This post was co-authored with Lauren Kane, Chief Strategy and Operation Officer, BioOne

It probably won’t come as news to anyone that there is a gender pay gap in scholarly publishing. Even before the UK government’s enlightened decision to require organizations with more than 250 employees to report on their gender pay gap, US nonprofit form 990s and other publicly available salary data revealed that a gap existed. Despite their industry majority, there is an underrepresentation of women in the industry’s most senior (and thus highest-paid) positions, contributing to this imbalance.

wage gap concept

 Newly released data for UK-based corporations corroborates this concern. Cambridge University Press (CUP), Elsevier, Emerald Publishing, Informa/Taylor & Francis, IOP Publishing, Oxford University Press (OUP), Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), SAGE, Springer Nature, Wiley, and Wolters Kluwer are among over 10,000 organizations (commercial, governmental, and not-for-profit) that reported on their gender pay gap ahead of the government deadline of March 30 (for government organizations) / April 4 (everyone else). Organizations with more than 250 UK-based employees were required to report on the proportion of men and women in each pay quartile, as well as on the mean and median pay and bonus pay for men and women.

(Note, the above-mentioned organizations were selected based on their affiliation with SSP and/or ALPSP and their submission of their gender pay gap data in response to the new UK legislation. We do not wish to single out these companies specifically and apologize if we have missed any other responders from scholarly publishers. A simple search tool is available to individuals wishing to search the results directly. It is also notable that all universities in the UK were required to report, and show similar results.)

First the breakdown of men and women by pay quartile; and there are no surprises here. With the exception of Wolters Kluwer, there are far more women than men in the bottom quartile of the scholarly publishers surveyed above, and far more men than women in the top quartile. In case you’re wondering what’s different about Wolters Kluwer, it’s unique in this group of organizations in that men in the company outnumber women overall. Every other organization reports a gender split of around 55-65% women to men — in line with estimates of scholarly publishing overall. Yet even at best (RSC – 47.8%, OUP – 47%, SAGE – 47%), less than half of the top quartile of staff are women. At worst, that number drops to around a quarter (Elsevier – 25.6%).

One would hope and expect that the proportion of women to men would be roughly the same at every level of an organization. If it’s not, then presumably either the organization is doing a very bad job of recruitment (lots of women at entry level, but few are talented enough to be promoted to senior positions); or else the organization is, consciously or unconsciously, favoring and promoting men over women.

Now for the pay gap itself; again no surprises. For the purpose of this post, we are focusing on the median (middle value between the lowest and highest amounts), as a more meaningful statistic than the mean (average amount when you take all employees into account). As in every sector, some companies performed better than others, and the most equitable of those analyzed have a median pay gap of less than the national average of 18.4%. However, even the best of the group — Oxford University Press — still has a gender pay gap of 12.6%, while Elsevier shows a whopping 40.4% gender pay gap. When it comes to bonuses, the differences are even starker, from an 11% gap at Emerald Publishing to 67.6% at Wolters Kluwer.

Unsurprisingly, as in other sectors, most organizations that we analyzed have put a somewhat positive spin on their respective situations. In a word, they are “confident” that men and women are paid equally for doing the same jobs (obviously, because otherwise they’d be in breach of equal pay legislation). It’s just that, to quote the RSC: “Women are overrepresented in the lower quartiles of pay. This is mainly due to women filling a higher proportion of our administrative and early career publishing roles.” Or this, from Wiley: “Our mean and median bonus gaps are driven by our highest earners, who are predominantly male.” And, from Elsevier: “The bonus pay gap statistics reflect the fact that opportunities to receive performance-related pay…increase with seniority and the more senior the population, the higher the proportion of men to women.” Little consolation to the women working at these and other scholarly publishing organizations…

On a more positive note, many of the organizations include information about what they are doing (or plan to do) to address their gender pay gap. Examples include:

  • Signing up for initiatives like the Publishers Association 10-Point Inclusivity Action Plan (CUP, SAGE, Springer Nature)
  • Working toward EDGE accreditation (Elsevier, SAGE)
  • Changes to recruitment strategy (CUP, Informa/Taylor & Francis, OUP, SAGE
  • Flexible working practices (CUP, OUP, RSC, Springer Nature)
  • Unconscious bias training (CUP, RSC, SAGE)

While it is easy to be somewhat cynical about these plans, the fact that organizations are required to report on their gender pay gap annually gives us real hope that we will actually see some signs of progress before next year’s survey. The public availability of data, at least for organizations in the UK, makes it impossible to ignore the situation or pretend it doesn’t exist. And more data is being collected (via individuals and/or their organizations), for example, through the Workplace Equity Project survey, the PA’s annual survey as part of their 10-point action plan, and the cross-industry proposal for examining diversity and inclusion.

But we don’t have to wait for more data before making changes! We challenge all organizations in the scholarly publishing industry — whether or not legally required to do so — to proactively examine their salary data and take steps to address inequities based on gender, race, or other forms of discrimination.


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 "A Woman’s Worth: Examining the Gender Pay Gap among UK Scholarly Publishers"

Those explanations from the publishers are…um…sad. All three examples basically confirm that women hold the lower paying jobs or conversely, those eligible to receive large pay increases and bonuses are predominantly men. Give me a break.

