Research 2030

Don’t blame it on the pipeline: Gender disparity in invited commentaries and senior researchers

January 29, 2020 Elsevier Episode 3
Research 2030
Don’t blame it on the pipeline: Gender disparity in invited commentaries and senior researchers
Chapters
Research 2030
Don’t blame it on the pipeline: Gender disparity in invited commentaries and senior researchers
Jan 29, 2020 Episode 3
Elsevier

In this episode, we consider the sobering results of a recent study which shows that women researchers are around 20% less likely than men to author invited commentaries for scholarly journals – even when they have the same level of experience as their male peers. Incredibly, this figure rises to 40% for more senior female scientists. Join Anita de Waard as she explores the study with two of the authors, Emma Thomas and Bamini Jayabalasingham, in an attempt to explore some of the factors attributing to their findings and the impact the results have on the larger research landscape.

SHOW NOTES:
Invited commentaries are short articles that provide an author’s personal perspective or view points on a leading, significant or controversial topic. Typically the invited author is a leading expert in the subject matter and usually invited by the editor. “In medical journals, publication of an invited commentary is a recognition of expertise and can raise an author’s profile.” (Emma Thomas in Women scientists author fewer invited commentaries in medical journals than men with comparable credentials) 


Articles mentioned in the podcast:

 Related articles and interesting reads:

NOW AVAILABLE! The Elsevier Gender Report 2020
Gender disparity and bias in research, as explored in this podcast episode, negatively affect the breadth and impact of research, and the opportunities for researchers to advance in their careers. In order to understand this impact and overcome barriers, the global research community must closely examine the critical issues using an evidence-based approach.

Elsevier has an ongoing commitment to promoting gender diversity and advancing gender equity in global research. On March 5, 2020, we published The researcher journey through a gender lens: A global examination of research participation, career progression and perceptions. This is our third report on gender and research.

Download the report now here

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we consider the sobering results of a recent study which shows that women researchers are around 20% less likely than men to author invited commentaries for scholarly journals – even when they have the same level of experience as their male peers. Incredibly, this figure rises to 40% for more senior female scientists. Join Anita de Waard as she explores the study with two of the authors, Emma Thomas and Bamini Jayabalasingham, in an attempt to explore some of the factors attributing to their findings and the impact the results have on the larger research landscape.

SHOW NOTES:
Invited commentaries are short articles that provide an author’s personal perspective or view points on a leading, significant or controversial topic. Typically the invited author is a leading expert in the subject matter and usually invited by the editor. “In medical journals, publication of an invited commentary is a recognition of expertise and can raise an author’s profile.” (Emma Thomas in Women scientists author fewer invited commentaries in medical journals than men with comparable credentials) 


Articles mentioned in the podcast:

 Related articles and interesting reads:

NOW AVAILABLE! The Elsevier Gender Report 2020
Gender disparity and bias in research, as explored in this podcast episode, negatively affect the breadth and impact of research, and the opportunities for researchers to advance in their careers. In order to understand this impact and overcome barriers, the global research community must closely examine the critical issues using an evidence-based approach.

Elsevier has an ongoing commitment to promoting gender diversity and advancing gender equity in global research. On March 5, 2020, we published The researcher journey through a gender lens: A global examination of research participation, career progression and perceptions. This is our third report on gender and research.

Download the report now here

Music:

[music].

Mancini:

Hi, I'm Giacomo Mancini. Welcome to research 2030 an Elsevier podcast series in which guests from academia and beyond join us in exploring, debating and challenging the changing research landscape. In this episode titled, don't blame it on the pipeline, we consider the sobering results of a recent study which showed that women researchers are around 20% less likely than men to author invited commentaries for scholarly journals. Even when they have the same level of experience as their male peers. Incredibly, this figure rises to 40% for more senior female scientists. This research builds upon previous findings that same gender preferences can influence which articles peer reviewers approve, who editors choose to conduct those peer reviews, who authors cite in their articles and who we choose as coauthors and collaborators. In fact, it's becoming increasingly clear that bias, both conscious and unconscious permeates many aspects of the research and publishing cycle.

Mancini:

At the same time, we see mounting evidence that improving diversity and research, not just striving for balance between men and women, but between age, racial and ethnic groups delivers a host of positive benefits from better patient outcomes to improve decision making. And just what are the factors driving this gender inequality? Are there steps that publishers, research leaders and researchers with themselves can take to bridge the diversity divide? In Don't blame it on the pipeline. We attempt to answer these questions with the help of two of the study's authors, Emma Thomas, a doctoral student in the department of biostatistics at Harvard T H Chan school of public health, and Bamini Jayabalasingham, the senior analytical services product manager at Elsevier. They are interviewed by our guest host for this episode. Elsevier is vice president of research collaborations, Anita de Waard.

