Addressing gender imbalances in Animal Conservation
Article first published online: 9 APR 2013
© 2013 The Zoological Society of London
Volume 16, Issue 2, pages 131–133, April 2013
How to Cite
Pettorelli, N., Evans, D. M., Garner, T. W. J., Katzner, T., Gompper, M. E., Altwegg, R., Branch, T. A., Johnson, J. A., Acevedo-Whitehouse, K., DaVolls, L., Rantanen, E. and Gordon, I. J. (2013), Addressing gender imbalances in Animal Conservation. Animal Conservation, 16: 131–133. doi: 10.1111/acv.12032
- Issue published online: 17 APR 2013
- Article first published online: 9 APR 2013
The paucity of senior female scientists in science, including ecology and conservation, is a growing concern in the western world. ‘Where are the women in ecology?’ asked a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment recently (Martin, 2012). ‘Women are driven out of research’, conclude O'Brien & Hapgood (2012). Despite the increasing popularity of biology, including ecology, among female undergraduates and graduates, the proportion of female scientists in top positions remains low (European Commission, 2009; Martin, 2012; O'Brien & Hapgood, 2012; Adamo, 2013). An increasing number of individuals, institutions and governmental organizations are starting to ask why so many female scientists do not end up being employed in the type of occupations in which they were trained (Rosser, 2008; Hill, Corbett & St. Rose, 2010; Royal Society of Edinburgh, 2012). There are several reasons to address this issue, especially at a time of economic austerity in many countries. Losing trained scientists can represent a sunk cost: conservative estimates put the economic cost of a PhD in the US at c. $500 000 (Rosser, 2008), while each PhD student in the UK receives c. £100 000 from the government to cover stipends and research and training expenses (UKRC, 2012). Moreover, gender diversity is associated with indirect benefits; for example, commercial businesses with gender-balanced staff and management tend to perform better financially (UKRC, 2010a).
Many nonexclusive hypotheses have been put forth to account for this leaky pipe: lack of self-confidence, differences in family responsibilities, discrimination, and the nature of the academic culture are all factors that may drive women out of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM; McGuire et al., 2012; Moss-Racusin et al., 2012; Pettorelli, Else & Sumner, 2012; Cameron, Gray & White, 2013). But recently, the editorial board of Nature made an interesting point: scientific journals might also play a role in crafting this leaky pipe by preferentially asking male scientists to review and write comments on papers published by the journal (Nature, 2012). Writing a commentary for a highly ranked journal can indeed dramatically increase one's scientific visibility (Damschen et al., 2005), while being invited to review articles is often the first step to being appointed to a journal's editorial board. Biases in these opportunities may, therefore, reinforce the current gender imbalance within the scientific community. Inspired by Nature's editorial, we examined our own statistics: by the end of 2012, 20% of our editors were female, as were 22% of the associate editors and 27% of the reviewers we approached. Furthermore, from October 2011 to October 2012, 22% of our invited commentaries were authored by female scientists.
These numbers are likely to poorly reflect the proportion of qualified women in conservation science who could serve as reviewers, associate editors, editors or commentary writers. For example, available data suggest that there is virtually no bias in the relative proportion of male and female students who are awarded a PhD in Biology (European Commission, 2009; UKRC, 2010b; Ceci & Williams, 2011; Adamo, 2013). Therefore, all else being equal, significant deviation in reviewer sex ratio is not expected. Similarly, available data suggest that 35–45% of scientists with similar experience levels to our current associate editor pool are women (European Commission, 2009; UKRC, 2010b; Martin, 2012), and this proportion is probably growing (Wilson, 2012). Thus, our current recruitment process of conservation scientists to the editorial board of Animal Conservation, to author commentaries in the journal, and to aid in the peer-review process, does not adequately represent the available workforce and likely reinforces the current gender gap at top position level.
How can we address the gender imbalances found in scientific and editorial opportunities? Finding ways to promote gender diversity is actually an issue that many businesses, academic institutions and governments are currently facing, and a variety of guidelines and policies have been put in place around the world. In the UK, for example, higher education institutions have been strongly encouraged to join the Athena SWAN Charter (http://www.athenaswan.org.uk), which contains six principles that actively address gender inequalities and the unequal representation of women in STEM. Australia recently updated its Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 with the new Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 to promote and improve gender equality in the workplace (Australian Government, 2013). In November 2012, the European Commission adopted a draft of EU Directive targeting large companies that are listed on the stock exchange and whose supervisory boards comprise less than 40% of the underrepresented gender (Reding, 2012). Under this directive, a candidate for a supervisory board position of the underrepresented gender, who is as well qualified as a candidate of the overrepresented gender, must be given priority (until the underrepresented gender has reached 40% representation on the supervisory board). Gender quotas in politics can be found in many countries, including Sweden, Finland, most countries in Latin America, and Rwanda (Chen, 2010).
Through their publishing activities, journals are highly capable of providing opportunities that will improve the visibility and involvement of women in science, ultimately helping their retention. Can the examples above be mimicked to start addressing gender imbalances in editorial opportunities? Although the idea seems simple and tempting, its implementation is far from being straightforward. Scientific journals are ultimately mostly products sold by major publishing companies around the world. Because of the international representation of most editorial committees, any policy aiming to improve the visibility and involvement of women in science is expected to comply with national laws from multiple countries. For our editorial team to introduce, for example, a clear and visible policy defining a quota on the minimum percentage of women on editorial boards is potentially, from a publisher's perspective, legally problematic. Yet, tackling gender imbalances in editorial opportunities is an issue that scientific editorial boards in all fields should address, whether formally or informally.
As an editorial team, we believe that in the 21st century, no bright and enthusiastic scientist should be held back by their gender; with the current and future challenges facing nature conservation, we simply cannot afford to lose any brainpower to gender inequality. We are committed to increase gender diversity in Animal Conservation, and to consider the broader implications of our editorial decision-making. But there is only so much we can do. The conservation community, like the rest of the STEM community, is missing out on many of its talented female scientists: it belongs to this community to find a way to plug its leaky pipe. The individual choices we make when we suggest reviewers and associate editors, when we approach potential writers for commentaries, or when we decide on who gets to become an editor, are the choices that matter to tackle imbalances: these are the ones that will help change the face of conservation.
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