UNSW researchers highlight gender imbalance in editorial positions

The lack of women in decision-making roles at academic journals can influence the creation of knowledge and affect career development, a new report says. 


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Journals play a key role in academia, yet women continue to be under-represented on editorial boards, new research has found.

UNSW Canberra Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Lisa Carson and Associate Professor Helen Dickinson, along with Arizona State University’s Associate Professor Mary Feeney, have collected data from the top 24 public administration journals and found only six have female editors.

In their Public Administration Review article Power in Editorial Positions: A Feminist Critique of Public Administration, the researchers also found that a further six journals had no women in editorial leadership positions and six had just one woman in an editorial leadership position.

In contrast, women are over-represented in lower-status positions, such as book review editors.

Carson says academic journals play a crucial role in the creation of knowledge within scientific fields and the career advancement of individuals.

“Editors and editorial boards play a critical role in governing scholarly content, setting the direction of journals and advancing the field,” Carson says.

“This lack of female representation in editorial roles is important because evidence suggests that a lack of diversity can lead to a focus on particular topics or theories.”

The article says editors make decisions about what will be reviewed, who will conduct reviews, and which peer-review recommendations will stand.

“Recent research indicates that gender bias occurs in reviewer selection for both male and female editors, both are more likely to select reviewers of their same gender,” Dickinson says.

'This lack of female representation in editorial roles is important because evidence suggests that a lack of diversity can lead to a focus on particular topics or theories.'

The article explains that publication in peer-reviewed journals can affect individual career development, progression and salary.

Typical explanations for the lack of women in leadership positions include that there are too few top women candidates for the position or that women leave the leadership path the focus on family.

However, women make up the majority of the undergraduate and master’s degree students in public administration courses.

The article argues that the over-representation of women in book review editor roles also counters the view that there are not enough women. Instead, women are progressing in lower-status positions.

The article outlines a number of steps that could be taken to increase the presence of women in editorial positions.

It suggests journal editors formally commit to achieving balanced gender representation on their boards and encourages women to be proactive and ask to be added to editorial boards.

“Our journals are the creation and embodiment of the people they represent,” Carson says.

“We must work on making them more representative.”

Dickinson says improving the representation of women in editorial roles could have broader implications.

“Professional associations can take the lead by setting expectations for fairness in their journals and the elimination of bias,” Dickinson says.

“It is possible that by advancing gender equity and transparency in our journals, we might push other academic institutions to critically reflect on these issues.”

Read the article here.