Music:

[inaudible].

de Waard:

I am joined today by two people who have written an incredibly interesting and important review on gender in science and I would love for them to introduce themselves. Emma, could you introduce yourself first please? What's your background show?

Thomas:

Sure, so my name's Emma Thomas. I'm originally from Australia. I have undergrad degree in math and a master's in science from Australia and after I finished my masters I moved here to the U S to do my PhD in bio statistics at the Harvard T H Chan school of public health. So I've been working on quantitative things for a long time and I've also been working on problems in health and medicine. So combining my statistical and mathematical skills and applying them to interesting questions in health and medicine.

de Waard:

Thanks so much. Bamini could you introduce yourself?

Jayabalasingham:

Sure. My name is Bamini Jayabalasingham. I have a background in microbiology and immunology. I did a PhD in public health, um, the topic of autophagy and malaria almost more than 10 years ago now and have since moved to Elsevier through a pretty circuitous route and working on data analyses to support research administrators and funders in making strategic decisions in their portfolio.

de Waard:

Fantastic. So you have different backgrounds. So what led you to pick this topic? I guess I'll ask Emma first.

Thomas:

This topic is something that my advisor, dr Francesca Domenici, was very interested in something like invited commentaries obviously because they're invited, typically they're going to invite someone who's very senior and well known if they have the opportunity to do that. So this is kind of an issue that in some ways affects more senior researchers like Francesca. But I think it was interesting to me as well because there is kind of a trickle down effect to junior researchers. So if you look at, you know, the kind of high profile invited articles that are being written and a huge percentage of them are written by men, which they are, I think that definitely affects your mindset. So I feel like it was something that impacts my life as well.

de Waard:

Mm. That's interesting. Um, and Bamani maybe for those listeners out there who don't know what an invited commentary is, could, could you give a little bit of an explanation on, on the specific topic for the study?

Jayabalasingham:

So an invited commentary is sometimes when a journal has a paper that they think is going to be really important to the field or just stands out for some reason or another, the editors will invite a commentary on the article from someone who is well known in the field to identify those invited commentaries for our report. We decided to look for articles that cite articles within the same journal and issue deduce that a person wouldn't be able to cite an article within the same journal an issue unless it had been given to them to site.

de Waard:

Okay. There are articles about articles in a journal and I was just wondering, have either of you ever written an invited commentary?

Thomas:

I haven't. Like I said, usually it's, it's more senior, more established researchers who gets to write this kind of thing. So not yet, but there's still time.

de Waard:

How about you Bamini

Jayabalasingham:

I've been in labs where the postdocs or grad students have been asked to, you know, basically write, draft the commentary or on behalf of the PI who was, you know, first author and was the one who was actually asked. I personally haven't been asked, but I was in a lab where those who are asked were always men. I thought this was really an interesting topic just aside from the invited commentary part, but also who in the lab gets asked to support it because it's a, it's a good way to raise your visibility. People may not read the whole article, they'll, they'll read the article or maybe parts of it, but they'll always read the commentary because it's the easier version to digest.

de Waard:

Wow. Right. So, so yeah. Bamini, if you could just briefly recap the research question and, and, and then what you found, that'd be, that'd be very interesting.

Jayabalasingham:

Sure. Well, why don't I present a little bit how we approach the problem and I'll let Emma discuss what was found.

de Waard:

That sounds perfect.

Jayabalasingham:

The question was, is there a gender bias in who is asked to write invited commentaries. And we approached this question using data on who is actually authoring these articles but also identifying potential candidates who could be alternatives asked based on their expertise, which we identified using Elsevier as expert look up technology.

Thomas:

So as Bamini said, we basically wanted to compare authors of invited commentaries to other people who plausibly could have written the invited commentary and then look at the gender ratios between the two groups. So actually the first step as Bamini mentioned before, was to identify the articles, which we did using this amazing idea that Bamini came up with to look for articles that cite another article within the same journal and issue. And that was really important idea because it allowed us to use the mechanics of Scopus to such these articles in an automated way, whereas previously there is no clear tags for these articles, so it was hard to identify them. And that allowed us to get a really nice big sample size. We had over 60,000 articles in our final data set. And the first step that we took was to just look at the percentage of those articles that were authored by women.

