Publishers come together to take action on diversity in research publishing

Article by Amanda Doyle

A GROUP of 11 publishers, led by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), has made a commitment to take action to reduce bias across all stages of the publishing process. The commitment follows the publication of the RSC’s Framework for Action.

The RSC has released A Framework for Action in Scientific Publishing, which seeks to address bias in various stages of the publishing process and improve diversity and inclusion. The framework builds on a 2019 report looking at gender biases in chemical sciences publishing which analysed more than 700,000 papers and 141,000 citations to RSC journals between 2014 and 2018. It identified the subtle barriers that women face at each stage of the publication process. These include women being less likely to be corresponding author and their papers less likely to be cited.

The new framework includes all aspects of diversity, not just gender, and outlines a foundation that must be built to achieve lasting impact, along with opportunities for action.

Laying the foundation

The framework notes that it is important to define the problem, as different stakeholders will have different understandings of the issues relating to diversity and inclusion. A compelling case for change should be made while working with key stakeholders and senior leaders. It is also important to have clarity as to who is responsible and accountable for improving outcomes by defining the specific responsibilities of editors, publishing staff, and reviewers.

Performance then needs to be monitored and reported regularly, to initiate discussions on progress. Decisions should be made on what metrics should be used to define success.

Taking action

Numerous potential actions are outlined in the framework. For example, ensuring that the process for appointing new editorial staff is revised to take diversity and inclusion into account, such as in advertising roles and assessing candidates. Appointments should also be made from the widest possible talent pool. The inclusive behaviours and conduct that is expected from all stakeholders needs to be defined, and a process for addressing behaviour that doesn’t meet these standards should be established.

New reviewers should also be from the widest possible talent pool, and all those involved in the decision-making processes should be made aware of unconscious bias.

A statement of intent on reducing bias should be communicated to authors, reviewers, and editors. Potential process changes, such as team rather than individual reviewing, should be trialled while working with key stakeholders. Any successful trials should then be implemented, with results shared externally to encourage positive change.

A plan should be developed to communicate the publishing process to new authors, with emphasis on communicating this to under-represented groups. A plan also needs to be developed to monitor and report on the diversity of authors.

Publishers collaborating

The RSC shared the framework with other publishers, which has led to a total of 11 publishers of more than 4,400 journals jointly committing to reduce bias. The commitment has been signed by the American Chemical Society, BMJ, Cambridge University Press, the Company of Biologists, Emerald Publishing, Elsevier, Hindawi, IOP Publishing, Oxford University Press, and Royal Society Publishing. The signatories agreed to pool resources in four initial action areas to set a new standard. These are: understanding the research community by sharing anonymised diversity data; reflecting the diversity of the community to ensure appropriate representation of authors, reviewers, and editorial decision-makers; sharing resources, policies, and standards; and setting minimum standards.

Emma Wilson, Director of Publishing at the RSC, said: “Biases exist in research publishing, and acknowledging this is an important step for the research community at large. Working in silos and individually committing to scrutinise our processes will only get us so far – it is the agreement to collectively address these issues which we believe is key in levelling the playing field across research publishing.”

“We are agreeing to pool knowledge, data and resources to understand who is in our communities, and we are committing to ensure this diversity is reflected in those who make decisions during the publishing process. We are establishing a working group to help us establish minimum standards across the industry, and invite all publishers who have not yet joined us to get in touch so we can learn from each other and change publishing together.”

Eva Sorensen, Editor-in-Chief of IChemE journal Chemical Engineering Research and Design (ChERD), said: “The editorial team responsible for the IChemE journals have long been working to achieve a community that is bias-free, culturally diverse and inclusive. Consequently, this commitment from leading publishers is very timely and welcome. The coming together of publishers, including Elsevier and the RSC who we work with directly, to report on and share information can only serve to drive this cultural change and support the aims of the IChemE journals in this area."

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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