Since the lockdown, academic submissions from women have dropped drastically while research papers from men have risen up to 50%. Here’s how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting female scholars.

Are women publishing less during the pandemic?

Are women publishing less during the pandemic?According to an investigation released by the Washington Post, academic journals are seeing a substantial dip in women submission research papers. The study showed that not only were academic submissions from women down a considerable amount but some fields haven’t received any.

The Lilly, Huffington’s Post newspaper aimed at millennial women, found a drop of up to 50% in academic papers in the first four months of 2020 (compared to last year). Responding to the numbers, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science deputy editor tweeted, “negligible number of submissions to the journal from women this month. Never seen anything like it.”

At the same time, many publications have reported a significant rise in submissions from male authors. 

So why are women submitting far less academic submissions compared to pre-pandemic, and compared to their male counterparts? A tweet that went viral last month may have the (ironic) answer: “The next person who tweets about how productive Isaac Newton was while working from home gets my three year old posted to them!”

The lockdown sanctions that swept us all early March meant that work, school and home life become one big intersection. 

Conversations on Twitter and other social platforms seemed to confirm that female academics, taking on increased childcare and home responsibilities were falling drastically behind their male peers.

A cocktail of childcare, eldercare, housework, homeschool, and professional duties has demanded more attention than ever, and these are tasks that typically fall on the shoulders of women. Alessandra Minello, a statistician and social demographer at the University of Florence, Italy, shared her experience in the article, The Pandemic and the Female Academic. She explained:

“I have less time for writing scientific articles. Instead of working, my colleagues and I are aiming to make it through daily life. Of course, when compared with the drastic consequences of contracting COVID-19, this is a trifling matter. And we know that we are all lucky to have the jobs we do. Wealth, or lack thereof, and other social inequalities are affecting people’s access to work, health care, shopping and other services.”

Minello also touched on a crucial point in the conversation of professional expectations during the pandemic. “Mothers and fathers together are facing a short-term recognition of care and work time”, she writes. “Those with fewer care duties are aiming for the stars. Will anyone in the academic community take into account out unbalanced approach to family and care work? No. All of us will participate together in open competition for promotion and positions, parents and non-parents alike.”

In the scientific workforce, there are similar patterns. 

The research tells us that when confined to the home (case in point with the current health pandemic), women scholars and academics are more likely to take on a more intensified collection of domestic responsibilities. For many women, this means a reduction in professional priorities, and in this case, scholarly submissions.

Still, journal submissions from men have increased drastically since the quarantine sanctions came into effect. The Comparative Political Studies journal reported that submissions from men were up almost 50% in April.

Most of the reasoning behind this has to do with the fact that housecare duties tend to fall on a women’s shoulders more than their male partners, leaving men more time for their academic research. But the director of the new Research on Research Institute based at Wellcome Trust Prof James Wilsdon worries that the pandemic is tilting scales that were not even to begin with.

In an interview with the Guardian, he explains:

“We have to be very cautious that we are not privileging those who are able to use the coronavirus situation as a time to race ahead of their peers, who are held back not by talent or aspiration but by the need to do homeschooling and put three meals a day on the table”.

More studies from the Guardian revealed that during the lockdown, mothers in the UK particularly, are providing at least 50% more childcare as well as spending up to 30% more time than fathers homeschooling their children.

It’s worth noting, however, that traditionally, women do publish less than men (according to the European Commission She Figures). Still, more studies are showing a further drop in academic submission from women since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a recent article in The University Times (Ireland’s largest student newspaper), assistant professor in Trinity’s School of Social Work, Susan Flynn, shed light on the systemic obstacles gender inequality has on submission rates. She said:

“Administration far outweighs how much it’s supposed to account for in my workload”, says Susan Flynn, an assistant professor in Trinity’s School of Social Work and Social Policy. “I do think that women do more administration … [however] what is going to get [you] promoted and acknowledged is research.”

Yet for many women in the current climate, research has been forced to take a back seat, in order to make room for household and family duties. So, what can be done to close the gender gap in academic submissions?

Finding new solutions to old problems

Several higher administrators have started to introduce policies to counteract the expected dip in productivity (during the pandemic). 

While these measures will certainly mitigate a loss in productivity in general, they tend to be gender-neutral solutions, and therefore may not impact women directly. 

Academic institutions can take the first step by starting an honest dialogue about the extent of gender bias in academia.

Effective implicit bias training classes can be used as part of the review team’s onboarding process. Faculties can produce clear guidelines and visibility into the impact of COVID-19 with clear metrics and tangible benchmarks. Some institutions have already put “COVID Committees” in place, tasked with addressing the fast-changing effects of the pandemic on academic submissions. 

When reviewing academic submissions, levelling the playing field needs an active, conscious effort. If not managed, implicit bias and discrimination can slip through review processes easily and undetected—submission software helps you build a review process that’s fair and equitable so everyone gets a chance. 

Get in touch with us at Submit for a demo walk-through of how the platform helps you build a review workflow that honours all talent and bridges the gender gap within academia.

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