Tanith Hackney (she/her) is a conservation ecologist and incoming PhD student at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Imperial College London. Tanith is one of the founders and Chair of the Bio-Diverse Project, and is also a member of the British Ecological Society’s Equality and Diversity Working Group.

(Links: The Bio-Diverse Project's website, Twitter, and Facebook; Tanith’s website and Twitter)

How did the Bio-Diverse Project begin?
The Bio-Diverse Festival was founded in June 2020. The rapid increase in online events and homeworking provided an opportunity to create an event that could reach so many people around the world. I envisioned a science conference that was inclusive, intersectional, and international, creating a platform for scientists of all backgrounds and experiences to come together during a time of isolation. The Bio-Diverse Festival’s aim is to give a voice to those previously marginalized in biology and conservation, and is based around a celebration of diversity.

I discussed it with a couple of peers, and then myself and Eve Croxford began to spread the word and develop the idea for the festival. After our first tweet, we were amazed by the amount of engagement and positive feedback we received, and it just grew from there. We reached out to several people and organizations who were very helpful in giving their advice and time, and who helped spread the word. The first Bio-Diverse Festival was held in October last year. After the success of the event, we created the Bio-Diverse Project as a way to expand our impact and aims.

What has the Bio-Diverse Project been involved with doing so far?
The Bio-Diverse Project focuses on increasing representation within biology and conservation, and by doing so changing the culture of science and academia. So far, we've focused on hosting the Bio-Diverse Festival, an annual, online science conference centering and celebrating underrepresented and underserved biologists and conservationists. The Bio-Diverse Festival is setting a precedent for other science conferences, highlighting the importance and benefit of making biology and conservation accessible, inclusive, and international. However, our team has also been invited to speak at several conferences and panel discussions about intersectionality, inclusivity, and strategies to further these. Educating about and amplifying the work of others and of similar initiatives has become an important part of what we do. We hope to create a supportive environment in which to uplift each other.

What do you want LGBTQ+ scientists to know about the Bio-Diverse Project?
The Bio-Diverse Project is a safe space to be who you are and disclose as much or as little as you want. We see you first and foremost as the incredible scientists and conservationists that you are. It's a platform to share your work and your science without discrimination based on your gender identity or sexual orientation. The Bio-Diverse Project hopes to also open up a space for conversations about the challenges facing LGBTQ+ people in science and academic spaces, and educate others on how to be better allies. The Bio-Diverse Project particularly centers around intersectionality, recognizing that every individual has unique experiences based on multiple intersecting identities. We welcome all LGBTQ+ scientists and conservationists at our annual Bio-Diverse Festival, as an attendee or participant.

What's next for the Bio-Diverse Project?
The Bio-Diverse Project is hosting another festival this year, on October 14-16 2021. Events include live keynote talks, pre-recorded talks, a panel discussion on being LGBTQ+ in the field and workplace, a careers event, day-in-the-life videos, and more. There will be opportunities to network and learn from inspirational scientists. We hope to continue developing this event and expanding its reach. To create a more inclusive environment and have an international reach, we're particularly keen to also create content in languages other than English, which is something we're currently working on. Eventually, we hope to host further events and collaborations and continue to increase the representation of marginalized biologists and conservationists throughout the year. We're also working very closely with the British Ecological Society to expand the project, but at the moment I’m not able to give too much away … stay tuned!

Has there been anything challenging or surprising that you’ve learned or experienced while doing this work?
Starting this project has been a huge learning curve for the entire team, as we were all undergraduates when we founded it. However, the most challenging thing for me has been the emotional impact it had that I was not necessarily prepared for. After the first Bio-Diverse Festival last year, some of the feedback and personal experiences people shared with us were very emotional and profound. I was surprised by how many people responded to our event and reacted positively. It shows how much of a difference a handful of individuals can make, but also how much an initiative like this was needed. It was (and still is) a huge amount of work and more than any of us expected, but others have recognized it, which has been amazing.

What makes the Bio-Diverse Project special to you?
Finding something I could do to uplift others, as well as finding my own community, has been very special. But most importantly, the beauty of collective experience—and the creation of a diverse, talented, and skilled community—has been so good to see, and has certainly fueled a lot of my motivation for doing this work. Science, and academia especially, is sometimes given a bad name, but being able to find and amplify the good in it and create such a positive and supportive project has been amazing. It’s been very special being able to share my deep love of science and optimism with so many others.

Anything else?
It’s not too late to get involved or volunteer with the Bio-Diverse Project or attend this year’s festival. Find out more and register on our website: biodiverseproject.org. We’re always up for collaborations and new ideas, too!