Only 1 in 5 editors in chief of leading medical journals are women, study finds

Women remain underrepresented at the most senior position of international medical journals, finds a new study investigating the gender distribution of editors-in-chief across 41 journal specialities.

The results, published today in JAMA Network Open, found that women represented just 21 percent of editor-in-chief positions, varying widely across specialities (with none at journals specialising in psychiatry and anaesthesiology, to 82 percent in genetics and heredity). Even in women’s health journals, the top editorial position was predominantly held by men rather than women.

Dr Ana-Catarina Pinho-Gomes of The George Institute for Global Health, UK, in collaboration with Imperial College London, who led the research, said it showed much more needed to be done to achieve gender parity.

“Despite the gradual increase of women as clinicians in many medical specialities over the past 50 years, our findings highlight a disappointing lack of progress in their representation in the most senior editorial positions of high-impact medical journals.

“This adds to compelling evidence on the longstanding gender bias, which has been consistently reported across all medical specialties and at all stages of the academic and clinical career ladder.”

Researchers suggest multiple causes for this disparity, including traditional gender roles that preferentially attribute informal care, administrative and pastoral responsibilities to women, and unconscious gender bias that may underpin an undervaluing of women’s academic achievements and the perception that they are unfit for senior leadership roles.

A total of 410 journals and 444 editors in chief were included in the analysis which was conducted in April 2021. All journals, regardless of their size and remit, have at least one editor in chief, who oversees the production of content for publications. The findings that women are significantly underrepresented in this position tracks with previous studies, indicating that progress has been inadequate.

The George Institute’s Professor Mark Woodward, Chair of Statistics, Epidemiology and Women’s Health at Imperial College London said:

“There must be a serious commitment from authors, editorial boards, publishers and the medical scientific community to tackle the longstanding structural barriers and gender bias that underpin women’s underrepresentation in senior leadership roles in medical journals, and more generally.”

Study authors suggest providing training on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as on unconscious gender bias, to key stakeholders, as well as having robust policies that establish gender quotas in editorial boards and remove tangible and intangible barriers to women’s career progression.

The original investigation is available here