Representation of women in high-impact journals

There has recently been a series of papers in various journals, looking at the proportion of high-impact papers with women as lead authors. This article is a good starting point to track the discussion, and it is apparent that generally women are less represented in high-impact journals than would be expected based on the proportion of women academics and recipients of high profile grants. Here’s an extract of the article:

“We began by looking at first authors (…). We expected over 40 percent to be women, similar to the percentage of women postdocs in neuroscience in the U.S. and Europe. Instead, fewer than 25 percent first authors in the journals Nature and Science were women. Our findings were similar for last authors (…). We expected the numbers to match large National Institutes of Health grants, (…) 30 percent are awarded to women – comparable to the proportion of women tenure-track faculty in neuroscience. The proportion of women last authors was half what we expected – just over 15 percent of last authors in Science and Nature were women.”

Potential reasons to explain include not only systemic bias in the publishing pipeline, but also a potential tendency for women to be more conservative when evaluating their chances of making it past the very high rejection rates of such journals. This last one has been raised in other contexts as well, but always sounds slightly circular to me. If women have less chance of making it into those journals due to implicit bias, then academically successful women quickly learn to avoid submiting to those journals to avoid delays in publishing their work.

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