Diversity Counts: How well does Double Helix represent STEM?

July 11th, 2024

"By counting who gets a voice, audits can be a system for accountability and create opportunities to reflect on what is or is not working."
A pile of Double Helix magazines, some open to page spreads showcasing the diversity of people, stories, and fields of science.

The Double Helix editorial team believe strongly in making diversity in science visible to young readers.


By publishing Double Helix magazine, we strive to inspire all kids to see science as their superpower. And the emphasis is on all. Over the years, our writers and editors have made conscious choices to try to better reflect the diversity of the 14,000+ readers the publication reaches.

But how do we know if these actions add up?

In December 2023, Double Helix Children’s Science Content Specialist Ariel Marcy completed an in-depth analysis of diversity in Double Helix magazines. This audit was designed to capture the visible diversity of people in STEM across the eight issues (all 320 pages) we published in the previous year. We asked Ariel to explain the work and results.


What is a diversity audit?

Diversity audits are tools for quantifying representation in media. By counting who gets a voice, audits can be a system for accountability and create opportunities to reflect on what is or is not working.

For example, Ed Yong is a Pulitzer-prize winning science journalist who began tracking the gender [external link] of his sources. At the start, he realised that he was quoting only 24 per cent women. But after two years of conscious effort, he reached gender parity. He called his tracking spreadsheet “a vaccine against self-delusion.”

We also drew inspiration from book audits where librarians take a sample of their collection and record the demographics of the characters. This includes gender as well as race, LGBTQIA+ identity and disability status. The librarians use these data to assess how well the books reflect the library’s community.


The Double Helix method

We took a page from Mr Yong and the librarians by creating a spreadsheet capturing every “instance of representation” in our magazines. These instances could be an in-line name, an author by-line, a person in a photo or a cartoon character. For each instance, we recorded the visible gender, race, LGBTQIA+ identity and disability status.

Analysing these data allowed us to identify facets of Double Helix that we can celebrate as well as improve.


Key findings

Following our analysis, we could immediately celebrate reaching gender parity. No matter how we sliced up the data, women and girls were represented between 40 and 60 per cent of the instances, with 55 per cent on average. This means a young reader could flip through our pages and see themselves represented by the STEM professionals we featured, in terms of gender. The lowest female representation (41 per cent) occurred in the subcategory of technology stories, which highlights an area for improvement.

Representation of race is necessarily more complex.

A pie chart of visual race representation: not visible 40%, White 32%, Asian 10%, Indigenous 7%, Black 5%, Unsure 4%, Latin American 1%, Middle Eastern 1%.

Breaking down the depiction of race in Double Helix magazine: 40 per cent of the time race is not visible

The NAIDOC Week issue of the magazine, depicting a satellite dish covered in Indigenous artwork and including headlines such as "Indigenous art + maths" and "Extracting bush medicines".

The 2024 NAIDOC Week issue.


When we focused on just the data where race was visible, we represented nearly all groups at or above the percentage they occur in the Australian population. Notably, we represented Indigenous Australians at 12 per cent compared to 3.8 per cent in the general population. This result reflects our commitment to include a 2-page feature article about Indigenous science in every issue. This year, we published an entire NAIDOC issue celebrating Indigenous science.

But when we add back in the data where race is not visible, the pie slices for each group necessarily shrink. We might hope that our readers project themselves into the ambiguous places. However, we also know that, when asked to draw an unspecified scientist, children are more likely to draw a White man [external link]. So, on the facet of race, we can still strive to do better.

Representing LGBTQIA+ identity and disability status was a challenge for us. Both LBGTQIA+ identity and disability status are not necessarily visible from a name or a photograph.

For LGBTQIA+ identities, we have started an annual tradition of including a large, rainbow-themed poster image in one issue of the magazine. This image is accompanied by a message articulating CSIRO’s support of LGBTQIA+ scientists and active participation in events like Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras has been an invaluable example of support for LGBTQIA+ scientists. In the wake of the event, we highlighted photos of joyful scientists representing CSIRO on the Double Helix blog.


A large group of colourful and diverse CSIRO staff members pose on a lawn before marching in Mardi Gras.

CSIRO staff celebrate diversity at Mardi Gras.


We are actively looking to feature STEM professionals who have a disability. Underscoring the importance of a diversity audit, presenting the results of our audit at the recent Australian Science Communicators conference prompted further discussion of how we can improve. As a result, we decided to change the theme of an upcoming issue in order to feature the work of Professor Geerat Vermeij, a palaeontologist who is blind and uses his sense of touch to study the form and function of ancient shells.


Final word

Double Helix can and should lead the way on representing diversity in STEM. We aim to show our readers – whoever they may be or may become – that there is a place for them in STEM. We believe that our robust diversity audit will be an invaluable tool to help us achieve this aim.


Want to discover the diversity within STEM for yourself? Check out the Double Helix blog featuring STEM stories, activities, quizzes and more, sign up to the free e-newsletter Double Helix Extra,  or grab yourself a subscription to Double Helix magazine.