Thomas:

And what we found was that it was about 23% so not a high number. It's women are definitely underrepresented as authors of invited commentaries. And that was something that was actually known before we undertook this research. So some people had looked in particular journals and found that women were under represented, but what wasn't known was taking the first steps to explain why we see that gap. So I think what many people had previously assumed was that women write fewer invited commentaries because there are fewer women with sufficient expertise and seniority and experience to be writing those commentaries. We still know that there's a gender gap in science and at the top it's particularly pronounced. So if you just assume there are fewer women who have the qualifications to write these commentaries, of course you expect there to be fewer women writing the commentaries themselves.

Thomas:

So what we did was to actually use the expert lookup tool that Bamini mentioned to compare men and women who had expertise in the same field but not only, that also had been publishing in that field for the same length of time and had similar publication metrics. So it was similar numbers of publications and a similar H index, which is a measure of your citation impact in your field. And what we found was that when you compare men and women who were essentially peers in terms of their qualifications, women were still about 22% less likely to author an invited commentary. So that says that the agenda gap can't actually be explained by the fact that there are just more men who are qualified to write those commentaries. There's something else that's going on.

de Waard:

Wow. Were you surprised by that finding Bamini for instance? Yeah,

Jayabalasingham:

I think, yeah, I was surprised, because I think the thing we tell ourselves or I tell myself is that the reason that it's the same people I did was because in the more senior levels, most of the people I've seen have been men. But it seems like, you know, if I, the effort was taken, you could also identify senior women would could be be just as likely to, you know, or just as qualified to write the commentary.

Thomas:

Yeah. I think I suffered from that same assumption that you kind of hope that it's a pipeline issue, meaning that there just aren't as many women at the top who have the experience yet to be writing these articles. And then if we just wait long enough, more women will progress through the pipeline and become, you know, these expert researches and therefore there'll be more women writing invited commentaries. But our results suggest that that might not be the case, that even if you had women with the same level of qualifications as men, they'd still be, you know about 22% less likely to write an invited commentary. [Wow] So I think that is surprising.

de Waard:

Yeah, it's a little discouraging. Is this... Do you feel that this is a trend that is changing at all? It almost you would hope it was but, but is that something that your data supports?

Thomas:

Our data doesn't support that necessarily because we didn't look at time trends. We just took a recent block of time, which was 2013 to 2017 to try and get something that was relevant for what editors and journals, the decisions they were making now. But there have been other articles that have looked at time trends in gender ratios. There's one paper in particular by Holeman et al, I think it was published in 2018 in Plos Biology we cited in our paper. And that's a really beautiful analysis where they looked at trends in the proportion of women authoring articles in different fields over time. And they actually tried to project how long it would take to get to the point of gender parity in different fields. And I think they found that the rate of change in the percentage of women authors was something like between zero and 2% in most fields.

Thomas:

And that meant that in some cases, you know where maybe five years from gender parity and in other cases we're still decades from gender parity. So it's changing, but it may not be changing fast enough.

de Waard:

We'll make sure to put the links, by the way, to your article and to the article that you're quoting here together with the podcast so that people who are listening can find them easily. So that is a little bit discouraging I suppose. And also surprising and interesting. Do you have any thoughts on how the various players in the landscape, people such as research leaders at universities, what are some of the things that they could do to, to change this?

Jayabalasingham:

Well, I mean there are a lot of studies about interventions and whether they work or or whether they, they affect change when it seems that knowing, knowing the data or what what's happening, doing an assessment of your implicit bias helps people know that this is a thing and that they're, they might be part of it but it doesn't change their behavior based on the studies I've seen. I don't know. I don't know what people can do because I think to Emma's point, like is it participation or getting parity in participation is only step one in the process because you can have parity or even over representation of women in some fields, but trends still continue as they are where our, maybe our impression is that a certain kind of person is the right person to write a review and we're not aware of that, that person also happens to be, you know, our definition of that person also happens to be a man. I think having targets or monitoring progress is a good way to go to see if what you're doing is making an impact.