It should be pointed out that the data for next year’s report has already been collected (a couple of weeks ago I believe), which means that any changes made in the coming year will not be reflected in the results next year. The earliest we will see any movement, based on actions taken after this year’s report, will be April 2020

Good point, thanks Tom. All the same, it will be interesting to see whether next year’s data shows any change (positive or negative)…

Thanks for the article. It’s fantastic to get this topic on the agenda for organisations to consider their approaches to staff development, recruitment and diversity in all forms. The measures may be a bit crude but the message is clear; we’re not doing enough to level the playing field for career progression. Our systems make it easier for some to rise over others and it takes a conscious effort to deviate from the path of least resistance. I’ve been hugely fortunate in my own career to benefit from enlightened views on agile and flexible working, affording me the opportunity to keep work and family life in balance. With advances in collaborative technologies we can be more creative with our model of how, where and when people work and I hope that more flexible views here alongside some of the other measures you highlight will start to budge the needle in the right direction.

Thanks Alice and Lauren for a great article.

Diversity and Inclusivity is a topic that the STM Early Career Publishers Committee have been discussing for a while and the ECPC organised a session at the London Book Fair on the topic. We were very pleased to have Michiel Kolman (Elsevier) and Melanie Dolechek (SSP) join the panel of ECPC committee members including Victoria Merriman (Bioscientifica) and Sara Bosshart (IWAP). I spoke on the topic of Women in Publishing, based on my experiences as part of the committee organising T&Fs employee-led Women in Publishing Group. A recording and slides will soon be available via the STM website. The value of the Gender Pay Gap data, with all its flaws, cannot be overstated. Its sometimes a hard sell talking about representation of women in publishing, given that in most scholarly publishing organisation women make up the majority. This data demonstrates unequivocally what we know intuitively.

A significant theme for our panel was ‘an early career perspective’. While I think it’s absolutely right that the burden of responsibility for change should fall on organisations; this can be disempowering for those earlier in their careers. There is plenty that early career colleagues can do to address the inequalities exposed by the gender pay gap reporting; and other forms of diversity and inclusivity which are, arguably, even more important. Ask for unconscious bias training, keep challenging our own bias and assumptions, talk about salary, put ourselves firmly in control of our own career development (it’s no one else’s responsibility), seek mentors, provide mentorship to others, network with diversity of perspective in mind and beyond the borders of our own organisations and to challenge ourselves to accept ‘scary’ opportunities (like speaking at London Book Fair for instance!) Inspired by many of the articles featured in SK over the last few weeks (Ok, months and years too) my challenge to everyone is hold yourself to high standards when it comes to diversity, inclusivity and equality and that will help change the industry.

  • Fiona Counsell, Head of Open Access Operations & Policy @ T&F. STM Early Career Publsihers Committee
  • Apr 17, 2018, 4:54 PM

How to decrease the pay gap? If it were upto the technocrats currently ruling the top management of STM industry, they would freeze pay rises for men until the organic (inflationary) pay rise for women comes to same level.
Of course, they will package it differently. Just as they do every year using a different word from their jargon.
When shall we learn that all these ‘initiatives’ are manipulated?
Sorry but cynicism is all that I have been left with after wasting years of dedication to a company which only sees my employee id number.

I think it’s important to note that alongside the corporate compensation action that must be taken, there needs to be a cultural and behavioral shift outside of organizations in order to right this wrong. Last year a friend moved out of the publishing industry to a more lucrative industry and I was crestfallen to hear she took the first salary offer made-in keeping with a larger trend: I’m not trying to let our industry, or any industry for that matter, off the hook, but something tells me that if every company evened the pay scales tomorrow, they’d be uneven again in 6 months or less. Even Marc Benioff notes this needs to be a continuous process: Are female and minority college grads being coached to negotiate salary and pay raises? Mentors (even managers!) and industry organizations should also take an active role in coaching female employees on knowing their value and advocating for themselves when it comes to pay. Changing compensation policy and monitoring it is a step in the right direction, but the cultural shift will take some time longer.

Great point Anne-Marie and perhaps one that our industry organizations could help address.

I’m posting this comment on behalf of someone who has asked to remain anonymous. It raises two important points.

“This is a great piece. Reading it, I’ve been reflecting on two things I’ve experienced and observed in previous jobs in scholarly publishing.

The first is how it makes you feel when you find you are underpaid compared with others doing the same job. You can tell yourself that you’re doing a good job – and colleagues or more senior people might say the same. However, if you know you are being paid less than a colleague in a comparable position without an obvious reason such as length of service or different responsibilities then it’s very hard not to take this as a message that you are worth less than that other person. I wonder how many good people leave companies – or stay with them but don’t achieve their potential – because they have believed they are not valued and not good at their jobs. And this can reinforce the negative messages about their worth that many people who are discriminated against also get from society.

The second observation is about HR processes and rigid pay structures and how they can perpetuate pay gaps. If you start at a company on a lower salary than other new starters in similar positions this gap can follow you throughout your time in that company. I’ve been in this situation and missed out on a recommended promotion (to a job that I was already doing in all but job title and pay) because of an HR process that said staff needed to reach a certain point on their current pay scale before they could be considered for a jump up to the next level. I was told this rule was to ensure all staff were treated fairly, but the effect – on pay and also on career progression – was the opposite if historical underpayment was not considered. If publishers want to tackle pay inequality they need to look through staff members’ whole pay and employment histories and see if HR processes provide adequate protection against discrepancies or whether they actually perpetuate inequalities.”

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