Gender in Academic Publishing

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Editor’s Note: The footnotes to this article have been omitted. The full version can be found here. The authors would like to emphasize that this Editorial relies heavily on research, ideas, and arguments made by other scholars and readers are encouraged to read the full text.

Some of the COVID-19 lockdown-catalysed new academic practices are worth preserving in days of increased physical freedom: we have learnt that conferences can include people with access to an internet connection from all over the world, without being heavy on the climate; materials that were made open access to help students who had suddenly been banned from their libraries have also become available to millions who previously had never had access to those libraries; and, on a lighter note, it is easier to call upon one’s students by name when they participate on an online platform.

However, the lockdown has also had its costs on scholarly work and these costs have not been evenly distributed. While more time is necessary to assess the impact of the lockdown on academic work, indicative may be the different messages contained in emails received during the early weeks. Some read along the lines of ‘Now we all have a bit more time on our hands, why don’t we start … [followed by a creative initiative]’. Others were automatic replies conveying, roughly, the following:

‘Please note that not only the university building has closed, so has the nursery/school/home-care service; I am currently providing full-time schooling/full-board services/care to my XXX and will have time for examining, online lecture-course planning, financial-crisis committee meetings, and your email (as well as phone calls with loved ones who have suddenly been bubbled off, laundry, cleaning and home-schooling preps) only between 8.00 pm and 6.00 am, assuming it is then quiet at the front, my laptop has survived home schooling and I have not yet fallen asleep over my papers.’

Absent in this list of activities was research: whilst it may be possible to finalize a bibliography or a few footnotes in between all those other tasks, reading, writing and development of ideas often require more concentration.

These different messages and underlying experiences do not, fortunately, neatly correspond with gender. Some women have been part of the more-creative-than-ever league, whilst some men have also seen their working day shrink due to caring responsibilities. Moreover, across the genders, people have experienced the lockdown differently: for some, lockdown brought a scholarship-conducive peace and routine (‘it felt like a sabbatical’); others felt their minds wander off to the problems of this world, away from their own scholarly projects. And yet, if early studies in other disciplines are also indicative of what might be the case in our field of international law, possibly with some delays (see for instance here and here), we must be concerned that the lockdown will translate into an increased disparity between men and women in the number of submissions to EJIL. We will monitor this.

But before we turn to the impact of COVID-19, let us remind ourselves of the structural issues concerning gender and academic publication. We are delighted that Gráinne de Búrca, Michaela Hailbronner and Marcela Prieto Rudolphy have given us permission to republish in EJIL their important editorial on this topic, first published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law (I•CON). At the end of their editorial we provide comparable EJIL statistics in a postscript. Rest assured that when it comes to commitment and action points, where the authors refer to I•CON, you may read EJIL too.


In this Editorial we raise a question which has been asked by many others before in different contexts: Where are the women in academia, and how do those who are there fare?

In asking these questions, and not others, we are very much aware that there is also a great deal to be said about diversity and equity in academia along many other dimensions, including ethnic origin, LGBTQ+ status, disability, social class, and more. With some regret, but also aware of our limitations, on this occasion we address only the issue of women.

Women, as we know, routinely experience violence, discrimination and hostility, which manifest in many ways, structural as well as individual; from the extreme cases of domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment to the subtler but no less pervasive forms of day-to-day discrimination and belittlement. Academia, although relatively privileged in comparison to other social spheres, is not as different as might be expected in this regard compared to other walks of life. Women within faculties, graduate departments and colleges face sexual harassment, abuse, and even rape as well as less visible but pervasive forms of gender discrimination, bias and misogyny.

Women are significantly underrepresented in academic positions, and very starkly so at the higher levels of the academic ladder, despite the equal numbers of men and women as high-performing students and at the doctoral level. On top of this, there are many other ways in which the ‘gender gap’ manifests itself. These range from implicit bias in hiring and promotion to the gender pay gap to gendered expectations and judgments in mentorship and teaching evaluations to the fact that women bear a disproportionate burden of the administrative work within universities, as well as of the domestic work at home. As a result, there remain very significant differences in the general experience of men and women working within academia. These differences grow even more stark for women of colour and trans-women.

The numbers are depressing. According to a recent study in the United States over a 20-year period (1993–2013), although the number of women appointed grew at double the rate for men, there are still roughly two tenured men for every tenured woman, and the more prestigious the institution, the higher the ratio. In elite US law schools, the average percentage of tenured women is 28 per cent. This is despite the fact that in many countries of the Global North women comprise more than half of the undergraduate student body and nearly half of those with doctoral degrees. The proportion of black women among the tenured full-time faculty in the USA actually declined from 6.3 per cent to 5.8 per cent between 1993 and 2013. While one or two jurisdictions may stand out as exceptions, and it has been suggested in particular that the UK has in recent years been improving, the USA is far from an outlier with regard to the dismal numbers. In Germany, for example, women make up only 15.88 per cent of tenured faculty. In South Africa, 27.5 per cent of professors at universities in 2018 were female.

