How Publishers Can Help Drive Diversity & Inclusion in Peer Review

If journal editors often rely on their own networks of contacts to recruit peer reviewers, then could diversity in editorial boards help improve diversity and inclusion in peer reviewers?

As the pool of researchers becomes more diverse (in all dimensions, including in race, gender, geography, culture), there is a pressing need for a more varied pool of peers to review their work. Journal editors and editorial board members often begin their search for reviewers from their own contacts—their own personal networks. Following from this—could increasing diversity in editors and editorial boards help drive diversity in peer review? How can a publisher like Springer Nature help?

In-house editors

At Springer Nature we have the most influence on diversity within our journals when in-house staff members serve as editors. For example, our Nature-branded journals, as well as the newly-launched Springer Nature journals SN Applied Sciences and SN Comprehensive Clinical Medicine.

Springer Nature’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Jessica Gedamu, discussed the issue in terms of internal recruiting.

“If, as an organization, we internally represent the diverse communities we serve, we are not only better connected to reach out to more diverse researchers, authors and peer reviewers, but we also have greater understanding and knowledge about the issues and topics that impact those communities. We are looking at minimizing the gender gap in areas such as conference speakers, authorship of commissioned content, peer reviewers as well as work to ensure that issues that impact minority and disadvantaged populations are better represented in commissioned content in Nature.”

To help build a more inclusive editorial staff internally, “we strive for an inclusive workplace in which colleagues with different backgrounds thrive on all levels of the organization. To drive progress in this area, we are rolling out training on inclusive leadership and unconscious bias, and provide guidance to structure the recruitment process in a way that fosters diversity and prevents bias. We are also piloting two mentoring programs and will define meaningful key performance indicators to track and measure our progress.”

We recently launched SN Applied Sciences, managed by in-house editorial staff. Fleur van Dijl, Editorial Information Manager for Springer’s Applied Sciences group, talked about part of the thinking that went into recruiting these editors.

“In my view having Editorial Board members from different universities, countries, schools of thought, and ages will certainly help in creating a truly comprehensive, inclusive platform for all scientifically sound content in applied sciences,” she said. “Different backgrounds can also contribute to establishing unbiased peer review.”

External Editors and Editorial Boards

Diverse Editorial Boards extends to our academic journals run by external editors and editorial boards. Editorial staff working on BMC and SpringerOpen journals actively work to expand and diversify those editorial boards when they recruit new members for them. For example, in the past year we’ve added two co-Editors-in-Chief of varied backgrounds each to our four biggest SpringerOpen mathematics journals (Advances in Difference Equations, Boundary Value Problems, Fixed Point Theory and Applications, and the Journal of Inequalities and Applications).

And even one of Springer’s largest journals, the Journal of Materials Science, has in recent years taken aggressive steps to diversify its Editorial Board, in order to help diversify the pool of available reviewers to match the pool of incoming submissions.

Editing and reviewing—human activities

While some have suggested that technology—algorithms and databases—could help with this, the editorial function is, at a basic level, a human activity. If we believe that a diverse pool of peer reviewers will help align with a diverse pool of researchers submitting their work, then it should follow that moving back in the process a step—to the editors and editorial boards—should likewise help drive inclusion and diversity in recruiting peer reviewers.

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