How the Work of Women Academics Disappears

Two New Publications Highlight How Bias Erases the Work of Women Academics

Evidence has long pointed towards the presence of a gender bias in academic publishing. Before their work even gets to the point of publication, women are more likely receive advice against publishing in top journals. Their work on scientific teams is much more likely to go uncredited compared with their male colleagues. Other research shows that even when women do publish their findings, their academic contributions receive fewer citations. Two new reports—one a peer-reviewed research study and the other an editorial from a high-profile journal—highlight the ongoing challenges that female faculty members face in seeing their work acknowledged, published, and cited.

Bias in Psychology: The Case of Gender-Specific Amnesia

Who are the key experts in your field? A recent study published in American Psychologist asked psychology faculty from leading institutions in the U.S. to answer that question. Across more than 500 responses, the authors found that male faculty were significantly less likely to name female faculty as experts. In fact, male participants’ responses included only 27% women, whereas women named other women as their field’s top experts almost 50% of the time. They found a similar trend when they asked faculty to name “rising stars” in their field, or early career scholars making a significant impact through their research. In a third and final part of their study, the authors presented participants with a list of names of the top experts in their field (half of them real, the other half fake), and they then asked participants to identify the experts. In this task, male participants recognized the female experts’ names more frequently than those of the men, highlighting that participants are aware of women’s contributions to field—they just can’t seem to remember their names! “Despite the differences in recall observed in our data, there was not such gap in name recognition, suggesting that the gap is one of accessibility—who comes to mind” (Yan et al., 2024). This basic lack of name recall has significant implications. The article’s authors argue that this lack of recall could partially explain the gender disparity around scholarly citations. They also argue that this finding highlights that academics still have work to do to address the implicit biases that create disparities in the recognition and citation of scholarly work.

A Leading Journal Shares Insights on its own Publication Shortcomings

This past week, Nature published its first report as part of its ongoing efforts to increase equity in publication. The journal began asking authors to self-report their gender over the past year when they submitted their work for consideration. In preliminary analyses of the data, Nature found that only about 17% of corresponding authors self-identified as women—a much smaller proportion than the approximately 31.7% of women researchers globally. Additionally, submissions by women had a slightly lower acceptance rate when compared with submissions by men (8% versus 9%). Digging into the publication process, the report found that gender did not significantly predict whether a paper was sent out for review. However, only 46% of papers with women as the corresponding author were accepted for publication, compared to 55% of paper with men corresponding authors. The report acknowledges that additional data (and deeper digging into the current dataset) is needed, but the findings paint a clear enough picture that the journal has identified several steps to attempt to address the disparity, including additional efforts to solicit submissions from a more diverse pool of authors, continuing to build out the diversity of the reviewers in their pool, and continued transparency around publication and peer review data.

While these publications represent just two aspects of the vast research and publication experience present across diverse fields in higher education and academia, they underscore that inequities exist at multiple points in the publication process. These reports focused specifically on gender (and gender in a limited, binary way), it is important to recognize that similar and even compounding biases may be experienced by individuals with differing and intersectional identities, essentially disappearing innovative and important work from scholarly conversations.

Author Information: This blog post was written by Meara Faw. Meara is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Provost Leadership Fellow.