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The transforming power of I&D: how Elsevier is taking up the challenge

April 19, 2021

By Kumsal Bayazit

Quote by Kumsal Bayazit at Gender Summit

In her keynote at the Gender Summit, Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit discusses how to build a more inclusive and transparent research ecosystem

In the image above: Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit gave the keynote speech at the international Gender Summit (GS21).

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Kumsal Bayazit’s keynote speech at the Gender Summit GS21opens in new tab/window, held virtually from Munich April 14-16, 2021.

In 2021, the international Gender Summitsopens in new tab/window celebrated their 10th anniversaryopens in new tab/window, showcasing their remarkable ability to bring together so many diverse members of our research community. Over the past decade, they have helped to define the debate and catalyze action to advance women in science and embed the sex and gender dimension in research.

Their success is testament to the work of people like Dr Elizabeth Pollitzeropens in new tab/window, Prof Martina Schraudneropens in new tab/window and all the leaders who have collaborated on this journey around the world. One of my heroes, the late US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsbergopens in new tab/window, articulated this ethos so beautifully:

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you. 

The Gender Summits reinforce the critical need for all of us to work together in building a more inclusive and transparent research ecosystem.

If we put this in context, it’s only been 100 years since women in most European nations gained the right to vote -- or even entered universities. According to the 2018 SHE figures, 41% of the 15 million scientists and engineersopens in new tab/window in the EU are women. This marks real progress.

But we also know that the pipeline is leaky, and there are not enough women in leadership roles, and we have still not created a truly inclusive scientific culture.

At Elsevier we are committed to playing our part to contribute to progress. Last year, I launched Elsevier’s Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Board together with my co-chair, The Lancet Editor-in-Chief Dr Richard Hortonopens in new tab/window. Several of our distinguished members — Dr Elizabeth Pollitzer, Prof Martina Schraudner and Dr Miyoko Watanabeopens in new tab/window — are taking part in GS21.

Image of Elizabeth Pollitzer, Ph.D

Gender Summit "architect" Elizabeth Pollitzer, PhD

We have identified 3 key areas where we can make a meaningful contribution to advancing inclusion in research through our publishing, data and analytics:

1. Improving the representation and participation of women in the research ecosystem

To make progress here we need to be transparent, accountable and evidence-based.

At Elsevier, we are focused on the make-up of our own editorial boards and actively working to create better gender balance and diversity across our journals. This means editorial boards, reviewers, invited conference speakers, as well as authors, who are also funders' grantees, university faculty members and research trainees.

The Lancetopens in new tab/window journals editorial boards have already achieved a 50%-50% gender balance, and Cell Pressopens in new tab/window met its pledge to achieve 30% women representation in 2020. This February, we launched a Gender Dashboard for 600 of our journals, which you can find on each of their websites, providing a clear overview of the number of self-reported female editors as well as the aspirational targets and representation of women across the field.

We will expand this transparency to all our journals by the end of this yearopens in new tab/window. We have also asked our editors to take additional aspects of diversity into account, such as geography, race and ethnicity and career stage when choosing new members.

Looking beyond our editorial boards, Elsevier has been committed to working with the research community to provide data-led insights that help inform actions for improving gender equity within the global research enterprise. Since 2015, we have published three comprehensive Gender Reports, the latest of which  The Researcher Journey through a Gender Lensopens in new tab/window — reviewed the state of play in 2020 across the EU and 15 countries globally by disciplineThe findings showed that while the participation of women in research is increasing overall, inequality remains across geographies and subject areas in terms of representation, awarded grants and collaborations.

Cover of the report "The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens"

The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens

Download the report opens in new tab/window

Our report highlighted Portugal’s leadership among European countries in terms of participation of women in science, particularly for early and mid-career researchers. To better understand what has driven this progress and to provide data-led insights, we will launch a dedicated report at the end of this month on The Portuguese Researcher through a Gender Lens. I hope this case study on Portugal will provide insights on policies, culture and actions that support sustainable gender balance.

We are also proud to contribute our analytics to the European Commission’s She Figures reportopens in new tab/window, which investigates progress towards gender equality in research and innovation in Europe. This includes developing new indicators to measure gender dimension in research content as well as career progression. With a new report being released later this year, the She Figuresopens in new tab/window provides the main source of comparable statistics on the representation of women and men among PhDs, researchers and academic decision-makers.

Looking at Germany, I want to commend Dr. Martina Schraudneropens in new tab/window for publishing Acatech’s Gender Equality Report and Action Plan opens in new tab/windowfor the 3rd year running. As Germany’s National Academy of Science and Engineeringopens in new tab/window, Acatech has committed to reaching 30% of women in leadership roles. The German Research Foundation, the DFG, has also committed to monitoring its funding review boards and reports annuallyopens in new tab/window on the proportion and success rate of women researchers’ proposals. DFG also benchmarks the distribution of women at different career levels in the research system. These are encouraging developments and I believe will make a real difference to the progress of women in the German academic ecosystem.

Image of Martina Scraudner

Prof Martina Schraudner, PhD

2. Embedding the sex and gender dimension in research

The Gendered Innovationsopens in new tab/window work led by Prof Londa Schiebinger,opens in new tab/window who is also one of Elsevier's esteemed Inclusion and Diversity Board members has provided a rich and ever-expanding body of case studies that offer compelling evidence of the need to integrate sex and gender analysis in research. For example, women in Britain are 50% likelier to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack because heart failure trials generally use male participants. The reference body for car design is male, so although men are more likely to crash, women involved in collisions are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt.

