Transcript: Scholarly Publishing Looks To Close The Gender Gap

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Mind The Gap
A discussion on gender diversity in scholarly publishing

With Alice Meadows and Robert Harington

For podcast release Monday, August 3, 2015

KENNEALLY: In a 2013 series of articles, Nature documented the dismaying extent to which sexism still exists in science. In the United States and Europe, around half of those who gained doctoral degrees in science and engineering are female, but barely one-fifth of full professors are women. And when it examined over 5.4 million research papers, Nature found similarly disproportionate numbers of women authors.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for “Beyond the Book.”

According to data from the Society for Scholarly Publishing, 68% of that organization’s members are women. Yet of SSP’s organizational members, only one in four had female CEOs. Board leadership shows an even greater gap. That dismaying gender disparity and a passion for promoting gender diversity recently led Alice Meadows to organize an SSP conference session examining the limitations of current approaches to hiring and promoting senior managers.

Currently director of communications for ORCID and a well-regarded contributor to SSP’s Scholarly Kitchen blog, Alice joins me now from her home office near Boston. Alice Meadows, welcome to “Beyond the Book.”

MEADOWS: Thank you, Chris. It’s nice to be here.

KENNEALLY: We’re looking forward to talking with you about this very important topic. This is something that has concerned you for a number of years. A couple of years ago in the Scholarly Kitchen blog, you wrote about this. You pointed out that when you first began working in scholarly publishing back in the mid-’80s at Basil Blackwell in Oxford, there wasn’t a single woman on the senior management team there. Things have changed, there are many more women in leadership positions in scholarly publishing, and yet things are still predominantly male. So your point is we really do have a long way to go.

MEADOWS: Yes, I think that’s right. I think it’s probably fair to say that it’s a little disappointing how male-dominated our industry still is, considering how many women go into scholarly publishing. There’s a disproportionate number of women entering the profession, and a disproportionate number of men at the top. Which isn’t to say there aren’t many very able men at the top, but you would expect there to be more women at the top, given the number of women entering the profession.

KENNEALLY: Right. You wrote in 2013 that the entrants tend to be 60/40 women to men, and of course that proportion shifts over time as they rise or, for that matter, don’t rise. You cited Sheryl Sandberg and a comment from her book, Lean In, that the pipeline that supplies the educated workforce is chock full of women at the entry level, but by the time that same pipeline is filling leadership positions, it’s overwhelmingly stocked with men, and that comment really resonated with you. What do you think is going on here?

MEADOWS: It’s a good question. I think since I wrote the original post, I’ve done a lot more thinking about it. One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that unconscious bias is playing a huge role here, both from a women’s perspective, I’m sure a men’s perspective – we’re all guilty of unconscious bias. But I do increasingly think that that’s the root of a lot of our problems, because we all have a tendency to gravitate towards people like us – people who like the same things as us, have some of the same views. Not completely – we may people who challenge us as well.

But I think that as a woman, when you look to the levels above you, if you see people who are very unlike you, it’s hard to see that you have a role model or a mentor that you can easily follow. As a man looking down, if you see women who you feel less comfortable with or feel you have less in common with, it’s harder to want to recruit people. So I think unconscious bias is a huge factor in all of this.

KENNEALLY: Unconscious bias, because it’s unconscious, is something that really needs to be put in the front of people’s mind so that they do think about it, so that it is not unconscious any longer. You recently led a session at the SSP conference called Mind the Gap that was an attempt to look at these issues and examine what can be done to change things and also what kind of advice you might give to those entering the profession at a young age as they think about their own future. Tell us about that session and about a new blog post for The Scholarly Kitchen, where you’re looking at how you would advise your younger self.

