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22.01.2024 Diversity

Few women on scientific editorial boards

Female representation on the editorial boards of medical journals in Latin America and the Caribbean is among the lowest in the world

Illustration: Valentina Fraiz/Estúdio Voador

The underrepresentation of women in various fields of knowledge has long been a matter of concern in academia and is covered extensively in the literature. After all, it not only represents a major disadvantage to women’s career progression, but also to the journals themselves.

A study published by the World Journal of Surgery focusing on surgery, anesthesiology, and gynecology and obstetrics journals in Latin America and the Caribbean paints a worrying picture of the situation in the region.

The paper, written by researchers from Brazil, Argentina, the USA, Russia, and Canada, shows that women account for just 17% of positions on the editorial boards of scientific journals in the fields under study.

The team analyzed 19 of 25 active journals identified by the Scimago Journal and Country Rank (SJR). Of these, nine were related to surgery, three to anesthesiology, and seven to gynecology and obstetrics, and five countries were covered: Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Cuba.

The names of 1,320 editorial board members were then collected from the journals’ websites.

Members were classified into three broad categories: senior (editors-in-chief, specialized positions, honorary positions); academic (national editorial positions, peer-reviewers, international academic editorial positions); and nonacademic (nonacademic editorial positions, administrative positions).

Women were more likely to feature at the bottom of the pyramid. None were identified in honorary roles.

They occupied 14.3% of academic roles, 28.9% of senior roles, and 38.4% of nonacademic roles. Within the senior category, they occupied 31.5% of specialized positions, such as associate and executive editors. They accounted for 25% of editors-in-chief.

In academic positions, women held more peer-reviewer roles (31.3%) than international (10%) or national (13.8%) academic editorial positions. Similarly, women held more nonacademic roles (100%) than administrative positions (20%).

The survey also revealed that surgery journals have a lower proportion of women (7.7%) than anesthesia journals (25.5%) and gynecology and obstetrics journals (31.5%).

The proportion of women on editorial boards increases in parallel with the number of female PhD holders in a given country. Only one editorial board of the 19 analyzed was more than 50% women: the Revista Cubana de Obstetricia y Ginecologia (Cuban journal of obstetrics and gynecology).

Previous studies have examined the lack of female representation on editorial boards in other countries: in the US, for example, 14% of members were women. In the UK, the figure was 17.2% (with zero editors-in-chief). Another Latin American study that focused on other medical fields identified women in just 12.9% of editorial board positions.

The authors attribute the situation to phenomena such as the “leaky pipeline,” which describes how the proportion of women decreases as the importance and hierarchical level of the position increases, and the “glass ceiling,” which refers to the systemic barriers that prevent qualified women from progressing to the most senior positions of an organization.

Positions on editorial boards provide opportunities that can contribute to career advancement. At the same time, having women on the editorial board can improve a journal’s performance, since more socially diverse groups tend to develop higher quality research and innovation and thus receive more citations and funding, while being more efficiently organized.

“Our findings highlight the need for regional strategies to advance women’s careers across the specialties of surgery, anesthesiology, and gynecology and obstetrics,” the paper summarizes.

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