Gender and publishing: a PhD student’s perspective

Have you heard our podcast series, ‘15 minutes to develop your research career’? The new episode explores the unspoken challenges of research life, tackling important issues that aren’t always talked about openly. Among these are the particular challenges faced by women in research, which can adversely affect their career progression.

In this latest researcher insight, PhD candidate Verity Postlethwaite shares her views on the relationship between gender and publishing.

In a companion piece on Editor Resources, Taylor & Francis journal editor Yana Suchy tells us about the steps she’s taking to promote diversity within the Editorial Board of The Clinical Neuropsychologist.



From Verity Postlethwaite

A moment to savor

In 2015 I felt acutely aware of being a woman. When, at an academic symposium, an established professor remarked that she would not contribute to a journal’s special issue because the editorial board was all male, and this, had been the case for a number of decades. I was stunned. Firstly, because I had never considered publishing through a gendered lens. And secondly, because the professor took a stand. Prior to that moment I had, on the whole, regarded my colleagues in terms of research. But, from then on I have developed my identity as a female researcher; and I have observed a different set of barriers, opportunities and responsibilities to my male colleagues.

The resistance in 2015 served to highlight how publishing was more than a mechanistic exercise. It is also, an ethical project, deeply bound by morals and political convictions. I had the opportunity to raise this with Taylor & Francis at a CREST event in 2017, subsequently, I have followed and engaged with a range of initiatives and interventions now being promoted. Including considering inclusivity beyond publishing and beyond academia. Such activities raise much larger questions around: what diversity is or what does an equitable system look like? All too large to consider in this blog.

My own subject area

I did some further exploration into my own subject area (sport and social sciences) to discover whether the current publishing landscape was equitable.

Currently, the five journals (from a variety of publishers) I most frequently cite in my PhD research have 100% male editor-in-chiefs or equivalent and 70% male co-editors or equivalent. Although board representation only scratches the surface, it justifies my ongoing skepticism that not enough is being done to foster a truly equitable publishing system within my own subject area.

I contacted a co-editor of one of the journals and he offered these (anonymous) thoughts: “Publishers are showing notably progressive approaches to address gender inequities in some areas. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have greatly incentivized academic journals under their auspices to have followed suit. What is evident, at least anecdotally, sport journals have a way to go in this regard. There may be no immediate or easy fix. However, what is perhaps needed are for editors and boards to consider their own positions (and in some case longevity in post) and implement structural reform where necessary.”

Moving forward

Based on the comments from the co-editor and my own thoughts, moving forward, I am going to be more proactive to enact reforms. Firstly, by working alongside others (such as Taylor & Francis) to articulate that publishing should not just be a mechanistic exercise. Secondly, continue to advocate over time that the publishing system must be developed into a more equitable system for all, regardless of gender or other protected characteristics. Hopefully, this blog is another step in galvanizing such a debate and action.

Editor’s note: To read an example of one journal which is taking steps to address the challenge of improving representation, see Yana Suchy, ‘Increasing diversity on editorial boards’ on Editor Resources.



Verity Postlethwaite – PhD Candidate, Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, University of Worcester; Teaching Fellow and Research Associate, Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS University of London

Verity is a PhD candidate at the University of Worcester and a Teaching Fellow at SOAS, University of London. Verity is in the final year of her funded studentship and is busy writing up the findings for the project; which is around the topic of educational legacies and the ‘inspire a generation’ aim from the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Beyond her PhD, Verity teaches and researches around sport, diplomacy and governance – with a focus on the contemporary changes to domestic and international sport based policy and strategies.

Twitter: @verity_pos