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

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

By Kumsal Bayazit - April 19, 2021
Kumsal Bayazit quote from keynote at Gender Summit 21
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 GS21, held virtually from Munich April 14-16, 2021.


In 2021, the international Gender Summits celebrated their 10th anniversary, 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 Pollitzer, Prof Martina Schraudner 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 Ginsberg, 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.

Gender Summit "architect" Elizabeth Pollitzer, PhDThe 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 engineers 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 Horton. Several of our distinguished members — Dr Elizabeth Pollitzer, Prof Martina Schraudner and Dr Miyoko Watanabe — are taking part in GS21.

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 Lancet journals editorial boards have already achieved a 50%-50% gender balance, and Cell Press 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 year. 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 Lensreviewed the state of play in 2020 across the EU and 15 countries globally by discipline. The 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.

Download the report

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 report, which investigates progressProf Martina Schraudner, PhD 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 Figures 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 Schraudner for publishing Acatech’s Gender Equality Report and Action Plan for the 3rd year running. As Germany’s National Academy of Science and Engineering, 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 annually 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.

2. Embedding the Sex and gender dimension in research

Prof Londa Schiebinger, PhDThe Gendered Innovations work led by Prof Londa Schiebinger, 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.

All of us in the research community have a role to play in this progess. At Elsevier, we have embedded the SAGER guidelines, 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.

Prof Cara Tannenbaum, PhDAn 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 Tannenbaum 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 SDGs. 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.

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 Study 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” 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 Hopkins 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 Scientist, 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,Prof Eleftheria Zeggini, PhD including Prof Eli Zeggini, Director of the Institute of Translational Genomics in Munich and a member of the Cell Advisory Board.

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 retention 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 MindTheGEPs 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.

We know how far we’ve come and how far we have to go

We know that we’ve come far and that we still have a long road ahead of us for gender equity.

Equally important is to look beyond sex and gender to other dimensions of diversity such as race and ethnicity. I’d like to call out the excellent work being spearheaded by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Joint Commitment for Action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing,. We are proud to be part of this work to develop a new methodology around race and ethnicity, which, we are all finding, is exponentially more complex than gender.

Looking into the future, there is much work to be done. But I am optimistic and confident that together — as funders, universities, research institutions, publishers and of course as researchers — we will advance inclusion and equity through collaboration, alignment on data-driven and evidence-based objectives and the responsible evaluation of our collective progress, pivoting when necessary.

The research community shape the future and drive societal progress. Elsevier is committed to work together with the communities we serve to build one step at a time, or brick by brick, the progress required — which I know will lead to a groundswell of inclusion and progress in the scientific endeavor.

Read more about how Elsevier is committed to driving diversity on all fronts

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Kumsal Bayazit
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Kumsal Bayazit

Written by

Kumsal Bayazit

Kumsal Bayazit was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Elsevier in February 2019. She is Co-Chair of Elsevier's Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Board with Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet.

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