Gender gap narrows in research and innovation but inequality persists, report shows

Elsevier’s latest global analysis reveals progress toward gender parity, but women still trail men in number of publications and citations

March 4, 2020
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While the participation of women in research is increasing overall, inequality remains across geographies and subject areas in terms of publication outputs, citations, awarded grants and collaborations. That is among the findings of Elsevier's latest gender report, which you can download for free, today.

The report, titled The researcher journey through a gender lens, examines research participation, career progression and perceptions across the European Union and 15 countries globally in 26 subject areas.

The report draws on Elsevier’s analytics expertise and data sources — notably Scopus — and was further informed by experts from around the world. The aim is to better understand the role gender plays in the global research enterprise and share powerful data-driven insights with governments, funders and institutions worldwide to inspire evidence-based policy and interventions and inform further studies.

On this page, you can review the report’s key findings, download the report and explore the data behind it. You can also find information on Elsevier’s related initiatives, including our new Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Board.

Sandra W. Robert, CAE

Sandra W. Robert, CAE

CEO of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS)

Among the experts interviewed for the report was Sandra W. Robert, CEO of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), who commented on the value of report’s combination of qualitative and quantitative data.

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The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens - reportThe researcher journey through a gender lens

An examination of research participation, career progression and perceptions across the globe

Download the report

Key findings

The number of women to men among all authors is moving closer to being equal (Source: Scopus data in The researcher journey through a gender lens, Elsevier, 2020)While overall the representation of women in research is increasing, inequality remains. Data show where effort is still needed to ensure equality for women in terms of publication outputs, citations, awarded grants, and collaborations.

Research participation

  • In all countries studied and the EU28, the ratio of women to men among all authors was closer to parity during a recent 5-year period compared with a decade ago.
  • Men are more highly represented among authors with a long publication history while women are highly represented among authors with a short publication history.

Research footprint

  • On average, women researchers author fewer publications than men in every country, regardless of authorship position. The least difference in the number of publications by women compared to men is observed among first authors, and the biggest difference is observed among all authors.
  • Among first authors, the average citation impact of men is higher than that of women, suggesting gender bias in citation practice.

The greatest increase in the proportion of women among authors is seen in nursing and psychology, and the smallest increase is in the physical sciences. (Source: Scopus data in The researcher journey through a gender lens, Elsevier, 2020)

Publishing careers and mobility

  • The percentage of women among all authors in the cohort declines over time (between the year of authors’ first publication in 2009 up to 2018) in all countries and regions except Portugal.
  • In every country, the percentage of women who continue to publish is lower than men who continue to publish.

Collaboration networks

  • Across many subject areas and countries, men tend to have more co-authors than women and this difference is wider for authors with a longer publication history.
  • Women and men are more similar in the way they are connected to their potential collaborative space (second-order collaborators) through their direct collaborators.

Researcher perspectives

Researcher attitudes towards gender diversity and equity vary widely among men and women. Most of the differences in viewpoints are related to the importance in individual places on gender balance and to the perception of fairness in the academic system.

Survey question

Survey response to the statement: "In my organization, women have to perform better than men to be considered good at their job," by gender and subject area.

  • There are two opposing opinions on the causes of gender imbalance and inequality in academia.
  • Some groups (men and women) attribute gender inequality to the attitudes and ambition levels of women.
  • Other groups attribute gender inequality to a systemic and cultural (unconscious) bias against women.

Experts interview banner

The report includes interviews with four research leaders who provide insight and perspective to the report findings:

Women in research remain significantly underrepresented — around one-third of all EU27 researchers are women. Things are moving in the right direction, but we need to do more if we want to achieve a good gender balance in the near future.

Charlina Vitcheva, MA, MS, Acting Director-General, Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Commission

I always say that gender equality is not an isolated problem—it is related to age, race, ability, culture, sexuality, and geography, among other factors. If we only talk about gender equality, we lose sight of these connections.

Miyoko O. Watanabe, PhD, Deputy Executive Director and Director, Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)

Data — both quantitative and qualitative — are hugely valuable in identifying where disadvantage is happening and prioritizing where we should be intervening as leaders, policymakers and funders. The top-level quantitative data tells us what is going on, and the qualitative data can help us understand why, by providing real-life examples illustrating the multiple factors that interact to produce the systemic disadvantage that women experience in research.

