Publishers responsible for tens of thousands of peer-reviewed journals and books have signed an agreement to take a proactive stance against bias, as they commit to working together to better reflect the diversity of their communities and to remove barriers for under-represented groups.
The joint statement will impact scholarly publishing on a global scale, having been initiated by the Royal Society of Chemistry and signed by the American Chemical Society (ACS), BMJ, Cambridge University Press, the Company of Biologists, Emerald Publishing, Elsevier, Hindawi, IOP Publishing, Oxford University Press and the Royal Society.
The group have also been engaging with further publishers to form a working group to collaborate on further actions to improve inclusion and diversity in publishing.
Agreement on the joint declaration was reached in a workshop organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), after it shared its pioneering Framework for Action in Scientific Publishing – an action-focussed “roadmap” to minimise exclusion and bias in its publications, also released publicly this week.
Dr Emma Wilson, Director of Publishing at RSC, said: “Biases exists in research publishing, and acknowledging this is an important step for the research community at large. Working in silos and individually committing to scrutinise our processes will only get us so far – it is the agreement to collectively address these issues which we believe is key in levelling the playing field across research publishing.
“Today we are agreeing to pool knowledge, data and resources to understand who is in our communities, and we are committing to ensure this diversity is reflected in those who make decisions during the publishing process. We are establishing a working group to help us establish minimum standards across the industry, and invite all publishers who have not yet joined us to get in touch so we can learn from each other and change publishing together.”
Previous research conducted by the RSC has shown that the gender of a scientific author, peer-reviewer or editor can influence the likelihood of a scientist’s research being published.
Nobel laureate Professor Frances Arnold praised leadership shown by the Royal Society of Chemistry, of which she is an honorary fellow.
She said: “It makes absolutely no sense to limit the possibilities of all members of society. Everyone should have a chance to contribute what they’re able to contribute. Chemistry has benefited enormously from diverse ways of thinking. It’s such a central science – it’s so full of possibilities for innovation that we would be foolish to limit who can do chemistry.
“The Royal Society of Chemistry has an enormous voice through conferences, through publications and through the people who are members. If we – the Royal Society of Chemistry – don’t lead this, who will? We can lead in inclusivity and we can lead by example – by making our own communities inclusive and welcoming, we can help to bring this idea to the larger population.”
All signatories of the commitment agreed to pool their resources and knowledge to agree four initial actions to set a new standard in scholarly publishing. These are to:
1. Understand the research community
By collaborating to enable diversity data to be self-reported by members of their communities, they will work towards a collective and compliant system so that researchers only need to self-report data once. They will share and analyse anonymised diversity data to understand where action is needed.
2. Reflect the diversity of the community
They will use anonymised data to uncover subject-specific diversity baselines, and set minimum targets to achieve appropriate and inclusive representation of authors, reviewers and editorial decision-makers.
3. Share success to achieve impact
They will share and develop new and innovative resources to improve representation and inclusivity of diverse groups. They will transparently share policies, measurements, language and standards, to move inclusion and diversity in publishing forward together.
4. Set minimum standards on which to build
They will scrutinise their publishing processes and take action to achieve a minimum standard for inclusion in publishing, based initially on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Framework for Action in Scientific Publishing. They will engage all relevant stakeholders to improve outcomes on inclusion and diversity, at all stages of the publishing process.
A working group is being established to share practice and monitor progress, and the group are inviting and encouraging other publishers to join.
The catalyst: “A Framework for Action in Scientific Publishing”
Released this week by the Royal Society of Chemistry, A Framework for Action in Scientific Publishing – Improving inclusion and diversity in the chemical sciences was used as a focal point of the workshop. As a practical, action-focussed document, it clearly sets out how the RSC aims to tackle issues it uncovered in its own chemical sciences publishing activities, as part of research into gender inequality.
Dr Emma Wilson said: “We published this framework for action in acknowledgement that we could do better – and we wanted to do so via tangible actions rather than just words.
“We were aware that issues with bias don’t exclusively exist in chemistry, so we shared it with other publishers, and were heartened to see the enthusiasm it was received with. The fact that it now forms the basis of a collective statement to achieve minimum standards on inclusion diversity across a huge range of disciplines is a real source of pride for our teams dedicated to making the chemical sciences an even better place to work.”
The framework was a commitment made during the RSC’s enquiry into its publication processes, 2019’s Is publishing in the chemical sciences gender biased?. This report analysed more than 700,000 research papers and 141,000 citations in its journals, revealing that women face subtle barriers at each stage of the publication process.
In its new framework for action, the RSC recognises that strong foundations must first be laid to achieve lasting impact. Therefore, the document framework has two parts: Building the Foundations and Opportunities for Action.
Each part has four sections, which focus on specific topics such as “Establishing leadership” or “Setting standards”. Several actions are then suggested within each topic, which can be used to provide a general understanding of performance, and enable identification and prioritisation of actions.
Dr Wilson continued: “We have already started implementing this in earnest, but we are not going to remain complacent. We are looking forward to learning from and working with our colleagues in the wider publishing world to make this to be a watershed moment in science; a point from which we see constant improvement across the publishing community.”