How De Gruyter’s New Name Change Policy Came to Life
Academic authors may wish to change their name in a previous publication for a variety of reasons. To make the process easier and more discreet, De Gruyter decided to create a name change policy, which was published this week. We asked Charlott Schönwetter and Christene Smith from De Gruyter’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee about the ins and outs of the process.
Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Anti-racism, Lived: these are the core values of De Gruyter’s IDEAL Committee, which started out of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the spring of 2020. Back then, wanting to further De Gruyter’s diversity and inclusion efforts, several US employees formed an initial committee out of the company’s Boston office. Not long after, they decided to extend the initiative to all of De Gruyter worldwide, leading to the formation of IDEAL.
Since its founding, the committee has put together several initiatives within the company both to raise awareness and to create new diversity policies and guidelines. While the steering committee handles more general questions relevant for the entire company, the editorial subcommittee covers more granular topics.
According to IDEAL members Dr. Christene Anne Smith and Charlott Schönwetter, one question that repeatedly came up in discussions with editorial colleagues from the beginning was how to handle requests for name changes on published journal manuscripts or books. Since the practice was anything but clear, they decided it was time for the committee to take action.
Both Christene and Charlott have been a part of IDEAL since 2020. Christene holds a PhD in materials chemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada and currently works as Acquisitions Editor for Materials Science and Industrial Chemistry at De Gruyter. She also represents De Gruyter at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Joint Commitment for Action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing. Charlott has a Master’s degree in African Studies from Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, where she also worked as a research associate and was the women’s representative for six years. She has extensive experience leading workshops, participating in round tables, and writing on feminist topics. Currently she works as Project Manager in De Gruyter’s journal operations team.
To learn more about the evolution of De Gruyter’s new name change policy, which was published this week, Alexandra Hinz from the Communications team interviewed Christene and Charlott via video chat.
Alexandra Hinz: How, if at all, did name changes work in the past at De Gruyter, and why did you decide to revisit the topic?
Charlott Schönwetter: Obviously I can’t speak for the past decades, but I can speak for the past few years. We sometimes did get inquiries for journal articles and also for book titles to change a name retrospectively after publication. For the cases that I am aware of, we did make the changes because we generally understood the importance of this sensitive matter. Not everyone who changes their name during their lifetime will go back to every publication and want their name to be changed retrospectively. It’s mostly people for whom it is very important that their past name can’t be found, for example trans people.
So, you just can’t deal with it the same way you would deal with any other kind of correction. However, every colleague had to find their own way of how to do it, because it’s not such a common request. They needed actual policies. We needed to have a clear workflow describing all the steps. There are so many intricate things to consider to make the most sensible choices, for example to protect the privacy of an author. On the other hand, it’s also outward facing, so that authors and editors don’t have to guess if they can actually write us with such a request. I imagine it can be quite a big hurdle to ask about such a sensitive matter, without knowing if a publisher is aware or perhaps even reacts in a hostile manner.
“The repercussions of the traditional revisions process can be serious for transitioning scholars.”
Christene Anne Smith: Our original approach to name changes was in line with certain standard procedures in academic publishing. When an academic paper is revised in any way, an addendum to that paper is posted online to ensure a transparent academic record. A change to an author’s name is also classified as an ‘amend’ and so, is traditionally made public in the same way. This was a long-standing, accepted scholarly process, but it can cause significant distress to some.
Authors might wish to change their name for many different reasons, such as a marriage or divorce or because of a new religious affiliation. Scholars may also wish to change their name because they are in the process of gender transitioning. In this case in particular, the traditional revisions process can lead to a transgender author wishing to change their name in their published work, being in effect ‘outed’ in a very unwelcome way. So, the repercussions of the traditional revisions process can be serious for transitioning scholars and include unwanted public exposure, fears around personal safety, career discrimination and emotional distress. This is why we decided we need a new name change policy. We wanted our processes to be as inclusive as possible.
AH: What does the new process look like for an author wanting to change their name?
CAS: We outline this pretty simply in our policy which has gone live on 6 October 2022. Authors simply have to write to a centralized email address and provide information such as their previous name, their new name and the DOIs of the documents that need to be updated. If their email address has changed, we need a note of this, so that we can track everything easily in our system and update the email if it’s linked to the document. We do not announce notice of any change in any way, and we do not require proof that an author has legally changed their name, which follows the best practice guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). There are many regions around the world where getting official proof might be difficult or not be possible. Additionally, some individuals might not seek official proof in their transition. Therefore, we wanted to be mindful of these possibilities and make sure that our policy is inclusive to all authors.
“We try to keep the process as transparent as possible so that authors know what to expect. ”
The new policy ensures that an individual academic wishing to change their name for whatever reason can do so without any record or external notification. Generally, we try to keep the process as transparent as possible so that authors know what to expect. There are a few things that are completely in our hands and easy to adapt such as getting the document re-typeset, updating our website with the correct name, and removing any old documents. However, there also steps we don’t have full control over. We will send the information to indexing services so that they’re aware of the changes, but we cannot control, for instance, if or when the change is made by every single one of them. I should note that several indexers now have their own policies to handle name changes in a timely manner as well. However, there might be a small number of services that don’t have the capacities to do so. We try our best to make this clear from the beginning, so that an author knows about the likely outcome of their request.
