Talking Gender Diversity in Political Science Journals

March 7, 2019 Elizabeth Brophy

Over the past year, gender’s role in the workplace has been a hot topic, with increased attention on everything from the gender pay gap to the number of female CEOs. For Political Science as a discipline, gender diversity has been a key topic of conversation for the past few years, with learned societies such as the International Political Science Association (IPSA) and the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), actively trying to measure and increase involvement from women.

How Does Gender Impact Research Publication?

Having worked with political science journals, my colleague Puneet Bola-Moore and I wanted to learn more about the role gender plays when it comes to publishing in the discipline. With a range of scholars in attendance and gender and diversity already on the agenda, the ECPR’s annual General Conference provided the perfect venue to explore these questions. We arranged a small focus group with a collection of journal editors and took time to speak to those contributing to the gender diversity panel.

We had five topics to discuss:

  • The Meaning of Diversity

  • Submissions

  • Peer Review

  • Journal Content

  • Journal Management

And one final question: What role can publishers play in supporting inclusivity?

The discussions around these topics were fascinating and far-reaching, but some key themes emerged.

Broadening the Diversity Conversation

A crucial assertion from all our discussants was that diversity is about more than gender. Gender is a wide-reaching and important issue, with an imbalance across many areas that need to be addressed. However, our discussions highlighted that researchers are also concerned about diversity relating to ethnicity, sexuality, race, religion, and the intersectional nature of these aspects. Gender equity was our focus, but it is just one area among many that the political science discipline needs to engage with.

Further to this, diversity of research is not just about names on an article but also how we approach research. In short, diversity in methodologies and focus is just as integral to gender diversity as are individuals. Gender theory and qualitative research, for example, should be encouraged as an integral and persistent part of research, undertaken by a range of scholars. For a researcher or a journal, rehashing the same perspective, approach and worldview does not expand knowledge, but narrows it.

How Perceptions Affect Submissions

Our participants made clear that the journal has a crucial role to play as a force for change. The reputation and perception of the journal was identified as a major factor in the decision of where to submit. That reputation includes the journal’s diversity and inclusivity – some will not submit to certain journals, assuming their work is not wanted. This suggests that journals are missing out on quality and diverse research. This concept filters down beyond submission: does a reviewer think a journal doesn’t want a certain type of content or a certain type of approach? Is the journal content and methodological preference perceived as narrow? And is the journal management team reflective of the wider community?

Our conversations highlighted some minor ways a journal could remove these perceptions, for instance: by clearly highlighting in their aims and scope that they welcome pluralism in approach and methods, by ensuring all reviewers are aware of the journal’s diversity policy, and by ensuring that the reviewer pool and the editorial board are visibly (and engagingly) diverse.

Alternatively, our group made it clear that a one-off well-publicized show of gender inclusivity is not enough. A special “women’s” issue every five years or leaning on a token reviewer with gender expertise is neither fair nor an appropriate way to develop a diverse publication. Rather, gender and other forms of diversity should be woven into the everyday process of the publication. Each journal and issue should include a diverse author base and examples of gender analysis. Likewise, while the success and promotion of individuals is incredibly important, efforts should be made to ensure that a range of people are shown to be engaging in these areas.

The overall sentiment from our focus group was that through journal reputations, directions, content, and management, there is the possibility of turning the tide on gender diversity. This requires a series of small actions over time, leading to an institutionalization of gender diversity in political science publications. Everyone agreed that this is not a hindrance to a journal but allows it to expand its scope and improve its quality.

How Can Publishers Support Gender Diversity?

Our final question was, to us as publishers, the most important: How can we support this drive? Our discussants had a range of ideas. First is to continue to invest in activities and events such as the focus group. Publishers are well-placed to get an overview of the subject, and to talk with researchers on these topics. Next, by providing data and data-gathering opportunities, we can provide benchmarks, track and process data, and update software so that it captures the information needed. Finally, we can feed back this data to support and guide editors to develop the journals into vibrant, high quality, and diverse publications.

This is only a snapshot of the discussions we had around gender diversity, and there is still more work to do. The political science community is actively engaging with this issue – the ECPR has created a diversity policy, IPSA has been monitoring and reporting on diversity for a number of years, and the GBAT tool is available for researchers to check their reading lists. Our conversations at the ECPR General Conference provided some understanding of the issues surrounding gender diversity in publication, and what can be done to improve it.

Further reading:

IPSA Gender and Diversity Monitoring Report 2017

ECPR Gender Study and Gender Equality Plan

Gender Innovation in Political Science

Many thanks to the following individuals who took the time to talk to us: Prof. Gabriele Abels, Prof. Yasmeen Abu-Laban, Prof Nils Bandelow, Prof Jennifer Curtin, Dr Toni Haastrup, Dr Johanna Hornung, Dr Emanuele Massetti, Prof. Fritz Sager, Prof. Marian Sawer, Dr Eva Thomann.

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