Fostering gender diversity in STEM

Elsevier Chairman YS Chi shares the presentation he gave for the Global Research Council

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As the world’s largest scientific publisher and research technology company, Elsevier is in a unique position to address gender issues in the research community. In recognizing and working against gender issues, we aim to promote gender equality and diversity while also improving the overall quality of research.

Recently, Elsevier Chairman Youngsuk “YS” Chi attended a global policy dialogue in New Delhi organized by South Africa’s National Research Foundation during the 2016 annual meeting of the Global Research Council. Addressing government funders of scientific research from all over the world, he spoke about the measures Elsevier takes to ensure gender balance within our company, as well as the importance of considering gender as a factor in scientific research.

Here, he summarizes his presentation.

Christina Huie and Joel Simwinga, Senior Analysts in the office of YS Chi


Defining practical approaches

There are two approaches publishers can take to improve gender equality in science.

There are two practical approaches publishers can take to improve gender equality in science, namely: by promoting women in science and incorporating gender as a part of research itself.

Recognizing exceptional women in science

Examples of recognizing women in science (Sources for the images: Alison Bert, NRF Wikipedia page, L’Oreal Prize for Women in Science Wikipedia page)

One way Elsevier supports women is by recognizing and highlighting their achievements. Today, disproportionately few women are recognized with research awards. This perpetuates the implicit bias that women are not “winners” in research, and that the scientific community is a man’s world. This is why research prizes and grants awarded to women are so important. Through programs like the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early-Career Women Scientists in the Developing World, we aim to highlight the amazing things that early-career women in science are doing. (See the Elsevier Connect story “5 women scientists tell their stories of hard-earned success.”) More importantly, we want to shatter any misconceptions that women in science cannot compete on the same level as men.

Prioritizing gender issues at an organizational level

At Elsevier, we have also taken measures within our own organization to address gender issues.

Elsevier Publishing Director Deborah Logan has worked to reduce bias on editorial boards. (Source:  <a href="https://www.elsevier.com/editors-update/story/publishing-trends/The-importance-of-a-gender-balanced-editorial-team">Editors' Update</a>)

One way we have done this is by taking measures to reduce implicit bias on editorial boards. These measures have been championed by Deborah Logan, one of our publishing directors. Deborah and her team are, in her own words, trying to “do away with all-male shortlists” and fight unconscious bias in the editor selection. They are doing this by asking the people making recommendations on editorial boards to carefully consider the value gender diversity brings to editorial teams, and to hold each other accountable for ensuring that excellent women in science are given the opportunity to edit and improve the quality of research in their fields.

At Elsevier, we look forward to supporting these efforts and implementing best practices in other journal teams. Going forward, we plan to take note of gender balance on editorial boards, and to have solid, real-time metrics that will help us plan targeted recruiting interventions.

In fact, we’re taking a closer look at gender diversity at all levels of our organization. In April, Elsevier became one of the first companies in our industry to earn the first level of EDGE certification. EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) is the global leader in evaluating whether businesses support gender equality in the workplace. By earning EDGE certification, we are forcing ourselves to reflect on how we are supporting women in our global workforce. However, we still have lots of work to do – right now there are still too few women in senior roles at Elsevier. But going forward, we have set meaningful goals to increase the percentage of women in leadership roles by the end of 2017.

Providing tangible support for researchers to combat gender issues

Elsevier and the Elsevier Foundation have funded various childcare awards to help early career researchers attend conferences. (Source: <a target="_blank" href="https://www.elsevier.com/connect/how-conferences-can-support-scientists-with-young-families">Elsevier Connect</a>)

Another example of something that all corporations and institutions in the scientific community can do to support gender equality is to consider the unique needs of young researchers with families. Childcare in particular poses a major challenge to young researchers who must travel to conferences to network and make connections to further their careers. While grants to offset travel costs to conferences are fairly common, young men and women in science often have to deal with the additional financial burden of organizing childcare. For the past 10 years, the Elsevier Foundation has funded 16 childcare grants for $800,000 to help give parents more flexibility to balance their professional and personal lives. This inspired Cell to sponsor the Elsevier Family Support Awards, which provide early career researchers attending Cell Symposia with up to $500 of financial aid for childcare. We believe that this is an important practical way to support early career researchers and help young scientists – men and women – achieve their full potential.