MEADOWS: Yeah, thank you. The session itself was really a very fun and, I think, valuable session. It was the brainchild of Lauren Kane, who’s the COO at BioOne. In fact, she had read my original blog post, and we’d talked about it a couple of times, and she came up with this idea of proposing a session at SSP. We had a great panel. We had Sara McNamara, who’s just starting her career at Oxford University Press, having been in academia for a few years first. We had Angela Cochran, who’s the publications director at ASME and also the president of CSE, Ann Michael who, of course, is the president of SSP and the founder of her own organization, Delta Think. And then Mady Tissenbaum, who was just about to retire as publisher of JBJS, and so really had seen her – we had people at every stage of the career process.

The room was mostly women, possibly inevitably, although slightly disappointingly, and we had a very good discussion and really not enough time at all to do it justice. Unconscious bias is definitely one of the things that came up. You’re right that once you’re aware of it, it’s not longer unconscious and you can’t unknow what you know. Once you realize that you have these biases, it’s much easier to start to address them, at least, or at least you can’t pretend that you don’t have them. So I think identifying our biases and being willing to work on them and engage with people and address them is really important.

There’s a lot of other stuff. I think for many women, one of the challenges is finding our voice. For me, that didn’t happen until very late, really, in my career and my life. It was really only in my 40s, I think, that I started to both notice some of these issues and also have the confidence to speak up about them. One of the great things, from my point of view, is I know a number of much younger women, who are much earlier in their careers, and who are already looking up, looking around themselves, and are much more willing to challenge some of the bias and inequality that they see and to speak up and to get involved.

So I do feel hopeful that things will change, and I also feel that this conversation which started fairly slowly and in a fairly disparate way – you mentioned the Nature article about the challenges in academia. There’s similar conversations happening right across the whole scholarly community sector, not just in publishing, and even beyond that. I do feel as if it’s a topic whose time has come and that there is some real hope for things changing in the not too distant future.

KENNEALLY: So to the question, though, of what you would tell your younger self if you were going back in time or had found a fountain of youth and could start all over again, what would be the one thing you would differently? Is it that notion of challenging things, of, if you will, taking on the problem rather than trying to go around it?

MEADOWS: That’s a really difficult question to answer. We actually came up with 10 suggestions in total. I think probably the one that I found most useful myself, albeit later rather than sooner, is to say yes to things and to be open to opportunities. I think for me, personally, I was open to opportunities in terms of different career possibilities. I started my own business at a relatively young age, and that was a real leap in the dark. But I think that it’s taken me much longer to feel confident about saying yes to, for example, speaking opportunities or being on a program like this, which if you’d asked me 10 years ago, or maybe even five years ago, I would have probably said no and been absolutely terrified about.

So I think this idea that if other people have confidence that you can do something, then you should absolutely have confidence in yourself. So say yes to those opportunities, I think, is probably my single most important piece of advice.

KENNEALLY: We’re very glad that you said yes to our invitation to join us on “Beyond the Book.” One of those in the audience at the Mind the Gap session at the recent SSP conference was Robert Harington, associate executive director of publishing at the American Mathematical Society, founded in 1888 to further the interests of mathematical research and scholarship. AMS has its headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island, and Robert Harington joins us now. Robert, welcome to “Beyond the Book.”

HARINGTON: Thank you for having me.

KENNEALLY: You have also written about this issue as a follow-up to your own attendance of that session, Mind the Gap. You wrote about in a recent Scholarly Kitchen post. You wrote it from the perspective – this is how you describe yourself, as an Oxford-educated white male in a leadership position in publishing at an academic society. So what does an Oxford-educated white male think about this issue? What struck you most about that conference session?

HARINGTON: As Alice said a little earlier, I was one of very few men who attended that session. Most of us were standing at the back, and there was even a quip from one of the women in the audience to remind those few men that were in the audience that this was not actually a speed dating session, just in case anybody wanted to leave the room. It was one of the few sessions that I attended at SSP this year that was as unbalanced as that. It was quite striking for that, and not how it should be.

One of the things that occurred to me, really, was – and all the things that Alice was saying I completely understand and agree with. But it’s not just a women’s issue. This is an issue for all of us. Men should be equally concerned as women that we bring on the best leaders, regardless of whether they’re male or female.