Studies suggest that a significant proportion of women experience some form of sexual harassment within academic settings. In some disciplines, mothers with young children have been found to be between 33 and 35 per cent less likely to get tenure-track jobs than fathers of young children or childless single women. Children, on the other hand, appear to have little effect on the academic careers of men. This partly reflects the fact that women continue to shoulder the primary burden of childcare, even in countries with relatively generous provisions for paid parental leave, such as Germany. Further, many female academics with childcare responsibilities are much less available to travel to conferences or to participate in other networking opportunities which are important to help advance academic careers.

The numbers outlined above are striking particularly since they occur in relatively privileged circles – academia – within allegedly post-patriarchal settings and in many societies that are explicitly committed to gender equality, such as the United States, Australia, and Europe. Indeed, they suggest, as Kate Manne has put it, that ‘even the most equal women’ are unequal. And the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this editorial begins to emerge. We do in fact know where a great many of the women in academia are: they are relatively marginalized, overburdened with service, overburdened at home, underpaid, undercited, and in junior or adjunct positions.

Given the degree of difficulty entailed in moving up the academic ladder, we might think it unsurprising that many women seem to end up opting for a better work-life balance, devoting more time to their family lives and eschewing the choices and routes that would make more likely their promotion to senior posts and to leadership positions. And while there is nothing to suggest that such choices may not be intrinsically worthy and the genuinely preferred option of some women, the question as to what balance they would have struck had they lived in a world of genuinely equal opportunities remains only a counterfactual. Prima facie, there is no good reason to think that women would not enjoy the status, power, recognition, and sense of professional fulfilment that comes with occupying positions of prestige in academia just as much as men do. In any event, the issue does certainly raise the question of whether in a more gender-egalitarian world, including at home and in the workplace, the preferred option of both men and women might not be a more balanced life for everyone, if it did not have to come at the expense of occupying second-class status in professional life.

Unsurprisingly, an area of concern to us in recent years at I•CON has been the number and proportion of female authors making submissions to the journal. Not only is the percentage of the overall number of papers submitted to the journal by female authors each year significantly lower than the percentage of submissions by male authors, but the percentage of submissions by women has been declining each year over the past three years. Thirty-four per cent of submissions in 2016 were from female authors, but this percentage declined in 2017 to 32 per cent and in 2018 it dropped to 30 per cent. And while the journal’s rate of acceptance of articles submitted by women during those years turns out to have been higher than the rate of acceptance of articles submitted by men, the end result is that just over one-third of the articles appearing in I•CON from 2016 to 2018 were authored by women.

To us, as members of the I•CON editorial team, this fact was both puzzling and troubling. Given that law school admission numbers in recent years across the United States, Europe, and elsewhere tend to be gender balanced or composed of a higher percentage of women than men, and that in Europe the percentages of male and female doctoral students in law are also relatively evenly balanced, how is it that the percentage of women submitting their work for publication to a journal such as I•CON falls significantly below these levels? The percentages of women entering higher education across many parts of the world in fact are quite impressive. And we know that even though women are poorly represented at the higher career levels within academia, they are quite well represented at the lower levels. Given the preponderance of female law students, the abundance of female doctoral students, and the number of women occupying positions at the lower levels of the academic hierarchy in many countries, why are there not more submissions from female academics to the journal?

Indeed, it seems that the unduly low presence of women in academic publishing is not limited to the relatively low number of submissions to I•CON . Much has also been written about the gendered dimensions of academic publishing in general, particularly but not only in the field of science. There are distinctly gendered patterns of citation, with men citing themselves and the work of other men significantly more than the work of female scholars.

We have pondered our responsibility as journal editors in the face of this persistent and apparently ubiquitous gender bias in academia, which seems to be both reflected in and exacerbated in ways in the context of academic publishing. The question is whether it is possible for us to address some aspects of this bias and in particular the way it manifests itself through the policies and practices of the journal? We take care to invite equal numbers of female and male scholars for the articles we commission, and our peer review process is double-blind. In the book review section, we pay attention to the gender of reviewers and to the gender of authors whose books are reviewed. Yet we do not always succeed in ensuring a greater degree of gender equity. In particular, we cannot easily affect the number of submissions to the journal.