Prof. Sarah Sharples, CErgHF, FIET, FIEHF, PhD, MSc, BSc (hons), PGCAP, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, University of Nottingham

The #MeToo movement has greatly impacted our society at large. I think it has had a positive impact and one that has been unanticipated in some ways. There is a greater recognition of the need for caution in terms of interactions in professional and social settings, but I’m not sure that has translated into creating more balance and inclusion.

Sandra W. Robert, CAE, CEO, Association for Women in Science (AWIS), USA

Download the report to access all of the complete expert interview transcripts.


While the report itself is rich in terms of the data presented, we are pleased to make the underlying data available for non-commercial research purposes.

This report incorporates methodology of inferred gender disambiguation of authors in Scopus. It has expanded analyses to cover 16 countries and regions. In addition, it includes career progression and collaboration network analyses as well as perspectives from researchers.

Use the Tableau dashboards to look at all the countries and subject-specific author gender statistics.

This report also draws on qualitative data to illustrate the diverse viewpoints of researchers related to gender diversity and equity. This qualitative data was derived from surveying researchers as illustrated below. For a detailed breakdown of the methodology, check out Appendix A in the report

Qualitative data methodology


Webinar: The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens: Findings from Elsevier’s Report

Live online May 27 3:00pm CET and available after on demand

Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski, PhD, VP, Research Intelligence & Bamini Jayabalasingham, PhD, Sr. Analytical Product Mgr., guide you through the key findings from the report, their implications and future actions. Register now

Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Board

The independent, multidisciplinary Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Board will work towards lasting solutions that promote inclusion and diversity across disciplines, collaborating with the research community to drive long-term, measurable change. Initial areas of focus include participation, gender in science and career progression. The Board will aim to address these areas with standards, best practices and evidence-based initiatives that drive unbiased, robust decisions related to how research is conducted through to improvement of gender equity in research funding, peer review, publication and career opportunities.

As Bayazit explained:Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit

There has been important progress in gender balance in research over the recent decades, and it is encouraging to see from our report that women are closing the gender gap globally. However, our latest findings also indicate persistent areas of gender inequality, so we have more work to do to address issues that span diversity and inclusion in research.

There is no single solution here, it will take all parts of the research ecosystem to come together and focus on making progress to drive lasting change.

The advisory board will use data-driven insights to identify areas of need and opportunity to drive targeted action and inform policy. It will work with all stakeholders, including funding bodies, governments and institutions worldwide that share Elsevier's goal of "advancing science and improving health outcomes through greater diversity in research.”

Board members are experts in their fields and passionate advocates for achieving gender equality in STEM, and they represent a global view on the issue.

Confirmed members include:

  • Kumsal Bayazit, CEO of Elsevier; co-chair Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Board
  • Dr. Gary Darmstadt, Associate Dean for Maternal and Child Health and Professor of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine in Stanford University School of Medicine
  • Prof. Sarah Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Gender and Global Health, Professor of Global Public Health at University College London
  • Prof. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University College London, and the University of Oslo; co-chair Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Board
  • Prof. Helena Legido-Quigley, Associate Professor, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore and Lecturer Global Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK
  • Dr. Elizabeth Pollitzer, Founder and Director Portia Ltd.
  • Prof. Londa Schiebinger, John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford University, and Director of the EU/US Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment
  • Prof. Martina Schraudner, Head of Fraunhofer Center for Responsible Research and Innovation and Professor for Gender & Diversity in Organisations at TU Berlin
  • Dr. Miyoko Watanabe, Executive Director at Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), and Vice President of the Science Council of Japan.
  • Prof. Tom Welton, Professor of Sustainable Chemistry at Imperial College London and President-elect of the Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Dr. Nieng Yan, Professor of Molecular Biology, Princeton University

The I&D Advisory Board is responsible for:

  • Driving inclusion and diversity initiatives that lead to positive change in gender diversity and inclusion in academic research.
  • Helping to set standards and best practices that drive unbiased, robust decisions that incorporate inclusion and diversity principles in research.
  • Influencing and improving the gender equity in research funding, peer review, publication and career progression.

  • You can find a full overview of Elsevier’s resources on gender in science, including past reports, researcher stories, initiatives we are driving, and partnerships on our Gender and Science Resource Center.
  • To cite this report: de Kleijn, M, Jayabalasingham, B, Falk-Krzesinski, HJ, Collins, T, Kuiper-Hoyng, L, Cingolani, I, Zhang, J, Roberge, G, et al: “The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens: An Examination of Research Participation, Career Progression and Perceptions Across the Globe.” (March 2020) Retrieved from

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Elsevier Connect

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Elsevier Connect

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