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Editors and the gender gap

This is the second post from the perspective of a journal editor  in our in the Monkey Cage  gender gap symposium (see herehereherehere and here for earlier posts). You can find the contribution by Rick Wilson of the American Journal of Political Science here.

Marijke Breuning is editor of the American Political Science Review, the flagship journal of the American Political Science Association. She is a professor of political science at the University of North Texas. She has published extensively on foreign policy analysis, foreign aid, but also issues of gender equality- including gender equality in the political science profession. Wiley and Cambridge University Press have kindly agreed to ungate the articles linked to in this post that appeared in International Studies Perspectives and Perspectives on Politics.


What can journal editors do to foster greater gender equity in academic publishing and the citation of published work?  These are important questions.

Editors sit at a crucial juncture in the publishing process and are still most often male.  This matters because, as Jane Mansbridge so eloquently explained in her contribution to this gender gap symposium, structural and preconscious biases influence the evaluation of female and male colleagues, and of the scholarship they produce.  Although it is clearly possible that editors’ decisions are influenced by preconscious biases, the data to substantiate this are rather scarce.  A paper forthcoming in International Studies Perspectives provides a unique glimpse into the issue: On the basis of data that track papers from submission to decision at the Journal of Peace Research, the authors conclude that there is not a statistically significant difference in the likelihood that papers authored by women or men are accepted.

Few analyses of journal content have had access to such data.  As a result, it is difficult to know whether the findings for the Journal of Peace Research are representative.  Most analyses are based on an examination of the authorship of published articles.  Such studies have generally found that the proportion of articles published by women lags behind the proportion of women in political science.  And the gap between women’s presence in the discipline and in its journals is not evenly distributed among the various publications: the gap has been bigger in three most prestigious journals, the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science and the Journal of Politics.  It is not clear why this is so, but it is evident that all journals — but especially the most prestigious ones — must be careful to ensure that the process of evaluation is conducted as fairly and equitably as possible.

The current editorial team of the American Political Science Review, of which I am a member, takes that responsibility quite seriously.  This means we endeavor to make sure that all papers are evaluated by panels of reviewers with expertise in the area of inquiry and the methods employed, and that we ask women to participate in the review process in a systematic and deliberate manner.  Although it is unclear whether the presence of women as reviewers influences the outcome of the review process in any specific way, we believe that it is important that women have a voice in the review process.  It is also our hope that, as more women are asked to review, that they will consider submitting their own work (if they have not previously done so).

The editorial team’s own diversity places us in a unique position to entice women and others who may have considered the Review to be “not for them,” to submit their work.  After all, a greater diversity of submission is a prerequisite to a greater diversity of the journal’s content.  One year into our term as editors, we were encouraged to find that the first author of 24 percent of original submissions was a woman.  Although this still falls short of the proportion of APSA members who are women (32 percent), it is far better than the 17.7 percent of female first authors reported in Breuning and Sanders.  And we hope that we can continue to entice more female political scientists to submit their work.

Gender is not the only element of diversity that matters, however.  The Review, like most of the prestigious journals in political science, publishes primarily work by authors affiliated with research universities.  Given the enormous pressure to publish at such institutions, that bias is not likely to be eliminated.  That said, we want to stress that we welcome pathbreaking work from all scholars, irrespective of affiliation.  This matters for women, who are somewhat less likely to be employed at research universities.

To underscore our search for greater diversity of scholars and scholarship represented in the Review, we’d like to close by paraphrasing a great line from the movie Ratatouille: “Not every scholar can write a great article, but a great article can be produced by a scholar from anywhere.”  What we call the “Ratatouille Principle” nicely captures our philosophy: We look to publish scholarly work that is of exceptional merit and focuses on important issues, irrespective of who the author is, from where she or he hails, or makes her or his institutional home.