Editor’s Note: This guest post, in honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, is by Bamini Jayabalasingham, PhD, Senior Product Manager, Analytical Services; Ylann Schemm, MA, Director, Elsevier Foundation and Co-chair, Gender Working Group; and Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski, PhD, Vice President, Research Intelligence, Global Strategic Networks and Co-chair, Gender Working Group — all work for Elsevier.

Women are gaining in terms of overall participation in research globally, even approaching parity in some areas of the world, and that is cause for celebration. But it’s not yet time to close the book on gender equity efforts – there is still a lot to be done, especially when it comes to addressing the gender gap in terms of inclusion with regard to research funding, patents and career longevity.

Those are a few of the takeaways of the new report by Elsevier, The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens. Building on the insights from our two previous reports on gender in research (you can read about the 2017 report Gender in the Global Research Landscape here), this new report is an examination of research participation, career progression, and perceptions across the globe.

The report is part of Elsevier’s commitment to inclusion and diversity and to advancing gender equity in research. Using an evidence-based approach that tapped into our robust data and analytics expertise, we developed this latest report to understand how gender impacts the researcher journey.

We collated and analyzed information about researchers across 15 countries and the EU28, in their roles as authors of academic publications, grant awardees, and patent applicants. This has given us insights into trends in gender-based representation and inclusion across research dimensions, which we outline here.

Human rights man gender equality scale comparison

We are moving toward gender parity in terms of participation

In general, the increase in women in research around the world appears to be closing the gender gap, and as a result, we are closer to gender parity now than we were a decade ago. In all countries and the EU28, the ratio of women to men was closer to parity in 2014-2018 compared to 1999-2003.

Looking closer, patterns emerge at a more granular level. Certain subject areas show differences in gender diversity and inclusion. The good news is that women are well represented in many subjects in life and health sciences. However, in the physical sciences, especially computer science, men are much more highly represented, and they also dominate as corresponding and last authors. Conversely, men are underrepresented in nursing and psychology.

While there were general global trends, with authorship moving toward gender parity, the ratios differed significantly at the national level. Argentina was closest to gender parity among authors – in 2014-2018, it was the only country to have more women than men authors. At the other end of the scale, Japan had the lowest ratio of women to men in all subjects, at under 20 women per 100 men in 2014-2018.

… but women still have a smaller research footprint

The overall representation of women as authors is just one part of the story – to understand inclusion as well as diversity, you need to look at women’s and men’s average output in terms of publications, awarded grants, and patents applications. When we did this, the story started to become clearer. Men have a larger research footprint overall – in addition to publishing more on average than women in almost every area, they are also awarded more grants and apply for more patents. It is clear that women are still not included in the process of conducting research to the same extent as men.

The gender gap in funding is unfortunately not exclusive to research – it is widely established that women win significantly fewer investment bids in business than men do (see here and here). Gender diversity in research funding should at least reflect gender diversity in the research field in general, but that does not appear to be the case. Our report shows that the proportion of women as grantees is similar to the proportion of women as corresponding and last authors on papers – that is, lower than overall authorship. Again, Japan had a notably low ratio of women to men in this area, at less than 20 women per 100 men. This speaks to the importance in monitoring not just who is authoring publications but of authorship position as an important metric.

Of particular concern was the gender gap in applied innovations – women are significantly underrepresented as inventors and patent applicants, and there has been little progress in either area in the last decade. The proportion of women inventors and assignees tends to hover at around 10% globally, and there is a very slight shift upwards in that proportion overall. Spain and Mexico show the biggest shift, with over 20 women inventors in 2014-2018 per 100 men in Spain. Among inventors, on average, men applied for more patents than women, and again, there is little change over time.

We also analyzed field-weighted citation impact (FWCI), a field-normalized impact metric, which shows whether a researcher’s citations are higher or lower than expected, based on the average in the subject area. We found that men have a higher FWCI, or citation impact, almost across the board, especially as first authors (except for Mexico, in this case, where women are cited more as first authors).

The gender ratio decreases over time

An important topic in discussions around gender diversity and inclusion is upward mobility, with men tending to progress further than women. Tracking how long women and men continue to author papers over time provides a window for understanding career progression. Although this was certainly the case in our research, the gender gap widens over time. The ratio of women to men as authors declines over time when we look at a group of authors who first started publishing in 2009. In fact, the percentage of women who continue to publish was lower than men in every country we looked at.

