In their previous post, Alex Holmes and Sally Hardy examined the results of research undertaken by the Regional Studies Association on the relationship between author gender and peer review outcomes in their flagship journal Regional Studies. Digging deeper into these findings, in this post, they assess the effect of gender on naming order in journals, peer reviewing and editorial processes.
Awareness of the potential for bias in peer review, and the academy more generally, is growing, as is the body of research in this area (eg. Gender bias in scholarly peer review 2017; Gender in the Global Research Landscape 2017; The Effect of Gender in the Publication Patterns in Mathematics 2016). As part of our ongoing commitment to encouraging diversity, the Regional Studies Association initiated this project to ascertain the current state of diversity within its journals, with the intention of identifying any areas where the RSA could improve its policies to promote balance and equality.
Our data was based on article submissions and peer review data from the journal Regional Studies, submitted through ScholarOne between 2011 and 2016. Articles were taken to be original research studies, not editorials and book reviews. We used Genderize.io to assign gender to 83% of authors and 81% of reviewers. For the purposes of this study, only binary gender was assigned, with individuals identified as either male or female; where gender could not be determined, it was not assigned, and the entry was removed from the dataset. Individuals with multiple entries were also removed.
Naming order and corresponding authors
Where papers had multiple authors, we examined the data for corresponding authors and author order. We found that corresponding authors on co-authored papers including both genders were slightly more likely to be male (54%) rather than female (46%), but this may not be indicative of the true numbers of male and female on co-authored papers as there are more males in the dataset. Of articles with both genders as authors, 37% of total female authors were at position 1 compared to 33% of total male authors. Male names were significantly more likely (25%) to be 3rd compared to female names (16%), which may suggest that they work in larger teams of 3 or more.
More work remains to be done on author-name protocols in the field of regional studies, but other fields have shifted towards different ways of ordering authors, such as by ordering names by date of birth with the youngest going first.
In our analysis of the reviewers of Regional Studies, we had anticipated there to be more male reviewers than females, in line with the gender percentages of our membership, which are 63% male to 37% female. There were indeed more male reviewers than female reviewers, in fact about three times as many males as females, 74% male to 26 % female. These proportions were very similar whether we examined reviewer instances by article, or the whole reviewer pool when deduplicated.
When looking at the numbers of unique articles that were reviewed, there was a slightly higher proportion of male reviewers reviewing more than one article. Out of the total number of male reviewers, 40% reviewed more than one article. Out of the total number of female reviewers, 34% of them reviewed more than one article. It remains unclear as to whether this is due to males being invited to review more, or whether they accept invitations more often.
In a recent study of the peer review process for the journal Functional Ecology, no evidence was found of either male or female editors and reviewers behaving differently towards papers authored by females compared to male authored papers. Regional Studies is a double-blind peer reviewed journal, and in testing our data for possible editorial bias, we proceeded to use a far from perfect proxy which sought to lift the veil on the results of editorial decision making. Seeking better understanding of how decisions are taken on article ordering within Regional Studies, we found that standard issues (rather than Special Issues) of the journal are usually organised by the Managing Editor on the basis of the article title and author surname. The title is usually the priority, in order to identify particularly interesting or topical papers and themes, and the decision maker will often be unaware of the gender of the author.
In terms of building download and citation counts in a calendar year, the most favourable place to have an article published is the first article in the first issue of each annual volume, as these have more time to accrue citations than newer articles. We examined the ordering of articles both in issues of the journal and across volumes of the journal. We found that the average position of female corresponding authored papers was 9.43 compared to males at 9.97.
(N.B. The table starts with item four because items before that form the front matter of the journal rather than research articles. Percentages have been rounded)
There were significant differences in numbers of papers analysed, so for example the largest percentage of female corresponding authors was found in 6th position. This means that out of all papers submitted by female corresponding authors, 17% were 6th place across all the issues, compared to only 6% of male submissions. It was noted, however that with the exceptions of item 6 and 7, which weighed towards more females, and items 10 and 13 which both weighed towards males (around 11% of all male submissions compared to 6% of all female submissions), the remaining order was very similarly split across genders. There is sometimes a degree of conscious bias in the ordering of the first couple of articles in an issue, because for example, these articles are published by virtue of the author having given a lecture for the journal or for the Regional Studies Association. This is one area, where as an Association, we have aimed to achieve gender parity, by selecting wherever possible gender balanced panels and speakers. It is therefore pleasing to see the result of this policy reflected in the similar gender ratios for these earlier articles.
Setting the agenda
Like other societies and academies, for example the British Sociological Association’s Gender Study Group and the Political Studies Association’s Equality and Diversity Strategy, the Regional Studies Association wishes to continue its research on issues of diversity and inclusivity in all aspects of its work. However, as our two posts on this subject have illustrated, we are hampered by the lack of full data. The Association is working to seek permissions to collect additional author data, which will improve the quality of our information on this subject and allow for more informed reasoning to explain these patterns and results. Presentations of the results to date at conferences have been well received, and attendees have indicated that they would be willing to spend an extra few minutes during the article submission process to provide us with the data to better answer the questions that have arisen from our original study. We hope that in time, the data that we collect can be used to develop further strategies to encourage and sustain an inclusive environment for all.
We would like to thank to the research team at our publishers, Taylor & Francis, and particularly Anna Gilbert, Ross Barker, Sarah Robbie, Jon Manley, Sarah Stacey and Ryan Carson, for undertaking the mammoth data extraction and preliminary analysis, as well as contributing into the ongoing interpretations. We also gratefully acknowledge the Regional Studies editorial teams and RSA Board members over the past six years who readily agreed to make this data available to us.
Image Credit: Adapted from Thomas Jenner via Wellcome Collection (licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license)
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About the authors
Alex Holmes is the Communications and Membership Manager at the Regional Studies Association. Prior to this she was a physics teacher for many years, working to engage more girls in STEM-related careers. Her PhD examined educational factors, including issues of gender, contributing to perceived declines in STEM graduates.
Sally Hardy is the Chief Executive of the Regional Studies Association. She has a longstanding interest in scholarly communications and in particular in how researchers write for and publish in journals. She has lectured globally on many related topics. Sally is leading the Association’s work on diversity and inclusivity and this piece of research forms a part of that activity.
I wonder if you have any data on invitations to review and acceptance, by gender. Are women invited to review at a greater rate than men, and what is the acceptance rate? As journals and submissions proliferate, finding reviewers is perhaps becoming more difficult.
I would also be interested in some analysis about the differences between males and females as reviewers. For instance, do they reject similar percentages of papers?
Thank you for your article.
I work at the Swedish Research Council. We analyze our panel meetings via gender observations, a qualitative method. We have found that the discussions and the assessments are not always gender neutral. Many of our findings have lead to changes in how the meetings are prepared and managed. Please read more in the reports. (The report from 2012/2013 appears as being written in Swedish but it is both Swedish and English.)