Our experiences at I•CON are mirrored by statistics on the gender publication gap in a range of academic fields. Men often publish more than women according to several studies, and at least in some fields they seem to publish in different venues. A recent study examining the publications of psychology professors in Germany suggests that women publish less work in academic journals but publish an equal number of book chapters. We wonder if this is true in law as well, and suspect it may be. A US study conducted ten years ago about female authorship in top law reviews suggests that only 20 per cent of articles were authored exclusively by women. Whether women are not submitting in numbers to the top law journals because they do not believe their work is likely to be accepted or for some other reason, or whether they are submitting and being rejected is not clear. Greater transparency and greater availability of gender-segregated data on publishing in journals would be an important step toward understanding what is going on, in order to help begin to address the gender gap. But if we are right about the fact that many women publish more in edited books than in journals, this is likely to be a problem in itself. One of our editors-in-chief, Joseph Weiler, has rightly cautioned young scholars in a previous editorial against falling into the edited-volume trap, counselling them instead to take the time to work on big ideas rather than churning out hastily written chapters. Not all book chapters of course are hastily written, and some if not many may be of high quality. Good edited collections can also represent the kind of collaborative thematic work which some women may choose as a vehicle for developing a collective project. Nevertheless, book chapters are generally less widely read, they are often not readily available electronically in the way that most journal articles are today and hence are less accessible to readers, and count for less in decisions about academic hiring and promotion.

Add to this that young scholars with childcare responsibility – and therefore particularly young female scholars – have a problem of space and time. Working on the big ideas requires hours and ideally days for uninterrupted reading, thinking, and writing. That time is hard to get for all young academics faced with the pressure to prepare and teach new classes, apply for funding, organize conferences, network (and thus participate at least in some edited volumes), and publish (the more the better). But for young scholars with highly uneven childcare responsibilities as well as excessive domestic and administrative burdens, it is nearly impossible to make room for this. In such situations, nothing is easier than to defer working on the big idea and turn instead to the next conference paper or edited chapter in order to have any publications at all to show alongside fulfilling their many other obligations.

And it does not end there. Once a text is written, it needs to be submitted. And when it is finally published, it is also often not enough to let it sit on the shelves and trust it will find readers. Publications need to be shared, promoted, and advertised. Yet, much in the same way as women’s percentage of submissions is lower than their presence in academia, in our experience this gap is also present in regard to marketing their work. Many men have no qualms in writing to ask us to have their forthcoming books reviewed in I•CON, to ask to be nominated for a prize or to engage in other kinds of self-advocacy. We find that women do so much less often. None of this is intended to suggest that all men are inclined to promote their own work or that no female scholars do so. Nevertheless, and without essentializing these differences, there is a distinctly gendered dimension in this regard. Many commentators have written about gender differences in relation to self-promotion in the workplace, but we feel that the point bears repeating in the context of an editorial inviting more women to submit their work for publication.

Should women then learn to shout louder? Again, studies show that it not that easy. Self-assertion does not translate automatically into success for women, in contrast to men, and women often seem not so much to lack confidence as to fear backlash should they behave in the ways that their male counterparts do. Finally, there is a deeper question to be addressed as to why women should adopt prevailing standards of behaviour and whether the academy should be a place where all of us are expected to constantly promote ourselves.

It is also the case that there can be negative consequences for women who point out the phenomena we are discussing here such as the gender gap, gender discrimination and inequity, sexism, and misogyny. Speaking out, whether by pointing to these instances or by proposing solutions, may have consequences that are the opposite of what is aimed for, and may well harm women’s academic careers. This ‘misogynistic backlash’ may take different forms, one of which has been the argument (made by some women as well as by men) that women in fact have plenty of opportunities, often precisely because they are women. ‘Any female’ writes Heather Mac Donald ‘even remotely in the public realm who is not deeply conscious that she has been the ‘beneficiary’ of the pressure to stock conference panels, media slots, and op-ed pages with females is fooling herself. Corporate boards and management seek women with hungry desperation.’ ‘There is not a science faculty or lab in the country’ she adds ‘that is not under relentless pressure from university administrators and the federal government to hire female professors and researchers, regardless of the lack of competitive candidates and the cost to meritocratic standards.’

Are we ‘fooling ourselves’ then? Are universities really ‘hungry’ for women? And are conference panels and universities being stocked by women – and indeed by fortunate and undeserving women, as seems to be the implicit suggestion. The statistics do not bear out such claims. In the first place, it should not be surprising that women are invited to conferences and to contribute to edited volumes, given that they constitute roughly 50 per cent of the academic population, at least at the more junior levels. Yet even so, there are still plenty of instances – and readers themselves will no doubt have many examples from their own experience – where there are no women or extremely few women present as speakers. In German legal conferences for example, it is not rare to find that women make up less than 20 per cent of the speakers, even in 2019. And the German experience is not an outlier: an array of sources suggest that women are under-represented in conferences generally, especially as keynote speakers or in more senior panels. And it turns out that on the rare occasion when – after decades if not centuries of all-male panels – there are some all-female panels, the backlash is swift.

