How can we make editorial boards more diverse?

23rd February 2022

Author: Sally Wilson, Publishing Director

The bottom line – most editorial boards, including our own, aren’t diverse enough. This status quo is harmful because it prolongs a culture of academic elitism and a system where impact factors remain the chief measure of research quality.

Many of us talk about supporting research that is inclusive and equitable, and that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals, but we will only be effective by changing our publishing norms. One change we are working towards is creating editorial boards that represent different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences and by doing so we hope to improve research culture, as well as drive innovation and creativity.

There aren’t necessarily any quick fixes that will make editorial boards more diverse, but we must move forward regardless and mostly through less talk and more action. For us this started with signing up to DORA and the SDG Publisher Compact, and then addressing internal gender imbalance and inclusion more generally with our STRIDE programme. Then we made a commitment to Black Lives Matter and joined the RSC-founded group, which means we only take part in conferences with diverse and inclusive panels.

We are keen to bring others along with us on this journey, so in 2020 we made a rally cry through Our Power of Diverse Voices report to challenge the status quo. The call was well received and this year we’ve been collaborating with the International Network of Research Management Societies (INORMS) Research Evaluation Working Group to explore how we can achieve greater diversity on our editorial boards, working with our editorial teams using the SCOPE model.

The logical next step was to reach out to our editors, so we conducted a quantitative survey and focus group to understand their views and experiences on diversity. Editors made it clear that diversity is extremely important, and that more diverse boards should equate to better quality research – "if there is only one cultural background on a board, the board will only think one way". However, they also drew attention to barriers, including existing structures and inequalities within academia that are preventing meaningful change – "those with the power may just pay lip service and carry on with the status quo". Others believe that change is unlikely to happen organically, and that Emerald is right to take steps to tackle the representation and makeup of editorial boards.

As we look to 2022, we will continue to take a public stance on our commitment to EDI and actively encourage discussion within our editor and author communities.

There is an additional dimension to the importance of looking again at advisory board structures. In a rapidly evolving research landscape, we are seeing an increasing focus on the value that interdisciplinary research has to play in solving ‘grand challenges’ and increasing feedback from the research community that many journals are not designed to facilitate this. Alongside the focus on ensuring a broad range of demographics represented on our boards, we also believe it is key to ensure that where possible boards should include a range of relevant disciplines and stakeholders: to ensure a truly diverse and representative editorial process, we also need to include practitioners, policymakers, etc. in these discussions. 

Another way we’re fostering diversity and inclusion is to track gender splits among authors for 2022 books frontlist titles, editorial boards for 40 journals aligned to our Goals, and journal reviewers. We’re also adding equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) questions to ScholarOne to monitor the diversity of our authors and reviewers, along with emphasising our EDI stance in our editor contracts to ensure they are aligned with our priorities in this area.

Our Emerald Open Research platform is an evolution of our journal model, aimed at addressing some of the issues we see around reviewing and curating research beyond traditional journal subject silos. The open review means that authors are more likely to attract reviewers who have expertise in that area, from different angles, rather than anonymous reviewers assigned by an editorial team who might not be as close to the research or the conventions of interdisciplinary research.

We know there is also work to do to facilitate interdisciplinary research within more ‘traditional’ journals and are working on the guidelines we give our editors and reviewers.

Not just a problem for academia

Scholarly publishing often mirrors academia in terms of its lack of diversity, so we must look at ourselves and make changes throughout our organisation. For example, if we are to develop the right products for a diverse audience then we need to recruit a diverse workforce to support collaboration and co-creation.

To minimise unconscious bias in our recruitment practices, we’ve adopted a recruitment system that replaces CVs and covering letters with basic employment history and personal statements, and hides information such as name, address, and education history that might give clues to a candidate’s gender, age, race/ethnicity, or other protected characteristics.

For existing staff, we launched a private and voluntary 'All about me' section on our HR hub, where staff can provide information on legally protected characteristics and other factors, from preferred pronouns, to allergies and dietary requirements. We’ve also developed a SharePoint site, Altogether Different, that has a range of resources and recordings of internal events we’ve hosted as part of our commitment to EDI.

So, we’ve started, but there is much more work ahead! As we look to 2022, we will continue to take a public stance on our commitment to EDI and actively encourage discussion within our editor and author communities. Our hope is to encourage commitment to diversity and promote collaboration, but above all, to ignite action that will make a difference.