Onset of pandemic may have amplified existing gender inequalities in academia, according to analysis of data on over 5 million authors
Amsterdam, October 27, 2021
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, a study of 2,329 academic journals has found that fewer manuscripts were submitted by women than by men, with this gender gap being especially prominent in the medical field and for women in earlier stages of their careers. The researchers responsible for the study included academics and industry professionals from the University of Milan, Italy, and Elsevier, a global leader in research publishing.
Flaminio Squazzoni, Professor of Sociology at the Department of Social and Political Sciences, University of Milan and colleagues, alongside Bahar Mehmani, Elsevier’s Reviewer Experience Lead present these findings in the open access journal PLOS ONE.
Prof. Squazzoni, who led the study, explained: “As a group of Italian academics living in Lombardy, Northern Italy, one of the hardest-hit regions by COVID-19, we felt the urgent pressures to respond to this global crisis, and designing a large-scale study on the effect of the pandemic on academics seemed one of the most valuable things we could do.”
Due to its wide-reaching effects on society, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted unusually high numbers of submissions of academic papers. Meanwhile, lockdown policies forced academics to handle new, or existing, familial responsibilities, potentially exacerbating known family-related challenges—particularly for women in academia.
Previous studies have examined this possibility, but the findings have been inconsistent.
Bahar Mehmani, Elsevier’s Reviewer Experience Lead, who coordinated the study, said: “We undertook this collaboration with the research community to create a strong evidence base for investigating critical issues such as how lockdown measures during the pandemic have globally impacted women academics across different disciplines. This is very much part of our wider commitment to driving an inclusive research ecosystem.”
To help clarify the impact of the pandemic on academic submissions, Prof. Squazzoni and colleagues applied statistical analyses to submission data from 2,329 journals published by Elsevier. They also examined data on academics who were invited to review submissions as part of the peer-review process.
In total, data on over 5 million authors working between February 2018 and May 2020 was collected and analyzed.