AH: How exactly was the policy developed? Did you encounter any challenges in getting people on board?
CS: There were some hurdles, but overall, it was a surprisingly smooth process – especially given the size, scope, and importance of the project. As I mentioned before, it all started with discussions with editorial colleagues but also within the IDEAL committee. Everyone was pretty clear early on that a name change policy was something we should tackle. So, we invited people from a lot of different departments to the working group: Editorial, General Management, Operations, Production Standards, Communications.
CAS: More than half of the business actually, and that was somewhat surprising. Creating a new policy and thinking about how to organize a process that is smooth and easy for our authors did involve far more people and areas of our business than we’d initially assumed. The changes in the process that we wanted to introduce affected colleagues from almost every department, after all. We also realized quickly that it’s not as simple as just writing and then rolling out a new policy. We needed to get the processes right, but we also had to create awareness among colleagues, so everyone understands the reason for the policy and believes in it.
“We wanted to find a way that was consistent with COPE guidelines, but also a good house policy specifically for De Gruyter.”
CS: Our working group consisted of thirteen members, which is quite a big size, but it was manageable. In February of this year, we had a first kick off session with an external moderator who helped us shape our ideas about the policy and to pinpoint the impact we wanted to make with it. We also looked at policies from other publishers, which were available to us largely thanks to our membership in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Joint Commitment for Action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing. With all these people from the different departments involved, we broke down the process of what it looks like to make a name change. We looked at every single step and discussed and researched the things that were still unclear to us. We wanted to find a way that was consistent with COPE guidelines, for example, but also a good house policy specifically for De Gruyter. In the end, we wrote a first draft, which then went through a couple more iterations.
CAS: Of course, as with any external facing policy, we had to run this by our legal department and by marketing because it will live on the website. After that, we ran the draft by the managers again to get their edits and to make sure it fit all the requirements for the business. This, as you can imagine, took some time, but we’re happy that we now have a robust policy that we feel has been looked at from as many eyes as possible and we really can stand behind.
AH: What were some of the key learnings you have taken from the process?
CAS: It’s the first time that I ran a working group and preparation was really key. I think the way we organized our first session with clear tasks for going forward led to the success of the policy because it was clear what each individual had to focus on and what decisions had to be made. So, once we came to a decision, we could move on quickly. I found it really important to do the research, to read all the policies that were available to us and to pick and choose which parts made sense for our business because there’s a wide variety of answers you can get from them. Also, clear communication between the working group and the managers was key. Charlott, were there any other learnings that you can think of?
CS: For me, it wasn’t the first working group, but I think for most members it was a really nice thing to see that against popular belief you can actually have a working group with a clear focus and a clear aim and get things done in a reasonable time frame, even with so many people involved. Then, with regards to the content of what we were doing, I learned that I can expect more from people than I sometimes would do. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant. I had a very clear idea of how a good policy should look like, I thought it was very important that it was clearly trans inclusive, that that was a big focus – although the policy does not only apply to trans people. I didn’t know what to expect from everyone else who participated, especially with such a big group, with a lot of people I didn’t or hardly knew. But then we had really productive and open discussions on what we wanted to achieve. In the process, it became very clear that everyone just wanted to do something helpful and inclusive for the people in need of such a policy and I think that’s a very positive takeaway for me.
AH: What’s going to happen now that the new policy is in effect?
CAS: We want to keep a close watch on how the policy will work in practice. Of course, we want to monitor how many requests we receive and examine how quickly we manage to deal with requests. And we want to learn more about how the policy works from our authors’ perspective, whether there are things that we can improve for them. We hope to be able to gather some feedback from authors and use this to continue making the process as smooth and easy as possible.
AH: And what’s next for IDEAL?
CAS: If we’re talking from the internal steering committee, there’s a few initiatives on the horizon, doing an employee survey, having more speakers come in to talk to different departments about different topics such as implicit bias and accessibility. Last year, we had discussion rounds on diversity-related topics, like women in STEM and trans visibility, which were really popular, so there was a request from management to do more of those.
“It’s really coming down to how we assess the quality of our potential authors and editors and how can we inform that quality assessment with a diversity lens to make sure that we aren’t missing certain demographics.”
Within the editorial subcommittee, we decided last year that there were additional guidelines that we wanted to create. The next one we’ll work on is an acquisitions diversity guideline. It will be for internal use, meant to help employees acquire or work with different authors and editors from diverse backgrounds. The way I look at this, it’s really coming down to how we assess the quality of our potential authors and editors and how can we inform that quality assessment with a diversity lens to make sure that we aren’t missing certain demographics. This could mean, for instance, shifting away from looking at an author’s h-index and trying to think of other ways to see how they are bringing value to the research they are doing outside of these traditional metrics.
Again, we asked for employee feedback. Currently we have a survey going on to see what areas our colleagues need help with and also if they have suggestions for what can be included in that guideline.
CS: Yes, and when we have the results, we’ll be working together on them with our Insights and Analysis team here at De Gruyter. Afterwards there will be another working group open to people who would be affected by such a guideline. It’s a process in which hopefully a lot of colleagues will be involved and not just something that a few people in the IDEAL committee think of and then impose on the rest of the company. We want it to really be a participatory process.
AH: Looking forward to this! Thank you for this insightful conversation, Christene and Charlott.
[Title image by Jon Tyson via Unsplash]