Male-dominated editorial boards ‘hold back psychology’

Audit of top psychology and neuroscience titles highlights relative lack of female editors and US dominance that may be harming science, say authors

二月 24, 2022
Source: Getty

Male-dominated editorial boards are still the norm at most top psychology journals despite women representing the majority of academics within the discipline, a study has found.

Of the 50 most-cited journals in psychology, three-quarters (76 per cent) had editorial boards where men outnumbered women – with the proportion of female editors dropping below 10 per cent at one publication, US and UK researchers found.

Overall, 40 per cent of editors were women in these journals, but this was still lower than the gender split within university psychology departments, the study says: the most recent US data show that 45 per cent of full professors, and 65 per cent of assistant professors, are women, while women outnumber men three to one at postgraduate level, says the Nature Neuroscience study.

Some editors-in-chief interviewed claimed that they had made significant efforts to correct this imbalance but had found it “challenging”. One said: “I frankly lost count of the number of invitations I extended to women that were declined because of time pressures on them.” The editor added: “Several women explicitly noted that taking on such a demanding role would not be appropriate given the number of obligations they have to family, students and collaborators. Only one man cited similar concerns.”

The study found an even greater skew towards male editors in top neuroscience journals, where just 30 per cent of editors are women. This was, however, more consistent with the split found on US campuses, where about a third of neuroscience professors and 45 per cent of assistant professors are female, the study says.

It also notes the disproportionate representation of US-based editors at top journals in both disciplines, with the country accounting for 61 per cent and 52 per cent of editors.

One of the study’s authors, Katerina Fotopoulou, professor in psychodynamic neuroscience at UCL, told Times Higher Education that the relative lack of gender and geographical diversity on boards might mean mean that some topics more likely to interest women – such as the study of female sex hormones and their relation to mental health disorders, or pregnancy-related depression – are under-represented in research.

“Women may also be more willing to study the neurobiology of emotions because they do not need to worry about betraying any social expectations of strict, non-emotional masculinity,” added Professor Fotopoulou.

Having such a strong US tradition within editorial boards also “risks stagnation” in science because researchers might end up “repeating the same mistakes, from the same limited perspective”, she said.

That lack of diversity might also make it harder for the public to trust some findings, added Professor Fotopoulou, if science is seen the preserve of a certain elite group. “Covid taught us a painful lesson about how vaccines produced by a traditionally ‘white’, ‘privileged’ academia, and related industries, may not be as trusted by certain marginalised, non-white communities as they are in parts of the population feeling socially closer to the producers and distributors of such knowledge,” she said.

Eleanor Palser, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco’s department of neurology, said it “matters immensely” if editorial boards are not diverse.

“Diversity of thought leads to novel insights across the board,” Dr Palser told THE. “A lack of diversity on editorial boards could be hindering scientific progress in general, not just on findings about women’s minds or brains.”

While the “US is home to many fantastic institutions and researchers”, said Dr Palser, “we likely would only get a sense of how much richer psychology and neuroscience would be if journals took action to geo-diversify their editorial boards. I hope these findings prompt at least a little change in that regard.”



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Reader's comments (2)

"Male-dominated editorial boards are still the norm at most top psychology journals despite women representing the majority of academics within the discipline" - isn't that what you'd call diversity according to the 'woke' vocabulary? Why is it OK for women to be at the executive levels of male dominated industries e.g. construction where 99% of the workforce is male?
It is sexist to argue that female editors will favour female authors and male editors will favour male authors. The premise for having more gender diverse editors is sexist in and of itself. The same goes for the argument for diversity in terms of geographical and nationality etc. The irony of it all...