Rheum journals need more women to swing the agenda

3 minute read

Research may be skewed by the lack of women on editorial boards of rheumatological journals.

Women dominate rheumatology patient numbers but there’s not enough of them making decisions on what gets published in rheumatology journals, according to recent research. 

The study, published in the Lancet Rheumatology this month, showed that only one in five rheumatology journals had gender balance in their editorial boards.  

Researchers examined 34 rheumatology journals from around the globe and determined gender proportions for both board membership and the more senior editor-in-chief roles. Around 30% of board members were female, with representation dropping to 15% for the prestigious editor-in-chief roles.  

The study also noted that gender representation varied depending on role and whether the board member was in academic publishing or in rheumatology research. Around one in ten editor-in-chief roles held by research rheumatologists was a woman, whereas there was an equal gender split for editor-in-chief roles held by people who were academic publishers.  

More balance was found in the less senior board member roles with women representing about one quarter of board members who were academic researchers. 

The study authors said gender imbalance could have a knock-on effect of limiting research relevant to female physiology.   

Journals with diverse editorial boards publish more diverse research articles. According to the authors, board gender equity helps advance the careers of female academics through increased publication of their work.  

Beyond social justice, better representation may also lead to better rheumatological outcomes. The authors said that female researchers tend to focus more on sex and gender variables. Hence, if the careers of women researchers are advanced by more frequent publication more research might be undertaken on female physiology. This could ultimately better address the needs of the majority of rheumatology patients who are women, the study authors said. 

Professor Rebecca Grainger is an academic rheumatologist at the University of Otago and a consultant rheumatologist in Hutt Valley, New Zealand. She said the amount of gender equity stated in the study was low but more than she expected.  

“Women are slowly getting a seat at the table, but the dinner party is much more interesting when we’re half of the party,” she said. 

A balanced editorial board can also help share the load across a very busy specialisation, Professor Grainger said.  

“It’s not about wanting to take jobs away from current incumbents. We are all busy and we’ve all got a lot on. If we share the jobs around across the whole workforce it will actually help everyone to have more balance – time to spend with families or pursue hobbies.” 

Professor Grainger highlighted the need for diversity beyond gender including geographic representation, ethnicity and bringing in more early career rheumatologists. 

“There are other people also asking for a seat at the table and more ways we can think about how to bring diversity to the work we do. Ultimately it will better represent our community,” she said. 

Gender balance in academic journal boards could be a way to address research shortcomings where most health and physiology research is conducted in males. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has published suggestions on how to diversify editorial boards

Lancet Rheumatol 2022, 4 August 

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