Is the world of academia facing the gender disparity issue?

Gender-biased selection is a prominent concern in academics. This gender disparity is not only restricted to scientists and researchers, but also in evidence during the selection of peer reviewers.

Peer review is a vital process before acceptance of a paper in order to evaluate the research methods and validate the findings. It is conducted by subject experts and researchers of the concerned faculty. Despite having the same expertise and knowledge, male authors are preferred as peer reviewers over their female counterparts. Although nearly two-thirds of published authors in Australia are women, peer reviewers of two-thirds of the books are men. This disproportionate ratio has been valid for the last 30 years.

A recent analysis has revealed that most of the authors or scientists suggest male reviewers instead of female ones. Based on these recommendations, the journals also narrow down their list of peer reviewers by adding few male reviewers from their panel.  Eventually, the list comprises more male reviewers than their female counterparts that leads to gender disparity.

Being assigned as a peer reviewer is also considered as a networking tool for scientific collaborations; these reviewers seek out authors whose work they admire. Moreover, they also mention the journals that selected them to review papers in their resumes while applying for positions in faculties, research grants, and awards.

Brooks Hanson, an earth scientist and publication director at the American Geophysical Union in Washington, commented that peer reviewing is not only about the manuscript or author that are being examined, but the reviewers also get varied benefits from it. Besides, the reviewers get a chance to view the manuscripts instead of only reviewing the substantial and factual data. Consequently, the process turns out to be a learning session for the reviewer also.

Empirical data also supports the existence of gender-biased selections. In its annual report, the Australian international body of Vida showed the disparities between the writings of women and men in Britain and the US. In another survey in UK, women were found to be the buyers of two-thirds of the total books sold in Britain, and 50% of women consider themselves avid readers compared to 26% of men who felt similarly inclined. However, male authors are recorded to be winning more awards for their research, which are included in course syllabi at both high school and tertiary levels. In short, male authors are considered (erroneously) to be academically more talented than female authors.

The world of academics cannot afford such gender disparity in writing and research. Therefore, decision-makers are urged to encourage the academics fraternity by providing writers, reviewers, and readers an equal opportunity, irrespective of their gender, for a more wholesome future of the scientific and academic community.

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