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Editorial Snapshot: How COVID-19 has affected gender disparity in academia

- A.S., Editor

Disruptions in regular work are one of the challenges faced by society due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In academic publishing, however, there has been an increase in productivity. The jump in the number of manuscript submissions compared to previous years was most noticeable in the field of medicine and life sciences, which are most closely tied to the topic of COVID-19 itself, but a general rise was also seen across all scientific disciplines, indicating a clear trend towards increased work output.

However, by May 2020, data were accumulating that suggested a possible gender disparity in research being published, even early in the pandemic. One study showed that on preprint servers, between 2019 and 2020, both the number of female authors and the rate of submissions by female first authors were lower compared to their male counterparts. More recently, a larger study examined submissions to 2329 journals owned by the publishing company Elsevier between 2018 and 2020. It was reported that during the first COVID-19 wave, submissions by women were fewer in number across multiple academic fields, including medicine, physical sciences, and social sciences. The gender difference in the rate of submissions was also found to be more pronounced in junior researchers.

The authors of this recent study hypothesized that the conditions of working from home may have more strongly impacted the academic productivity of women due to a greater burden in terms of familial duties. There is also a concern that the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on young women beginning their careers as researchers may also have long-term consequences on gender equality in academia.

On such broad and divisive social matters, it is especially important to conduct solid research that can serve as the foundation for further discussions. With a clearer view of how COVID-19 restrictions may affect men and women differently, academic publishers and institutions can gain an understanding of how to promote fairer and more inclusive practices in the future.

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