KENNEALLY: Indeed, when we think about who’s best for which position, there are these biases that Alice discussed, conscious and unconscious. In your blog post, you cited something from the Harvard Business Review back in 2012, “A Study in Leadership, Women Do It Better Than Men.” What that study looked at was a range of functions in a typical organization – sales, marketing, legal, and so forth. Really what it found after some pretty rigorous research was that 12 of the 15 functions that they looked at, the women were more effective than the men. This was in areas where we suppose, at least according to traditional stereotypes, that men do a better job – for example, legal and sales and IT. What’s the point of all of that? Is it to really provoke you and others in scholarly publishing to reframe the discussion and to think about who may be best for a position?

HARINGTON: I would say that the fact that 12 of the 15 functions – those were job roles, really – where females were more effective than men, many of those areas where women score more highly than men were in those supposedly traditional male roles. So the assumption has been by many of us, and it may be true for both women and men that they think like this, is that a lot of the competencies that lie behind the functions that were looked at – things like relationship-building and so on – are competencies that women display at a higher level than men.

The issue here is that actually it’s false to say that women are worse than men at those functions. In fact, of the competencies – I think the study went on to look at the competencies behind the ability to lead in those 12 of the 15 functions, such as legal, sales, engineering, and IT – in those areas where we’re talking about taking initiative, practicing self-development, really the relationship-building that actually involves taking your own career and other careers seriously, the integrity that goes along with that, females were better rated than men. That’s not to say that women in this study were shown to make better leaders, but it showed that the competencies that lay behind the functions that make up the ability to lead – in this study, women who are in the study were better than men.

KENNEALLY: If the point of all this is to help women get into these positions, if the research shows that they are better leaders, then we’re going to end up with organizations that have improved and advanced as a result. So this isn’t just a problem that people are concerned about or even complaining about. This is an opportunity for scholarly publishing.

HARINGTON: I think it’s an opportunity for scholarly publishing, and I think it’s an opportunity for those of us who work in scholarly publishing who – for example, myself, who works at an academic society, when you look at the editorial boards, the makeup of those editorial boards, of our journals, authorships of our books, the membership of our societies, and those who lead the society governance, as well. But yes, it’s absolutely an opportunity for those us in publishing to bring on the best talent.

For me, it’s not more than just making sure that you have common sense at the forefront of everything you do. I think that being aware is – you could say it’s a small step, but just being aware that you might have some latent sexism behind you allows you to at least consider those issues as you hire people, as you promote people for the right jobs that are available.

KENNEALLY: Alice Meadows, to wrap things up, then, I’ll put that to you as well. This isn’t simply a problem you’re pointing to, but an opportunity that you’re saying the industry may have.

MEADOWS: Absolutely yes, and I completely agree with Robert that this isn’t a women’s issue, it’s an issue for all of us. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity, and I hope scholarly publishing and beyond will grab it with both hands. I think to your point about the competencies, many of those competencies such as relationship management are things that women are acknowledged to be very good at, but typically they’re less valued, even though they are shown to be valuable, than some of the more male types of competences like decision-making or challenging and things like that.

The answer is that really we need all of these things, and we need to value them all equally. That’s where I think where the opportunity lies, really, for all of us to look at all the skills and competencies and talent that we need to succeed across our industry, and to value all those different skills and talents equally and nurture them.

KENNEALLY: Alice Meadows, director of communications for ORCID, thank you so much for joining us today on “Beyond the Book.”

MEADOWS: Thank you very much. It’s been great.

KENNEALLY: And Robert Harington, associate executive director for publishing at the American Mathematical Society, we appreciated your joining us as well. Thank you.

HARINGTON: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

KENNEALLY: “Beyond the Book” is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs. You can follow “Beyond the Book” on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes, or at our website,

Our engineer and coproducer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to “Beyond the Book.”

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