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Where are female academic journal board members?

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GA72 - UN Global Compact Leaders Summit, United Nations, New York, NY, USA, September 21, 2017 | © Courtesy of Ryan Brown/UN Women/Flickr.

In the process of launching a new journal in social sciences at De Gruyter, an interesting and disconcerting statistic came to light.

A Blog Article by Beata Socha.


As part of assembling an editorial board for the journal, an equal number of invitations was sent to male and female academics in its field. However, nearly all the scholars who accepted the invitations turned out to be men. To give exact numbers: over 15% of men who received invitations accepted them, whereas only 1% of women did.

The trend seems to be universal: when we look at editorial board members across all disciplines, from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to humanities, men account for their vast majority. It’s not that women ignore invitations, as exactly the same number of replies came from both sexes, all of them very cordial. However, the vast majority of female academics stated that they were too busy to take up additional responsibility.

There’s no doubt that top academics have plenty of duties on their plates, such as supervising PhD candidates, teaching, carrying out research, procuring grants. For some reason, however, men tend to be more open to taking on additional functions. When push comes to shove, they may later simply say that they’re too busy and cannot do the job. Perhaps the reason women are reluctant to take on more is because they don’t want to be forced to shirk the responsibilities they’ve already agreed on. Or they are possibly more overworked because they delegate less. Maybe they simply care less about the additional titles and self-promotion. Or perhaps they are just more cautious. The only woman who has accepted the invitation to the said journal stated that initially she was undecided, but then she saw the name of one of her close friends on the board, which has convinced her to join it.

At a conference organized by Success Written in Lipstick Foundation in November 2017, a female business executive, Kamila Kaliszyk directing Mastercard operations in Poland, said that, “When men hear there is an opening for a more senior position, they jump on the opportunity: ‘Sure, I’m in.’ Meanwhile, a woman stops to think: ‘Am I good enough? Do I have the proper qualifications and experience?’” It seems that academia is not that much different from business in that respect.

That leaves publishers with a bit of a conundrum as to whether parity, e.g., as far as the issue of editorial board composition is concerned, should be maintained at all cost. If women are to be more represented at advisory or editorial boards, they will have to be investing significantly more work into their journal engagements, given the low response rates among female scholars.

Yet the alternative – of having nearly exclusively male editorial boards – seems to be hardly acceptable. In Norway, all publicly listed companies ought to have at least 40% of women on their boards of directors. If they fail to meet this requirement, these corporations risk being delisted.

This quota policy seems to be enjoying remarkable success, as currently 42% of all boards of directors’ members in Norway are female.

Despite mixed market reactions to this mandated change, prior studies have found no significant link between the gender composition of corporate boards and firm performance, such as in Denmark.

Why is the world of academia so reluctant to follow suit?

Written by Beata Socha.

Edited by Pablo Markin.


Featured Image Credits: GA72 – UN Global Compact Leaders Summit, United Nations, New York, NY, USA, September 21, 2017 | © Courtesy of Ryan Brown/UN Women/Flickr.

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