Female representation in academic publishing examined

Though the proportion of women amongst leading authors and editors of original research has recently increased, all of the leading general medical journals can increase the representation of women, according to a research letter published in the February issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

The gender gap in academic medicine has serious implications for peer recognition of and academic accomplishment by women. Lead author Thomas Christoph Erren, MD, MPH, of the University of Cologne, Germany, and colleagues utilized data from January 2010 to December 2011 to identify the proportion of women who were authors of original research or editorials, reviewers, editors in chief, or editorial board members at six general medical journals.

The researchers found 1,999 original research articles, 1,867 editorials, 16,242 reviewers, seven editors in chief, and 145 editorial board members who met the study’s inclusion criteria.

The percentage of women who were first author of original research ranged from 23.7 percent to 46.7 percent. Female first authors of editorials ranged from 18 to 27.4 percent. Female reviewers ranged from 16.6 percent to 28.8 percent. Four of the editors in chief were women. Women on editorial boards ranged from 22.2 percent to 41.7 percent.

Compared to research conducted during 2004, the proportion of women’s presence in academic medicine is growing. However, “despite these increases, all of the leading general medical journals can further improve the representation of women in many capacities,” wrote Erren and colleagues.

In an associated editorial, entitled, “Shattering the Glass Ceiling,” author Marcia Angell, MD, of the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass., wrote: “Calls for journals to invite more women to write nonresearch articles are all to the good4 because they give women more visibility, but until women move up the academic ladder, they will still be underrepresented as authors of research articles. The problem is not so much at the journals as it is at the medical schools.”

Angell, the first woman to head a major medical journal, believes the reward system within medical schools must be altered in order to improve the climate for women in the academic medical realm.

“I do not advocate a lowered glass ceiling, but rather, placing the ceiling over a different edifice. Research productivity should no longer be considered the primary measure of academic success. If teaching and mentoring are rewarded commensurately with research, women will do very well. In fact, men might well have to work harder than they are now to catch up with women in these areas,” she wrote.