. A helpful exercise is to scan one’s reference lists and syllabi to note how many papers are authored by women and people of colour. Any imbalances can be corrected; perhaps a standard citation could be replaced by a more relevant or more recent paper by an underrepresented scholar.

One additional resource that can help to diversify citation and teaching practices is the BIPOC-authored Psychology Papers Database, a crowdsourced resource of papers authored by Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) in psychology. The spreadsheet has tabs for different subfields to facilitate searches for papers that fit into a class syllabus or manuscript reference list.

Develop professional relationships

Collaborations emerge over time. After reading, citing, and teaching work from a wider range of researchers, majority faculty should also reach out to the authors to let them know their work is being enjoyed, cited, and taught. Not only does this type of email provide a record of impact on the field for researchers’ application and promotion dossiers, this contact is also a step towards a collaboration.

The initial stages of collaboration involve fostering opportunities to share ideas and learn about work habits. Researchers often do this naturally within existing insular networks but it takes conscious effort to engage with new voices in the field. An email thanking a scholar for their work could also include a request for a 30-min call to discuss their work. If that first conversation is engaging and reveals overlapping interests, researchers should directly state an interest in continuing to share ideas. This step should be followed up by continued engagement. Researchers can share papers of mutual interest or new ideas. Inviting the author to present in a conference symposium, lab group meeting or department colloquium series can have a direct positive impact. As the professional relationship develops, and if there is clear mutual respect and interest, an invitation to collaborate would be appropriate. Not all interactions will make it to this step, but even early conversations can lead to new ideas for both parties involved.

Collaboration is fruitful only if the relationships are respectful and healthy9. To build valuable collaborations for all parties, researchers should have honest conversations with past mentees and collaborators about communication and work styles. For example, collaborators who were primary caregivers, often women, may have been unable to participate in meetings held in early evening hours and therefore may have been inadvertently excluded from projects. Motivations for starting a new collaboration are also important: it is harmful to bring people who are underrepresented in psychology onto a project with the attitude that they are receiving a favour. This line of reasoning can quickly lead to tokenization and disrespect. Instead, new collaborations should be viewed as mutually beneficial. Early and frequent check-ins about the distribution of workload, authorship order, and communication styles can build a foundation of communication and respect. The resulting collaborations will be more efficient, successful, and enjoyable.

Improving equity and science

Many interacting forces make it difficult for people with underrepresented identities to enter, succeed and thrive in academic psychology. The resulting homogeneity limits scientific progress. Institutional forces that work to exclude people from the academy are slow to change. However, researchers can control who they choose to work with right now. By expanding their own circles of collaborators to include new and underrepresented voices, researchers can help to increase equity in the academy, which will in turn move science forward.