As well as looking at gender in the researcher journey across time, we also analyzed gender in the researcher journey through space. Our current and 2017 reports revealed that men are more mobile than women in research and in every country, men publish internationally, i.e., with collaborators in other countries, more than women do. In addition, these international publications tend to be more impactful, with a higher FWCI. These types of activity help researchers to grow their networks and reputations as experts, so gender disparity has a skewing influence on the entire research system.

What can be done?

These are just a few highlights, and there is a lot more to discover in the report itself (available to download here). Drilling down into the data reveals many trends, and there are certainly discussions to be had about the causes of gender disparity in different areas and, importantly, the solutions.

For the report, we also asked researchers about their perceptions about how gender influences academic careers – and for their thoughts on what interventions might work. 423 researchers responded to an online survey that asked questions about gender in research, and we also carried out more in-depth interviews with 25 researchers.

First, there seems to be a perception gap in the gender discussion. Overall, significantly more women found it extremely important to have gender diversity in the workplace, and significantly more women agreed and strongly agreed that, “In my organization, women have to perform better than men to be considered good at their job.”

However, there was also broad acknowledgment of a gender gap, with varying ideas about why this exists. Some responded that they believe that women have less ambition or skill, others that women have less opportunity due to gender bias. Of course, family commitment was also a key consideration: respondents noted that women are more likely to step away from their careers to raise a family, and 45% of women respondents reported that balancing their personal life with their career is one of the biggest barriers to their career progression.

So how can the situation be improved? Many studies have shown that increasing gender diversity and inclusion can improve productivity, problem solving and innovation, and considering the challenges we face in today’s world, these competencies are more vital than ever. The researchers we talked to had a range of ideas about interventions, from changing academic processes to avoid bias, to providing childcare and part-time work opportunities. What is evident is that institutional and organizational policies and interventions to support the advancement of gender diversity, inclusion, and equality must be accompanied by carefully considered communication plans that address a range of perspectives in order for those activities to meet their intended goals for change.

Working together to close the gender gap

This new report is part of Elsevier’s broader and sustained commitment to gender diversity, inclusion and equality in research, in support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 5, “to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” It builds on the foundational efforts of the Elsevier Foundation and our cross-business unit Gender Working Group, the latter examining key processes to provide targeted policies and interventions in support of, for example, editorial board and conference speaker diversity, addressing bias within the peer review process, and reporting on the sex and gender dimension of research, to ensure that we enable robust research in the most equitable and inclusive way (e.g., commitments by the Lancet Group and Cell Press). We will continue to extend and broaden our efforts, including those related to gender bias in machine learning and other AI technologies. Moreover, to collaborate and drive long-term measurable change, Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit has launched an independent, multidisciplinary Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) Advisory Board to work towards lasting solutions to unlock the full potential of research through greater diversity.

It is our hope that the report will help accelerate the advancement of gender equity in research by enabling data-informed decisions and evidence-based policies and interventions that really make a difference, thereby having a positive impact on individual researchers as well as on the impact of research overall.  We are calling on institutions, organizations and governments around the world to work together, look closely at these insights and decide what actions we can all take to improve gender diversity and inclusion in research.

Bamini Jayabalasingham

Senior Analytical Product Manager at Elsevier. Bamini develops analytical products using bibliometric data to support the strategic planning needs of clients in academia, government and corporate R&D.

Ylann Schemm

Ylann Schemm is a corporate responsibility professional specialized in building strategic, mutually beneficial nonprofit and UN partnerships. As the Elsevier Foundation’s Director, Ylann Schemm drives technology-enabled partnerships to advance diversity in science, build research capacity and support global health around the world

Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski

Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski, PhD, is the Vice President, Research Intelligence on the Global Strategic Networks team at Elsevier, where her responsibilities center on how insights from data, metrics, and analytics guide strategic planning for research, funding and policy organizations, as well as how open science is advancing to strengthen the research enterprise.


2 Thoughts on "Guest Post — Report: Gender Diversity in Research is Improving, But We Still Have Work To Do"

I’d like to commend the authors and TSK for this post. I’d also like to thank Susan Spilka for the great work she’s doing to facilitate inclusivity for women in publishing as a co-founder of Workplace Equity Project (WE). She inspired me to think more about diversity issues with her presentation at the ISMTE annual meeting a few years ago, and more importantly, to question why they still exist in our specialty of plastic surgery. Though progress is never as fast as we’d like it to be, it’s the base hits that win ball games and I hope articles such as this bring these issues to light more broadly and encourage more questions, research, and eventual change.

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