Few Women on Latin American Journals’ Editorial Boards
Women are a minority on the editorial boards of Latin American and Caribbean scientific journals focused on surgery, anesthesiology, and obstetrics and gynecology. “Women held 17% of total editorial board positions in the areas mentioned,” wrote the authors of one of the first studies on the subject in Latin America, which recently was published by the World Journal of Surgery.
“We arrived at this number by looking at the scientific journals we analyzed,” researcher Letícia Nunes Campos, a graduate student affiliated with the Department of Medical Sciences of the University of Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil, explained to Medscape Medical News. Campos is coauthor of the study in conjunction with a team of women researchers affiliated with universities in Brazil, Argentina, the United States, Russia, and Canada.
The group analyzed 19 of 25 active journals selected through the Scimago Journal & Country Rank (SJR). SJR is a publicly available portal that includes the scientiﬁc indicators of journals and countries, which are developed based on information contained in the Scopus database. The group chose nine scientific journals focused on surgery, three on anesthesiology, and seven on obstetrics and gynecology, all edited in the following five Latin American countries: Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Cuba. A study of the publications’ websites yielded 1320 names of editorial board members.
These members were then classified as senior (editors in chief, specialized positions, honorary positions), academic (national editorial board positions, peer reviewers, external academic editorial board positions), and nonacademic role categories (nonacademic positions, administrative positions).
“Our study shows that women had more peer reviewer roles than editorial board positions, and there were no women in honorary roles in Latin America,” the authors wrote. This demonstrates the effects of the phenomenon known as the “leaky pipeline,” in which the proportion of women decreases substantially at each step up the academic ladder. “Consequently, these gaps affect the representation of women in editorial board positions, as well as their respective academic progress,” Campos and researchers Ayla Gerk Rangel, MD, Júlia Loyola Ferreira, MD, and Roseanne Ferreira, MD, told Medscape.
The percentage of women per board ranged from 0.0% to 57.1%, and there was a signiﬁcant difference between the journals for women’s representation on the editorial board (P = .007). Notably, only one journal board had more than 50% women — Revista Cubana de Obstetricia y Ginecologia, a Cuban obstetrics and gynecology journal. Regarding participation, women held fewer academic roles (14.3%, 155/1084) than senior (28.9%, 64/221, P < .001) and nonacademic roles (38.4%, 5/13, P = .042).
In the subgroup analysis of senior roles, the authors observed that specialized positions, including deputy editor and executive editor, included more women (31.5%, 60/190) than honorary roles (0%, 0/15, P = .018). No difference was observed comparing these roles to editors in chief (25%, 4/16).
In academic roles, the authors veriﬁed that more women had peer‑reviewer roles (31.3%, 26/83) than external academic editorial positions (10%, 25/251, P < .001) and national editorial board positions (13.8%, 104/750, P < .001). Similarly, women held more nonacademic positions (100%, 3/3), such as visual abstract creative director, than administrative ones (20%, 2/10, P = .035).
The study also found that surgical journals had a lower proportion of women (7.7%, 58/752) compared with anesthesia (25.5%, 52/204, P = .006) and obstetrics and gynecology (31.5%, 114/362, P < .001) journals. “We found a signiﬁcant association between the proportion of women on editorial boards and the number of women physicians adjusted for specialty and country (P < .001), suggesting that more equitable representation equals more advancements in women’s careers,” the researchers stated.
From a professional point of view, editorial board membership is a prestigious position in medicine that fosters career mobility. “In academic medicine, positions on editorial boards allow for opportunities that can help promote career advancement. Membership on editorial boards increases intellectual knowledge, improves networking capability, and serves as a benchmark for promotion and tenure committees. Moreover, the experience of participating on editorial boards can be added to CVs and considered when new job offers and promotions arise,” said Campos.
The authors concluded that the lack of diversity on editorial boards constitutes a major drawback not only to women’s career progression, but also to journals’ output. According to the study, integrating women into editorial boards can enhance journals’ performance, since work groups that are socially diverse develop higher‑quality research and innovations, receive more citations and funding, and have more efﬁcient organization. Hence, by not investing in women’s representation, journals not only exacerbate the unequal distribution of career resources but also diminish their scientiﬁc productivity, as a talented pool of women academics is dismissed.
“Another impact of gender inequality on editorial boards can be seen in the scientific production of these journals, since the boards determine what is published and by whom. For example, research led by women might be considered irrelevant since their peers are not adequately represented in the journal’s decision-making processes,” said the researchers.
The underrepresentation of women on editorial boards is also evident in other specialties and countries. “A study conducted in the United States, which assessed the 42 most important surgical scientific journals in the country, uncovered that just 14% of editorial board members were women. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, a study concluded that women’s representation on British journal boards in various surgical specialties is only 17.2%, and there were no women editors in chief,” said the researchers.
In nonsurgical specialties, the data are equally discrepant. In Latin America, for example, a study by Aquino-Canchari et al. assessed journals in other areas of medicine and determined that women hold only 12.9% of editorial board positions. “In general, these numbers show that even though more women are entering the workplace in the field of medicine, they face difficulties reaching positions of leadership and other professional opportunities, regardless of their specialty or geographic location,” said Campos and her colleagues.
When asked about possible strategies for increasing the participation of women on the editorial boards of Latin American journals, the researchers emphasized the five following measures:
Develop editorial policies focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion, setting short- and long‑term action points.
Make information public regarding the number of women on editorial boards and their respective positions, as well as criteria for recruitment and selection (remembering to remove identifying candidate information to mitigate bias during evaluations).
Create a committee focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion. In addition to promoting women’s participation in decision‑making processes, a committee can provide women with more educational and professional opportunities.
Promote training sessions on equity, diversity, and inclusion, as well as on implicit bias, to editorial board members. These actions have proven effective in helping individuals realize how their positions in society can be used to promote change.
Investing in networking events, mentoring programs, professional development and leadership opportunities, and promoting the professional growth of women who hold editorial board positions are examples of initiatives that attract and retain women leaders.
This article was translated from Medscape’s Portuguese edition.
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