More importantly, the statistics tell us that only very rarely do women get what matters most: the tenured job. Thus the specific targeting of women for conferences, committees, or edited volumes is really just the flipside of the fact that in the networks in which professors operate, and particularly at the more senior levels, women are so scarce that particular efforts are required to ensure some female representation. Finally, why should women have to contemplate whether they are being invited, as suggested by Mac Donald, just because they are women? How many men have ever asked themselves whether they owe their position or status or the invitation they have received to the fact that they are male? Let us remember that in the 1960s one of the brightest lawyers of her generation, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was rejected for various law firm and judicial clerkship positions in the USA purely because she was a woman. This means that at least until the 1960s in the west, and no doubt much later than that in many places, the elite employment market has been based on a system of quasi-absolute and entrenched affirmative action for men.

Yet a recurring problem today, as evidenced by Mac Donald’s comments, is that ongoing, important, and overdue efforts to increase the number of women in academia are likely to be perceived by some – perhaps even by many – as somewhat arbitrary, not based on merit. Such efforts may be perceived as undeserved, unjust: they are a ‘benefit,’ an advantage to women, maybe a gift for which women should be grateful. The suspicion is that perhaps women would not otherwise be here, speaking at the conference, writing the op-ed, getting hired, getting promoted. That even though they make up more than 50 per cent of law school classes and of doctoral or postdoctoral candidates, and occupy almost that percentage of junior academic positions, any invitation to include a woman on a panel or any promotion to a senior position, or invitation to give a lecture, must in reality be being made only because she is a woman.

It is dispiriting to identify and confront a serious problem and to realize at the same time the great difficulties entailed in trying to solve it. The majority of these difficulties will need to be addressed at the institutional and structural level of faculties, universities, and, ultimately, the state. But we are writing this editorial for a number of reasons, the first of which is to keep the issue alive and at the forefront of our own minds as well as those of our readers. Nothing we have written here is either novel or surprising, but injustices that are not spoken about clearly, loudly, and regularly can easily be overlooked or pushed aside. They can become normal and even entrenched, so much a matter of routine that all that remains is a sense of resignation, a frustrated shrug of the shoulders. To raise the issue is already to take a step, however small, toward addressing it. In this sense, the work of feminist scholars and activists who are too numerous to mention has been crucial in blazing a trail, framing and exposing injustice and bias, creating and heightening awareness, and keeping up the pressure for change.

The second reason we write about it is that there are things each of us can do, even if small, and opportunities that we have to act when we encounter the barriers confronting women in academia. We are calling on each of you as individuals, on all of us as collective actors, as academic colleagues and editors, to do everything within our power to address the various dimensions of the issues that are within reach, intractable and deep-rooted though they may seem to be. We call on women to submit their papers to I•CON. We invite them to inform us when they have published or edited new books that might be of interest to the I•CON readership so that they might be reviewed, and we invite men and women to write reviews of books by female colleagues and to cite them. We call on both women and men to ensure that women sit on panels at our annual conference and to consider mentoring and advising female colleagues, in particular junior colleagues. We call on all of our male readers to reject and to refuse to participate in ‘manels’ (panels which are composed only of male members), and on our female readers to question or challenge the composition of such panels when they see them.

In an attempt to make such efforts easier for all of us, I•CON-S is currently working to provide access to a database of all of its members, which should make it less difficult to find other researchers, including female colleagues and early career researchers, working in the same field. We aim in future years to work to provide childcare at the I•CON-S annual conference. Indeed, I•CON -S since its foundation has incorporated the principle of gender parity into its governance bodies and structures, and we call on other academic societies, organizations, and journals to do similarly. The Society has also tried to create pathways and opportunities to help advance gender equity within academia by organizing a women’s networking reception each year at its annual conference, although there has sometimes been resistance even to this small step.

We ask all of you to be committed and determined to look hard for female talent when you sit on hiring committees and to structure your academic workplaces, to the extent possible, to be family friendly and not to expose primary caregivers—who are mostly female—to difficult demands (e.g., late classes, meetings, colloquia, and those on weekends). Finally, we call on all readers to help in whatever ways you can to advance gender equity within academia, and to let us know of any other proposals or new ways of addressing the problem. I•CON is here, ready to listen to your suggestions and committed to furthering change!

Postscript: EJIL Statistics


Note: In most years the percentage of female accepted articles differs from the percentage of female published articles. This is because there is a time lag between acceptance and publication. Published articles usually reflect manuscripts accepted during the previous year. 

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Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott says

September 25, 2020

I'm happy more attention is being given to this issue. One thing that might be worth considering is the value of double-blind peer review. For example, what can, and does, it lead to when the identities of reviewers are kept anonymous? Readers might be interested in these articles: