Academic and research appointments, as well as professional advancement within higher education institutions, often hinge on scholarly communication productivity and successful research assessment. Publication of academic journal articles or books and frequency of citation are the standard markers for evaluation in hiring, promotion, or tenure decisions. A high degree of productivity (“publish or perish”) also influences the ability to win research grants and other status and/or monetary awards.
And yet, access to publishing opportunities is more limited for those who are not already ensconced in academic power structures: “…[D]ata suggest that publication patterns largely reproduce significant power imbalances within the system of academic publishing.” (Wellman & Piper, 2017). In other words, those disparate publication patterns may signal more broad-reaching professional inequities: “Where authorship distribution is particularly uneven, it may reflect an underlying lack of equity in access to resources—that is, a small number of investigators control data and funding, to the exclusion of others” (Hart & Perlis, 2021).
Power structures and authorship
Given this environment, authors from historically marginalized communities, who often lack access to those power structures, can find themselves at a distinct disadvantage in acquiring the necessary publishing opportunities to support their professional advancement. And, as in the case of editorial boards and peer-reviewers, lack of equitable access to scholarly publishing opportunities among researchers has repercussions for membership within academic fields, often perpetuating established and well-connected networks and, thus, sidelining new voices and perspectives. These power imbalances and reliance on “biased decision-making processes” can be amplified during periods of cultural stress, such as a global pandemic, causing marginalized communities to lose ground disproportionately to other groups (Malisch et al., 2020).
Gender persistently surfaces as a site of inequity in authorship. Researchers point to data that suggest that men receive more credit than women for their publications (Langin, 2021) and are more often listed as first authors, even in a co-authoring situation with a woman. This inequity in credit sharing “may be a contributing factor to the continuing gender imbalances reported for academic positions, grant funding, and awards” (Broderick & Casadevall, 2019). Studies have found that “Only 18.1% of articles published in high-impact journals (Nature research journals) have women as senior authors (last authorship), and the higher the journal’s impact index is the smaller the number of women listed as the principal author (Bendels et al., 2018)….[H]owever, when articles are reviewed anonymously (double-blind review), the number of articles published with women listed as the first author increases (Budden et al., 2008), highlighting the impact of implicit bias in this process.” (Calaza et al., 2021) Additional research is necessary to determine the degree to which these gender inequities may be replicated or even amplified for non-binary authors.
Language and geographic location
Primary language and geographic location, too, seem to play important roles in determining opportunities and success within academic publishing. Studies show that reviewers respond more favorably to those abstracts written in “international academic English” than the same abstracts written by non-native English authors, regardless of the quality of the scientific research (Politzer-Ahles, Girolamo, & Ghali, 2020). Female, non-Western authors are at a particular disadvantage, as “gender and geographical affiliation are separate but compounding determinants of authors’ access to publishing, and publishing in high impact journals, with women authors from LMICs particularly underrepresented” (Merriman et al., 2021).
Incomplete demographic data
Though there is far less current data on the inequities that researchers from historically marginalized groups face in scholarly publishing, recent studies reveal that these authors often find that they are not properly credited or cited for their work, reporting “experiences of erasure, theft, academic invisibility and tokenism” that causes harm to their careers (Pritchard et al., 2021). They can also face institutional bias as they are more likely to choose “nontraditional” topics of study that may be perceived as “tangential, self-serving, and…not ‘pure’ science.” (Reid & Curry, 2019).As indicated above, most recent studies of author representation focus primarily on apparent disparities within available demographic data pertaining, typically, to gender, language, and geographic location. That said, the methods for obtaining this data are imperfect, often relying on artificial intelligence techniques that, for example, make gender assumptions based on names and photographs associated with an author. The challenges with collecting accurate and inclusive demographic data are increasingly acknowledged by publishers, who are now attempting to determine best practices for gathering data on race, ethnicity, language, disability, and gender within their publications (Else & Perkel, 2022).
What can I do?
Many publishers have statements and/or policies around equity, inclusion, and accessibility, but not all journals have implemented these goals at the level of author submission and review. Anyone, regardless of their role, can ask whether a journal has established policies for equity and inclusion. Even if a journal does not have such policies, such inquiries can be valuable in prompting action. Authors can advocate for themselves and for others as they engage with editors or publishers to publish their research.
Effect change as an author with the following suggested actions:
- Advocating for others
- Consider what unconscious (or implicit) bias is and the ways in which it might influence your choice of publishing venue, coauthors, and reading and citation practices.
- Consider collaborating and co-authoring with researchers and scholars outside of your immediate network; give credit broadly and inclusively to participants in and contributors to your research.
- Reference the work of underrepresented researchers and scholars in your field.
- See ‘Diversifying citations’ in The rise of citational justice: how scholars are making references fairer
- Cite Black Women movement
- When asked to recommend reviewers, include and select reviewers from underrepresented groups.
- Encourage underrepresented researchers and scholars to submit and publish their work, and support them through the process according to their preferences.
- Use inclusive, empowering, and respectful language when writing and speaking.
- Advocating for yourself
- Network with editors and editorial board members at conferences and meetings, and become familiar with the people and publications that are important in your field.
- Ask established colleagues in the field to refer or recommend you to a journal’s editor before or at formal submission.
- Proactively suggest reviewers who are likely to understand and judge your work fairly and without bias.
- Question inaccurate reviews and/or suggested edits; consider withdrawing your publication if your concerns are not being addressed.
- Write to editors and ask colleagues to write to editors on your behalf when you see that your published work is not being appropriately cited or is being plagiarized.
- Negotiate your author rights if you don’t feel comfortable with the contract you are being offered.
- Consider broadening the journals and publishers that you submit your work to (beyond those with which you are most familiar) to include those that demonstrate, through their editorial practices, values with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion that align with your own. Established and tenured faculty might find this approach more feasible, particularly in fields with predominantly single-author publications.
Page updated: May 12, 2023