Thomas:

Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I think using data and monitoring the situation is really important. I think it's easy to kind of assume in the current climate where there's a lot of discussion about gender and the impact agenda that things are improving, but we really need data to actually show whether that is happening. And I think, you know journals and universities are doing that more and more, but there's probably still room for improvement. I think the other thing, and this is more I guess on an individual level and it's kind of my personal perspective, I think our research showed, you know

Thomas:

what doesn't cause the gender gap, which is it's not just a pipeline issue but we weren't able to show exactly what does cause it and there probably are a lot of factors, you know, including gender bias and including the fact that women are more overburdened outside of their research and therefore have less time to commit to things like invited commentaries. But I think something else that might be going on is that the connections we have with one another as researchers tend to be a little more based on who is like us. So men tend to have more professional connections with men and in many cases women have more professional connections with women, but there are more men in positions of power. And so that leads to kind of an entrenching of the male advantage. And so I think one thing that we can all do is to try and diversify our professional and research connections as much as possible.

Thomas:

And yeah, I think that's kind of easier said than done. But I think if we make a conscious effort to reach out to others who might not be like us or to look for, you know, offering opportunities to people who are in positions where we might not have otherwise considered them is a really important step that we can all take.

de Waard:

So that's, so that's really for everyone at every level you would say.

Thomas:

Yeah, I think so. Particularly people in positions of privilege, those so research leaders and people in positions of power in universities because they're the ones who are able to offer the most advantageous opportunities.

de Waard:

Right, right.

Jayabalasingham:

Yeah, and Emma has a really good point. In there in the gender report that's coming out next year and we did a network analysis and one of the interesting findings to me anyways was that women tend to network, and co-authorship networks that are more composed of women and men tend to co-author more with men. It seems really surprising. But then on the flip side, I look at my kids, my girls, they play with girls and you know, my nieces or nephews, they play with boys. So we kind of start doing this early, so getting over that that behavior requires some conscious effort.

de Waard:

Hmm. That's, that's an interesting thought. It's really a fantastic collaboration and, and a great paper to read. I'm not a statistician, but I found it fascinating how you actually worked with all the data and made, made things so overwhelmingly clear. So I was wondering to what degree this work has has impacted your own writing or perhaps other academic efforts.

Jayabalasingham:

So I am working on a big report for Elsevier on, you know, the researcher's journey through a gender lens it looks at, participation, contribution networks, perceptions of women and men when it comes to gender. You know, the impact of gender on different aspects of a researcher's career. Having been involved in such a robust analysis with Emma helped me sort of, suspend doubt on the other datapoints I was working on because you know, it all becomes part of this big literature base.

Thomas:

Yeah. I think the issue that I talked about before of connection and diversifying our collaborations is the one that's kind of weighed heaviest on me personally. I absolutely don't want to overemphasize that as the only thing that explains our findings. I think, you know, gender bias is real and that's definitely happening as well. But as something that I can do, I think that's one of the most important things is to try and consciously expand my professional networks. And it's not something that comes naturally to me cause I'm not, you know, I consider myself an introvert when I go to conferences. I always think I should like, you know, network, make connections and I just don't want to do, it really doesn't come naturally. But you know, one thing that really struck me was I was at a conference earlier this year, the women in statistics and data science conference and I presented on this research and there was a moment at the start of the conference where there was an opening panel and there were several women on the panel speaking about their experiences as data scientists and statisticians. And at the end a fellow student got up and pointed out the fact that all of the women on the panel happened to be white.

Thomas:

And you know, I should say like the rest of the conference, we had several wonderful plenary speakers who were women of color. So it didn't, you know, that pattern didn't persist, but what she said really stuck with me because I feel like as a student at Harvard, you know, I definitely am influenced by some amount of lack of diversity and that it's easy to kind of fall back on the connections that you have and that, that entrenches, that lack of diversity. And so I think it's really incumbent on all of us and, and I want to try and do it myself to kind of expand the diversity of our connections.

de Waard:

That's, that's a really interesting point. So do you, this research really also affected how you yourself move now through your own academic networks. Any thoughts on particular things that perhaps editors or journals might be able to do? You already mentioned knowing more data would be helpful. So one question is, do, do folks have adequate access to the data? Is there anything that either we ourselves as a publisher or other publishers or editors could do to, to support this diversification?

Jayabalasingham:

Yeah, I mean I think I go back to having targets or or monitoring the data. You can't change something if you don't know or don't think it's a problem. So just knowing what the data is and what you're doing relative to also knowing what could be like what is your available pool? How many women could are there are women or men or whatever are there that you could have chosen for this position? I think that that's the most, that's probably the lowest hanging fruit action that can be taken

de Waard:

Just to be aware of all the, all the possible people you could choose from

Jayabalasingham:

and to know what you're doing, what you've been doing so far.

de Waard:

Right. That sounds, that sounds extremely sensible. Emma, any further thoughts?

