Diverse teams produce better research. There are demonstrable benefits to having a wide range of viewpoints and experiences, whether in academia or industry, and there’s a moral responsibility for us to make our community a place where anyone can reach their full potential.
In our report, the Diversity landscape of the chemical sciences, published earlier this year, we compiled some of the available evidence for the current state of diversity in the Chemical Sciences. This data gathering has given us a picture that allows us to identify areas of the most need, set intelligent targets for our future activities, and benchmark our future progress from a defined starting point. The report touched on issues of inclusivity in terms of ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background, and we are
However, retention of women emerged as the biggest single loss of talent from our community. At each stage of progression, women are leaving the sector, a massive loss of talent and economic potential. In academia, at undergraduate level, 44% of students are female. This drops to 39% of postgraduate students, and plummets to a mere 9% among chemistry professors.
This is a systemic failure – with a wide range of factors including conscious and unconscious bias in hiring and progression committees, and a working environment that is hostile to all but disproportionately affects women. There’s also a difference in remuneration. The difference in median pay between men and women is £13,000, an increase since 2015. The pay gap increases over the course of women’s careers, with older respondents reporting a greater gap than those at the beginning of their careers.
Scientific publishing, as an inherent part of academic life, also plays a huge role in this problem. As the publisher of a journals portfolio including 45 peer-reviewed journals the Royal Society of Chemistry is ideally situated not only to contribute data to the discussion but also to take action to tackle the issues that are identified. By harnessing the authorship and citation data associated with almost 70,000 published, peer-reviewed articles we showed that papers by female corresponding authors received significantly fewer citations than those authored by men. We also saw a negative correlation between the impact factor of a journal and the number of submissions by women, suggesting that female corresponding authors are discouraged from putting their work forward for consideration by top journals.
As part of our actions to address this imbalance we are carefully monitoring all new editorial board appointments as well as our ongoing commissioning efforts to identify and remove potential sources of bias. The goal of these efforts is not to employ positive discrimination, but instead to better enable ourselves and our community to recognise the many talented women already working in the Chemical Sciences and hence encourage further progress towards equity. It is with this in mind that we are proud to launch our new themed collection:
Celebrating Excellence in Research: 100 Women of Chemistry is a collection of high quality papers from across the RSC Publishing portfolio. As the name of the collection suggests, the excellence comes first – all papers included have previously been judged to be of outstanding quality by the reviewers, editors, or readers.
In light of the problems with women’s progression and retention, we decided to focus on female group leaders and corresponding authors – both to celebrate their own achievements in the field and to act as an inspiration for early career researchers and students within the community. An initial nomination stage by our journal editorial teams or editorial board members identified leaders in their respective fields. This resulted in a considerable number of excellent authors from whom 100 papers were then chosen as examples of exceptional research. We intend to represent the diversity of the publishing landscape, including researchers from 23 countries and at all stages of an independent career.
We have selected 100 papers but could have selected many more. The number 100 also has special significance here in the UK, where we are currently celebrating Vote 100 – the centenary of the first women in the UK to obtain the vote. The number proved restrictive, and as part of our ongoing commitment to equality and diversity, we will be following this up with subjects-specific collections in the months to come, but for now, we invite you to read this collection and Celebrate Excellence in Research with us.