Mind the Gap
Image via Robert Donovan.

One of the highlights of this year’s SSP conference for me was the opportunity to revisit some of the issues raised at last year’s Mind the Gap session.  My co-chair, Lauren Kane (BioOne) and I were delighted to be joined by Emma Brink (Wiley), Nigel Clear (Elsevier), and Laura Ricci (Ebsco), as well as by incoming SSP President, Rick Anderson (University of Utah), who chaired this year’s session, for another lively discussion.

Inspired by Lauren’s and my recent analysis of the gender gap at industry conferences, we focused on three broad areas: our own personal experiences of the gender gap and how we are addressing it; how our organizations are or should be getting involved; and the potential role of industry organizations like SSP in encouraging diversity.

As individuals, there’s really no excuse for any of us – women and men – not to play our part in helping make the gender gap a thing of the past. Whether that means refusing to participate in an all male panel, speaking up when we see behavior that is unfair or unacceptable, or advocating for our own professional advancement – including saying yes to invitations to speak at conferences like SSP! – we all have opportunities to help address this important issue. It’s encouraging that younger professionals are engaging with these challenges much earlier in their career than I did, but discouraging that the underlying disparities remain such an issue for all of us today.

At the organizational level, our 2015 analysis shows that there are precious few women heading scholarly publishing organizations or their Boards: in an industry where around 60% of employees are women, they represent less than one in three CEOs (or equivalent) and fewer than one in five Board Chairs. And yet, as SSP keynote speaker Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour pointed out*, appointing more women to leadership roles makes good business sense. Study after study shows that organizations with a diverse leadership are far more successful, by pretty much any measure, economic or otherwise. So what’s stopping us?

Unconscious bias came up repeatedly in both Dr. Armour’s address and in our panel discussion as a key challenge. I believe it is the main reason why women are still under-represented at the top of most publishing organizations. It’s something that we are all guilty of, and something that we can all also strive to address. Too many industry leaders pay (well-intended) lip service to addressing the gender gap (and other inequalities), but until they fully acknowledge – and commit to addressing – their own and their organization’s unconscious bias, their efforts will be doomed to failure.  

Like the gender gap itself, this isn’t just a problem for women, it’s a problem for everyone. During our discussion, several people raised the issue of support for caregivers – typically assumed (unconscious bias at work) to be women. However, as the men on the panel noted, they may also want or need to be caregivers, but are similarly prevented from doing so by the lack of flexible working arrangements at most organizations.

Unconscious bias is probably also one of the reasons for the significant gender gap we found in terms of speakers at our industry conferences. Our analysis of seven major scholarly publishing meetings held in 2015 demonstrated that, with a couple of notable exceptions (AAUP and SSP), the majority of speakers at our industry conferences were male, all male panels were alarmingly common, and keynote speakers were twice as likely to be men than women. Nigel Clear, Elsevier’s Director of Conferences, revealed that a recent analysis of their events showed that, while attendees are broadly reflective of the gender split in the field (60/40), speakers are even more overwhelmingly male than at industry conferences (85/15). However, as he pointed out, speaker selection is something we can largely control and, given the importance of public speaking as a stepping stone to career success, this represents a great opportunity for all organizations to support women’s career advancement. Elsevier is already committed to making this change in their conference program, and I very much hope that other organizations will follow suit.

Which brings us to our industry organizations. What is – or should be – their role in addressing the gender gap? The audience and panel at SSP were unanimous in believing that our industry organizations could (and should) play more of a part, since they exist in part to help ensure that our industry is strong and sustainable – something that is threatened by a continuing gender disparity at the top. While our industry membership organizations don’t always get involved in lobbying or advocacy, it was underscored that what was being discussed was a business best practice, and not a political stance.  

Of course, different industry organizations will take different approaches to tackling the issue but, at the very least, all of them are in a position to actively encourage more diversity of speakers, eliminate all male panels, and ensure more balance in their choice of keynote speakers. Our article calls for “our community membership and trade organizations (SSP, ALPSP, and others) to develop an accreditation system to recognize publishing organizations that prioritize diversity — including gender diversity — as a way of rewarding and acknowledging those organizations that are contributing to progress. For example, we envisage a ‘seal of approval’ on industry conferences that adhere to certain standards.” This is certainly something that, as a newly elected Board member, I’ll be challenging us to consider at SSP.  Because for scholarly publishing – and scholarly communications – to survive and thrive, we must all help address the gender gap, at the individual, organizational, and industry level.

With thanks to my co-organizer Lauren Kane, our co-panelists Emma Brink, Nigel Clear, and Laura Ricci, and our chair, Rick Anderson.

*A recording of Dr Armour’s presentation will be available shortly on the SSP website – please watch it!

Alice Meadows

Alice Meadows

I am a Co-Founder of the MoreBrains Cooperative, a scholarly communications consultancy with a focus on open research and research infrastructure. I have many years experience of both scholarly publishing (including at Blackwell Publishing and Wiley) and research infrastructure (at ORCID and, most recently, NISO, where I was Director of Community Engagement). I’m actively involved in the information community, and served as SSP President in 2021-22. I was honored to receive the SSP Distinguished Service Award in 2018, the ALPSP Award for Contribution to Scholarly Publishing in 2016, and the ISMTE Recognition Award in 2013. I’m passionate about improving trust in scholarly communications, and about addressing inequities in our community (and beyond!). Note: The opinions expressed here are my own


10 Thoughts on "Mind the Gap: Gender Disparity in Scholarly Publishing Revisited"

The topic at SSP (and Alice’s post) reminded me of the CEO Panel at last falls STM Frankfurt meeting. Tracey Armstrong of CCC was the one woman on the panel. One of the questions for the panelists was: “What will improve diversity in the workforce?” Tracey’s response: “get women to own revenue”. That was a stunningly simple answer.

I blogged about the full panel, and there were lots of good answers.
But that one was a showstopper!

Looking at photos of the chefs, I count 8 of 19, or 42 percent, women.

It is surprising that there is no mention of WISP (Women in Scholarly Publishing) here, founded in 1979, and all the important work it has done over the years: http://www.aaupnet.org/about-aaup/aaup-history/wisp-history. In fact, it had accomplished so much for gender equity in scholarly publishing by the early 2000s that questions were raised about whether the organization still had any useful mission to serve! Just to give one data point, since 1992 there have been 10 female presidents of the AAUP out of 24 overall.

John – thanks for sharing. Interesting to note that Tracey was the only woman on this CEO panel (along with four men).
Ken – you’re right that the Kitchen still has a way to go, but as there were only three women when I joined in 2012, at least we are moving in the right direction!
Sandy – I’m sure WISP’s activities helped ensure that the gender ratio at AAUP’s conference so closely reflects our industry.

Libraries and library consortia are beginning to take this issue on board as well and ask their vendors [including publishers] for data on diversity in their organizations and their Boards and consider such data in evaluation of products and services. Of course, we need to also look in the mirror.
Nice post. Thanks.

Nice post. I am excited to be part of an industry that is really thinking about this issue and has the intelligence to work towards change.

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