Implementing gender considerations in scientific research

Scientific research should include female subjects or key information may be overlooked (Sources of images: Wikipedia pages for cardiovascular disease and seatbelts)

It’s really only been recently that gender has become a key factor in the research process, and this has had disastrous consequences on human health and safety.

I’d like to explain by sharing a few brief examples from the Stanford University Center for Gendered Innovations. The first is case study about heart disease.

Ischemic heart disease is the number one killer of women in Europe and the United States, according to the World Health Organization. But since heart disease has been defined as mainly a male problem, the clinical standards for it are based on male physiology and male outcomes.Because of this, women with heart disease are often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed.Fortunately researchers are learning to identify differences in the way men and women are affected by heart disease and are diagnosing the disease much more accurately than ever before.But the more important point is that gender always should have been a considered factor in scientific studies in the first place in order to achieve reliable results. It’s clear that women’s and men’s bodies, behaviors, and habits are drastically different and should not be held by the same clinical standards.

Another area of research where gender considerations have a significant effect is in engineering and product design. One particularly important gender consideration that has been made since the mid 1990’s is the inclusion of pregnant crash dummies in designing safety features for automobiles. Since the 1940’s, the male body was considered the “norm” in seatbelt design. Women and children were not factored into safety trials until years later. Even then, seatbelts tended to fit pregnant women very poorly and the lack of consideration for their safety led to a tragically high number of fetal deaths. However, since researchers began including pregnant women in safety trials by incorporating pregnant crash dummies into safety tests, outcomes have improved tremendously. Changes like this one show how critical it is to acknowledge physical differences between men and women and the important impacts gender considerations have on society.

The lack of attention to gender differences in this instance has many potentially harmful consequences for women and is evidence of a major error in the way we’ve approached science. Today, our community is finally starting to understand how we need to account for gender in scientific studies to get more accurate and specific results. Ultimately we hope that this growing focus on gender will lead to acknowledging other aspects of diversity like ethnicity, age, economic status and diet into the way we conduct research. Addressing differences like these give us a better understanding of the human physiology and behavior and play a big part in improving the quality and overall impacts of science.

Prof. Londa Schiebinger, PhDTo help improve the quality of the research we put forth at Elsevier, we have been working with Dr. Londa Schiebinger of Stanford University, a specialist in tackling gender issues in science and the creator of the Gendered Innovations database. Our goal is to develop and present a white paper on best practices for addressing sex and gender in research. Our publishers will take these best practice guidelines and present them to the Council of Science Editors and the International Council of Medical Journal Editors to request that they adopt them.

Eventually, we want the entire STM publishing industry to take advantage of these best practices to ensure gender is being properly considered in all research. I would really encourage everyone who has the ability to implement these sorts of standards to do so – especially those working in developing countries.

As government funders build the infrastructure for a robust system of science, technology and medicine, it’s important to get off on the right foot to prevent the need to go back and redo research to account for gender differences in the future.

Moving towards a brighter future

While there are still sizable gender gaps throughout the ecosystem of scientific research, I’m confident the research community will make significant strides in addressing gender issues.As we look to the future, there are specific actions we can all take to make gender equality a reality, both for the sake of science and the sake of the scientific community.

We can take a step in the right direction by actively promoting gender balance in science-focused institutions, particularly at the leadership level and on editorial boards.We also need to continue working towards more gender diversity at the researcher level by celebrating women in science, fighting prejudice, and implementing workplace policies that are welcoming towards women and families.And last but certainly not least, we need to implement editorial standards that address gender in research methodology to improve the quality of our science.By taking these steps and others, I am confident we will see the changes necessary to close gender gaps and make gender as essential part of the scientific process.

Elsevier Foundation’s Diversity in STM program

The Elsevier Foundation offers a decade of best practices in gender equity programs for academia offering over 50 grants since 2006 worth $2.5million. Since 2006, the foundation’s New Scholars Program has supported a wide range of programs to advance women in science, including grants to help academic organizations implement family friendly policies, career skills, dual career issues, recognition awards, benchmarking studies, and boosting professional visibility through childcare grants. These best practices were distilled in the 2014 book Equitable Solutions for Retaining a Robust STEM workforce. Building on these experiences, the foundation has launched a new partnerships program, Diversity in STM, which continues to focus on the advancement of women in science while adding support for science and health education for underserved youth.

— Ylann Schemm, Elsevier Foundation Program Manager

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