Gender balance: The role institutions play in fostering change



In the eleventh of our interviews with key speakers who are presenting at SEC 11th -12th October 2018, Dr. Lesley Thompson talks about the role institutions play to foster change in gender balance.


Lesley Thompson joined Elsevier in 2015 and has the role of strengthening Elsevier’s relationship with senior leaders in the research world in the UK, making sure the company is attuned to the concerns of the research community and ensuring they provide valued products and services. Prior to joining Elsevier, for 10 years she was Research Director of the UK’s largest research council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.


Could you explain more about what you have been tasked with at Elsevier in terms of gender balance?

I have no direct responsibility for gender balance in my role in Elsevier. However, this is an area I have always championed, so I support the company by contributing ideas and being engaged. I like to think that by collecting and presenting the facts on diversity I have been able, along with many others, to encourage many to reflect.


What are some of the key findings in Elsevier’s report – Gender in the Global Research Landscape?

A few of the key findings include:

    • Women publish fewer research papers on average than men
    • Women are less likely than men to collaborate internationally on research papers
    • Women on average make up 40 per cent of the research population, but represent less than 14 per cent of those listed in patent applications
    • Women are slightly less likely to collaborate on academic corporate papers
    • Women are less internationally mobile than male researchers


Do you feel the progress over the last 10 years towards gender balance has progressed at a significant enough rate and are there any particular disciplines, which are falling behind?

Around the globe, over the 20-year sample period of our report, things have improved. However, the picture is very mixed by geography and discipline. Japan is performing poorly and Brazil well, but those are the numbers. The reasons behind them are very interesting and it’s only by providing the data that things can be discussed. With respect to disciplines, women are better represented in life science and health sciences, however in physical sciences women are generally and markedly under-represented, often below 25 per cent of the population in the geographies we studied.


Where has the greatest progress been made and what are institutions in that part of the world doing that others could adopt?

There are differing patterns across the globe and within a particular country there are examples of great practice. A couple of examples that stick in my mind are the introduction of high chairs into a research-intensive departmental restaurant/coffee bars, no meetings starting before 9.30am, and support to enable returners. I think one of the most powerful actions is to celebrate best practice and to share great example. Positive examples are so much more powerful than all the poor examples.


What more can institutions do to foster change and where do you see Elsevier’s role in changing the global research landscape?

The benefit of institutions benchmarking themselves is very powerful, especially if they have committed leadership who want to change things for the better. I know many senior research leaders who have looked at the Elsevier report and said, if this is the national or the global landscape, how does my institution perform against that, as we must achieve best in class. With diversity comes improved performance. Elsevier has provided those benchmarks. We also have a role in our publishing business to make sure we look for more gender balance in our editors and our peer review processes, including targets for women editors. We are also an important employer and so we have another responsibility in making sure our own workforce makes the most of all talent.


What are the biggest challenges you foresee in terms of creating a gender balance both in industry and academic sectors?

The speed of change is the biggest challenge. Things are improving, but is it sufficient to watch this change at the rate it is, or do we need to do more to promote diversity? The balance between men and women is a subject that is now firmly in the spotlight. The data for other protected characteristics is really worrying and needs to have the attention of all of us. Diverse teams are proven to be the most effective, so it makes financial, as well as moral, sense.

You can find out more about the STEMM Equality Congress here

You can find out more about Lesley Thompson here