Thomas:

I, I do think, you know, invited commentaries is a really interesting area, partly because it's something that editors and journals do have slightly more control over. They don't have total control because when they invite someone, they can't guarantee that that person will accept. And one of the things that I reviewer about paper mentioned was that they're actually in her experience that were more women who declined commentary invitations than men. So I think, you know, supporting women to accept these opportunities when they're offered to them and an understanding, you know, why they may not be able to except those opportunities that that's something that should be looked into more carefully and perhaps generals can play a role in that. I do think, you know with invited commentaries, if they want to enforce a 50 50 gender, they in principle can do that. I mean they can keep asking you know, enough women until they find someone who is able to do it.

de Waard:

Well, thank you so much. Any last parting thoughts to our audience who have been listening?

Jayabalasingham:

I think when it comes to representation, the goal isn't to just have like equal numbers of everyone, right? The goal is to improve science and to have science benefit from diverse perspectives. And so that needs not just numbers of people to be, not just for you to have equal number are not equal, but like representation of they also need to be able to participate in various aspects of science and their voices need to be heard. And so editorials are just one of those ways we think about gender and science. I think we had to think about how to facilitate participation and what, what we get out of that also in terms of getting those diverse perspectives.

de Waard:

Mmm. Right. So why does it even matter is a good question to ask.

Jayabalasingham:

Yeah.

de Waard:

Yeah. Thank you. And Emma, any last thoughts?

Thomas:

I think I would say that I, I believe strongly in using the data as we've discussed using data to its greatest potential to try and address this issue. I think there's just like amazingly huge scope for continued research in this area. You know, working with Bamini and Tom Collins, he was also, you know, a crucial part of this research at Elsevier. It was just like so awesome because I got access to this incredible data set and people with expertise on this incredible data set and it may be realized how much scope there is for continued work in this area. So anyone who has an interest and you know the energy like go out and do it because I think it's really making a difference on getting people's attention.

de Waard:

That's fantastic. And Bamini, you were mentioning you're working on the next gender report. Maybe a few closing words on what the timing of that is and when people can look for it.

Jayabalasingham:

Yeah, so the launch for that report will be in mid March. We're covering a variety of topics and it builds on the previous report that was released in 2017 we're looking at participation of women and men, their contribution to research networks that they form, looking at cohorts, using cohorts to look at the longevity of their publishing careers and their mobility. And then we've also done qualitative analysis. I understand perceptions related to gender and diversity issues and how they vary across different researchers.

de Waard:

Great. So there's a lot to to discover and discuss yet on gender and the participation of women in both in in invited commentaries, but also larger in the academia and the way that research is is in the future. Well, I want to thank you both so much both for your work writing this paper and for participating in this podcast. Emma, best of luck on your PhD. And Bamini, we're, we're very much looking forward to the gender report. We'll make sure to put links to everything in in the podcast page. Thank you so much for joining.

Jayabalasingham:

Thanks for having us.

Thomas:

Thank you. It was great to have this conversation.

Music:

[music]

Mancini:

The paper that Emma, Bamini and their coauthors published makes it clear that the under-representation of female researchers in invited commentaries cannot as many supposed be blamed on a shortage of experienced candidates. Instead, there are other factors at play which they suggest range from gender biases and busy schedules to an over-reliance on familiar networks. Their study also makes it clear that this isn't simply a pipeline issue that will resolve itself as a new generation of women take on senior roles. It requires intervention from actively looking for women to invite to supporting female colleagues when they receive that invitation. In fact, if we don't act now, we may perpetuate the problem. Invited commentaries contribute to the visibility that researchers so desperately need to attract funding, collaborators and progress in their careers. As both Emma and Bamini and you have highlighted, there are steps that all of us working in research can take to improve the situation and here data will prove key that will help us identify potential female candidates and allow us to monitor our progress towards improved diversity.

Mancini:

It will also drive further and much needed research in this area. You will find a link to the article in our show notes along with information on the Elsevier gender report titled "The researcher journey through a gender lens" due to be published in March of 2020 which further explores the role genders play in a researcher's' career. Finally, we'd like to express our gratitude to Emma Thomas and Bamini Jayabalasingham for joining us here on Research 2030 and our thanks to Anita de Waard for hosting this episode. I'm Giacomo Mancini and thank you for listening. Research 2030 is an official Elsevier podcast. Subscribe now via the usual podcast channels so you don't miss a single episode.