The consequences are also severe when research is blind to other factors of diversity, such as race and ethnicity. For example, pulse oximeters — vitally important in the age of Covid-19 — overestimate arterial oxyhemoglobin saturation in patients with darker skin. This means those patients might not be given oxygen when they need it, which can be fatal.

Image of Londa Schiebinger, Ph.D

Prof Londa Schiebinger, PhD

All of us in the research community have a role to play in this progess. At Elsevier, we have embedded the SAGER guidelinesopens in new tab/window, developed by the European Association of Medical Editors, in our editorial guidelines. Looking ahead, we will focus on compliance with the guidelines in medicine and and expand this work to other disciplines, such as computer science.

An important part of driving change is to train the next generation of researchers to think about inclusion at the research design stage. In 2020, we partnered with Prof Schiebinger and Prof Cara Tannenbaumopens in new tab/window of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to create training for early career researchers on how to integrate sex and gender analysis into research.

I also want to highlight the important work Dr Pollitzer is leading in integrating sex and gender in research to advance the UN SDGsopens in new tab/window. As she notes:

SDG and sustainability research today suffers from gender blindness, and unless this changes, the implementation of SDGs will not achieve the successes it could.

Image of Cara Tannenbaum, Ph.D

Prof Cara Tannenbaum, PhD

As part of Elsevier’s contribution to the 5th anniversary of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we developed an analysis of the intersection of sex and gender in SDG areas of research, revealing a stark absence of sex and gender analysis.

As we gear up for the decade of action, we must clearly apply a gender perspective to ensure that the implementation and outcomes benefit everyone equally. I’m happy to report that The Lancet team is now working to add sex and gender into the 30 indicators already developed by The Lancet Countdown Studyopens in new tab/window to monitor the impact of climate change on health, triggered by Elizabeth's questions.

Ultimately, our success in mainstreaming factoring sex and gender into research design will depend on the collaboration of all stakeholders in the research ecosystem.

Funders such as the European Commission Horizon 2020 program, the WHO, the NIH, the NSF, UKRI and many others have also made great strides in this area. The DFG in Germany has developed a special “checklist”opens in new tab/window for applicants planning research projects so they can highlight the relevance of sex, gender and diversity in their research. We are also collaborating on a project spearheaded by Prof Schiebinger and the Wellcome Trust to provide publicly funded agencies with a clear roadmap of best practices in integrating sex, gender and intersectional analysis into research design. Ultimately, our shared goal is to promote excellence in research, creativity in innovation and social equality.

3. Career progression of women researchers in academia and professional life

By working together to remove systemic obstacles to participation and actively supporting career progression, we can accelerate progress.

A lot of you may be familiar with the work that Dr Nancy Hopkinsopens in new tab/window of MIT led in the mid-90s that surfaced some of the inequalities between men and women researchers ranging from the size of their labs to what they got paid.

Her story, as well as other women in STEM is portrayed in a documentary called Picture a Scientistopens in new tab/window, which examines the insidiousness of sexual harassment (from the overt to the microaggressions) which has undermined the journeys of so many women scientists over the past decades. A couple of weeks ago, we had a panel discussion with prominent scientists and the filmmaker, Sharon Shattuck,opens in new tab/window including Prof Eli Zegginiopens in new tab/window, Director of the Institute of Translational Genomicsopens in new tab/window in Munich and a member of the Cell Advisory Boardopens in new tab/window.

Image of Prof Eleftheria Zeggini, Ph.D

Prof Eleftheria Zeggini, PhD

As I watched the documentary and listened to the experiences of the women on the panel, what struck me is how much of their time, energy and effort went into fighting for equality. Precious time and energy, which frankly some of them would have rather spent on their scientific discoveries, which they dearly loved, was spent trying to drive change. I want to recognize and thank all who have worked very hard to drive progress.

And much progress is being made. A third of all leading German technical universities now being led by women. In 2021, the DFG highlighted its commitment to talent retentionopens in new tab/window and tackling the leaky pipeline among postdocs.

In addition, we must be aware of how interrelated many of these elements are: the participation of women on editorial boards, in convening panels, or serving as moderators and speakers at conferences positively impacts career progression through visibility and peer collaboration.

At Elsevier, our editorial boards are working to actively integrate more early career researchers into the pool of candidates for editorial board service. We also host around 50 scientific conferences per year. By engaging with the researcher community, we have been able to raise the proportion of women speakers at our conferences from 15% in 2016 to 40% today. Our commitment is, of course, to reach and sustain parity.

With the Elsevier Foundation, we also work on raising the visibility of and opportunities for women scientists in developing countries through our awards program with the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD). Over nearly a decade, we have celebrated 45 women scientists from across 20 low income countries to highlight their achievements, their contributions to SDG research and their incredible resilience in the face of adversity.

Finally, we are proud to be working closely with the new European Commission funded MindTheGEPsopens in new tab/window program. Working with universities and research centers in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Serbia, Sweden and the Netherlands, we aim to reduce gender imbalances in European research institutions and generate data to support the development of national and European policy for gender equality in research performing organizations. As an information analytics provider, we can help shape a data-driven approach with our longstanding contributions to mapping gender onto the research landscape.

Research insight

Elsevier's reports on gender in research

March 4, 2020 | 20 mins

Portugal gender report cover with Monteiro quote

Research insight

7 challenges to overcome for a more inclusive research ecosystem

Alison Bert, DMA | December 1, 2020

Image of Falling walls panel


Kumsal Bayazit


Kumsal Bayazit

Chief Executive Officer


Read more about Kumsal Bayazit