EMNLP 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Diversity and inclusion initiatives at ACL sponsored conferences are relatively new. There was a formal diversity and inclusion committee at ACL 2020. An original focus was to make sure that disabled and minority participants would be provided for and comfortable at the conference. This continues, but obviously looks a bit different while the pandemic has made the conferences virtual. We still need good captioning for everyone and resources for people who cannot use text easily. A new concern is that while people are no longer traveling to the conference, they may need to structure their virtual conference attendance around domestic obligations, such as childcare.

We have also taken on the responsibility for organizing mentoring at the conference. The idea is that people with less experience of the computational linguistics world can get advice from community members with more experience. Potentially this is at all levels, but the focus is mainly on graduate and undergraduate students, as well as early and mid-career researchers.

In this blog post, we summarise the EMNLP 2020 Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) efforts to make sure that every attendee feels welcome and can get the best out of their EMNLP 2020 conference attendance.

Promoting Inclusion

EMNLP 2020 strives to remove all kinds of barriers that may limit attendees' conference experience. Specifically, we have organized four types of events to promote both academic and socio-cultural inclusion:

  • Birds of a Feather (BoF) Sessions: In order to promote academic inclusion, we will coordinate Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions to offer participants the opportunity to discuss research in specific areas with each other. BoF meetings aim to serve as an avenue for exchanging ideas and staying updated on one's research area, as well as for identifying new collaborations. We are organizing meetings for different research tracks, ensuring sessions across time zones, and estimate that there will be 30-50 attendees per track. You won't need to pre-register for BoF meetings; rather, you only need to follow the instructions which will be made available in the virtual conference portal.
  • Undergraduate Student Panel: We have organized a panel (with two sessions, to account for people in different time zones) designed for undergraduates attending the conference. We assume that these participants may be interested in pursuing a graduate degree, so we will provide presentations and informal small group conversations that will give people an idea how graduate study works and what research life is like.
  • Group Mentoring Sessions: We have organized a large number of group mentoring sessions spanning different time zones to offer students and early-career researchers a chance to meet and get advice from senior researchers on various topics. The sessions will be structured as roundtable discussions and deliberately kept small with at most 10 members in each group to maximize interaction.
  • Affinity Group Socials: Affinity group socials are formed around a "non-research-focused" interest, to raise awareness of socio-cultural differences and to share varied experiences. Hence, affinity group socials play an integral role in our efforts to promote socio-cultural inclusion. We have reached out to the affinity groups and will help them organize their own social events during the main conference. Affinity group socials at EMNLP 2020 include: Queer in AI, Veg*NLP, LatinX in NLP, Building NLP in Africa, North Africans in NLP, Junior Faculty in Linguistics/CogSci and The Unofficial EMNLP Welcome Social, Now with Clustering.

Increasing Financial Accessibility

A lot has changed with the shift to a virtual format, and expenses are no exception. With the online format, large expenses like travel and accommodation disappeared; this enables us to cover the conference registration fees for more participants. On the other hand, the virtual format has its own unique needs, where a stable internet connection is the primary need. Therefore, to ensure that everyone can effectively participate in the conference, we offer internet bandwidth subsidies for participants who may find it expensive to obtain adequate internet bandwidth. Additionally, we also recognize that childcare support can be essential for some participants even in the virtual format; therefore, we offer childcare subsidy as a replacement to the originally conceived onsite childcare activities.

Applications to EMNLP 2020 D&I subsidy were received through a form which went live on 30 September 2020. To increase visibility, the form was linked to the conference registration form, promoted on the EMNLP website and shared on social media .

Increasing Accessibility

  • Writing Support: In addition to the financial accessibility, Grammarly generously donated access codes for a one-month free use of its services to assist authors of accepted papers with their final revisions. We distributed these codes to the corresponding author of each accepted paper (including Findings papers). In total, 1214 Grammarly access codes (754 Main conference, 460 Findings) were distributed after acceptance notifications.
  • Video Captioning: In the virtual setting, providing accurate captions to the video talks can make the conference accessible not only for attendees who are hearing-impaired or non-native English speakers, but virtually for everyone, as the sound quality of recordings can be affected by factors such as bad microphones or background noise. Automatic captioning alone, unfortunately, has been found to be insufficient to ensure high quality captions (as was found at ACL 2020). Therefore, we took care to ensure the authors knew about these problems and set strict deadlines (~2 weeks before the conference) for uploading presentation videos so that everyone will have enough time to edit their own automated captions to maximize the quality. Furthermore, we have recruited "caption editors" who are volunteers available to help authors to correct their captions.


Do you have any additional ideas or questions about D&I efforts at EMNLP 2020? Feel free to contact us at emnlp2020diversity@googlegroups.com


EMNLP 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Chairs: Isabelle Augenstein, Chris Brew, Murathan Kurfali, Prathyusha Jwalapuram