Women largely absent from Asian highly cited lists

Clarivate ranking ‘reflects systemic bias’ in institutions, says citation analyst

十二月 1, 2021
Asian female researcher
Source: iStock

A list of the world’s most highly cited researchers betrays “fundamental problems” at Asian institutions, where women are still heavily under-represented, scholars have said.

At a time when universities are promoting the achievements of their leading researchers – those responsible for authoring the top 1 per cent of publications as measured by citations – some academics noted a conspicuous silence on the near absence of women in this upper echelon.

For many scholars, citations are not just a marker of status among their colleagues but also the metric that determines whether their careers fly or fizzle, with universities often leaning heavily on citations in hiring and promotion decisions.

Clarivate, the publisher of an annual list of the most highly cited researchers, does not disaggregate data by gender, but Times Higher Education examined list of names put out by several top Asian universities, including the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Between them, these institutions boast 79 scholars on Clarivate’s highly cited researchers list. A mere six of the scholars are women.

Of HKU’s 31 faculty named in its press release, 30 are male, and the only female included is an honorary professor. At CUHK, eight out of 10 of its highly cited researchers are men. At NTU, men made up 35 of 38 people on the list.

While such a disparity was not unique to these universities or even the region, it was telling, said Beverley Yamamoto, a gender researcher and director of the human sciences undergraduate degree programme at Osaka University.

“It is not surprising to me that women working in Asia are largely absent as they have two sets of barriers: barriers as non-Western scholars – or non-Western located scholars – and women,” she said, explaining that researchers at Asian universities were disadvantaged by the fact that highly cited journals were “already very skewed towards English-speaking Western universities”.

But despite this apparent lack of women among the scholarly cream of the crop, the problem seemed to be going ignored, said Professor Yamamoto.

“In my experience, no one even notices that women are not in the leadership positions,” she said. “You have to make this clear, and when you do, you are seen as rather aggressive.”

An HKU faculty member who wished to remain anonymous expressed misgivings about their institution’s ability to level the playing field.

“Crucially, when your ‘best’ researchers are almost entirely Chinese and male, it doesn’t take you long to realise that there are fundamental problems with the way the institute is attracting talent and then nurturing [and] resourcing them,” they said.

A representative from Clarivate acknowledged that its list lays bare problems of gender representation in higher education.

“We do recognise that the list is very male-heavy – as it is purely quantitative and reflects the systemic bias which occurs in scholarly literature and the citation behaviour of the global science community,” said David Pendlebury, senior citation analyst at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate.

A CUHK spokesman said the institution was “committed to creating a women-friendly workplace” and that it was “pleased” to see that its proportion of female faculty – including among its senior ranks – has been “gradually increasing over the years”.

He said the university had recently “stepped up” its efforts for more equal representation, for instance through the creation of its diversity and inclusion steering committee, which includes a subcommittee devoted to supporting the professional development of its female faculty.

THE contacted NTU and HKU for comment.




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