Let’s Talk About Gender Gaps in Academia

They’re real.

“Publish or perish” sounds like a broken record. I’ve heard it. You’ve probably heard it. And scholars have definitely heard it. For academics maintaining a job in the Academy most often requires tenure; tenure most often requires publishing; and publishing most often requires the peer review process.

But what does this mean for voices that are systematically silenced within the Academy?

The Chronicle of Higher Education cites a study that indicates that 42 percent of professors are women, but only 30 percent of scholarly publishing is authored by women. Even these statistics are misleading because leadership positions remain occupied by men, and because women of color are further underrepresented in academia compared to their white counterparts.

Why is this? Why are women entering the professor positions within colleges and universities at unprecedented rates, but are still publishing at subpar percentages?

Fields such as economics, mathematics, and natural sciences are overwhelmingly male. So, what can we do about women not wanting to be economists or scientists? First, there is no evidence that women inherently wired to shy away from leadership positions and STEM fields. Socialization and structural flaws are to blame for this. And that’s another important post for another time.

“Mind the Gap” by London Student Feminists, Licensed under CC 3.0

But, how do we get to the root of organizational and structural imbalances that privilege male voices in academics — and more clearly, academic publishing? I don’t know. Surprise!

I do know, however, that it’s going to take more than just individual women advocating for themselves within the Academy. (Although, I don’t think this is a bad idea). The peer review process is going to need some work — and it may even be a thing of the past. (gasp!)

There seems no better time than the age of technology — and growing support of open access — to publish work without the middle-man (and yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these actually are men) that is the peer review system.

But, let’s say you’re not ready to part ways with a system of peer review. What would a reform look like?

First, transparency and consistency need to be center stage. For it to function fairly, a uniform — or as close to uniform as possible — system of guidelines needs to dictate what peers look for in scholarly writing. Some of these guidelines include anonymity for authors so that unintentional biases (based on gender identity, race, university and name association, etc.) do not influence reviewers.

Second, the process of peer review needs to be accomplished by a diverse group of scholars. Women and people of color need to be represented on peer review councils. This seems difficult to achieve — without tokenizing — in STEM fields where women and POC are already underrepresented. However, as more marginalized groups enter the Academy, leadership positions, and male-dominated fields, so too should they be part of the peer review process.

And for social science and other disciplines that already have a more equitable representation of women and minorities, making sure they have a say on peer review councils and in leadership positions means consciously selecting these individuals.

This isn’t tokenism. This is equality.

We need equality in academia. We need more voices in academic publishing.

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