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September 8, 2021

Increasing Representation of Women as Editors in Medical Journals

Author Affiliations
  • 1Maine Medical Center Research Institute, MaineHealth, Scarborough
  • 2Department of Medicine, The University of Texas, Austin
  • 3Department of Population Health, The University of Texas, Austin
  • 4Associate Editor, JAMA Network Open
  • 5Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 6Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 7Marcus Institute for Aging Research, Hebrew SeniorLife, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2123364. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.23364

In this issue of JAMA Network Open, Pinho-Gomes and colleagues1 demonstrate yet another profound gender disparity in academic medicine. They found that women continue to be underrepresented as editors in chief of top medical journals and that there has been little progress over the past 10 years, with female representation only increasing from 16% to 22% in the last decade. For some journals in which women are well represented in the specialty (such as anesthesiology, allergy, and psychiatry),2,3 there were no women editors in chief at all. Women were even underrepresented as editors in chief in journals focused on women’s health.

There are many factors associated with this underrepresentation. The authors note that women are less likely to accept invitations to serve as editors. As 3 female journal editors who were fortunate to be asked and said yes to being editors, we believe it is important to look further upstream by increasing the number of women who are offered these roles or, if there is a formal application process, by encouraging women to apply. Editorial boards and professional societies can promote gender equity by establishing standards for inclusivity in the search for editors in chief and editors alike because editorial experience is a prerequisite for the top leadership roles. In light of known gender differences in domestic and institutional responsibilities, women faculty may need additional supports and incentives to take on these roles. For example, if editorial roles receive adequate weight in the promotion process, this would encourage more women to say yes to these opportunities.4 Women should also be given protected time to take on these roles.

Increasing representation of women in editorial roles may benefit academic medicine across many dimensions. Women have well-recognized strengths in collaboration and communication, essential qualities for success in academic publishing.5 Diversifying editors and editorial leaders may also advance science by contributing to better problem solving and greater innovation.6 And failure to include women in these top positions has real consequences, as demonstrated by the recent retraction of the Nature Communications article “The Association Between Early Career Informal Mentorship in Academic Collaborations and Junior Author Performance.”7 The authors were widely criticized for interpreting their data to mean that female mentorship was detrimental to junior authors and were forced to retract the manuscript after a scathing independent review. Having more women editors would probably have increased the likelihood that this problematic interpretation would have been caught earlier and the retraction avoided.

Increasing editorial gender equity may be especially important for improving representation in academic medicine. We know that women leaders promote diversity in the workplace overall,8 and female editors in chief may bring more women and other underrepresented groups on as editors, board members, and staff members. Female leaders are also more likely to promote the publication of diverse voices and pull from a more diverse pool for invited editorials.9-11

There have been an enormous number of manuscripts published in the last 5 years demonstrating the disparities women face in academia across all specialties and disciplines, from receiving grant awards, publishing papers, being asked to write editorials, and being cited12 to rising to leadership positions. As is well documented, the COVID-19 pandemic has set gender equity in academic and science back owing to the increased burden it has placed on women who disproportionately addressed the needs of their families, including elderly family members, children, and sick family members during stay-at-home orders. The work by Pinho-Gomes and colleagues is another contribution to this substantial body of evidence. We now need to focus on solutions and evaluate the impact of those efforts. We call on major journals and publishers to develop and evaluate efforts to increase the representation of women in editorial leadership positions.

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Article Information

Published: September 8, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.23364

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2021 Jacobs EA et al. JAMA Network Open.

Corresponding Author: Elizabeth A. Jacobs, MD, MAPP, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, MaineHealth, 81 Research Dr, Scarborough, ME 04074 (eajacobs1@mmc.org).

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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Keet  CA, Matsui  EC. A roadmap for addressing gender disparities in allergy/immunology publishing.  J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2019;7(7):2161-2162. doi:j.jaip.2019.05.014PubMed
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