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Will COVID-19 result in a giant step backwards for women in academic science?

  • Larissa Shamseer
    Correspondence
    Corresponding author.
    Affiliations
    Knowledge Translation Program, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, 209 Victoria Street, East Building, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1W8, Canada
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  • Ivy Bourgeault
    Affiliations
    School of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Ottawa, 120 University Private, Social Sciences Building, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5, Canada
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  • Eva Grunfeld
    Affiliations
    Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, 500 University Ave, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1V7, Canada
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  • Ainsley Moore
    Affiliations
    Department of Family Medicine, McMaster University, 100 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, L8P 1H6, Canada
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  • Nazia Peer
    Affiliations
    Knowledge Translation Program, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, 209 Victoria Street, East Building, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1W8, Canada
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  • Sharon E. Straus
    Affiliations
    Knowledge Translation Program, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, 209 Victoria Street, East Building, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1W8, Canada

    Department of Geriatric Medicine, University of Toronto, 6 Queen's Park Crescent West, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3H2, Canada
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  • Andrea C. Tricco
    Affiliations
    Knowledge Translation Program, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, 209 Victoria Street, East Building, Toronto, Ontario, M5B 1W8, Canada

    Epidemiology Division, Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Institute for Health, Management, and Evaluation, University of Toronto, 155 College St, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 3M7, Canada

    Queens Collaboration for Health Care Quality, A JBI Centre of Excellence, Queens University, 99 University Ave, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada
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      Abstract

      COVID-19 has disproportionately placed women in academic science on the frontlines of domestic and clinical care compared to men. As a result, women in science are publishing less and potentially acquiring less funding during COVID-19 than compared to before. This widens the pre-existing gap between men and women in prevailing, publication-based measures of productivity used to determine academic career progression. Early career women and those with intersectional identities associated with greater inequities, are facing unique challenges during this time. We argue that women will fall further behind unless academic reward systems adjust how and what they evaluate. We propose several strategies that academic institutions, funders, journals, and men in academic science can take.

      Keywords

        What is new?

      • COVID-19 continues to impact the careers of women in academic science.
      • Data and targeted solutions are needed.

        Key findings

      • Prevailing measures of academic performance are inadequate for addressing the inequities underscored by COVID-19.
      • Early career researchers and clinician scientists are facing distinct, compounded inequities in career progression.

        What this adds to what is known:

      • We demonstrate the link between the burden and consequence of COVID-19 on the careers/career progression of women in academic science.

        What Is The Implication/what should change now

      • Academic institutions, funders, journals, and men in academic science can help reduce further erosion of women’s careers.

      1. Introduction

      International Women's Day 2021, marks 362 days since the World Health Organization declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic [

      WHO Director-General. WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. p. WHO Director General Speeches. Available from: https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid- 19—11-march- 2020.

      ]. Aside from the urgent public health issues, the pandemic has had, and will continue to have, major impacts on how societies and economies function. For instance, when governments worldwide enforced lengthy closures of workplaces, childcare centers, and schools to control the virus, they impacted people's ability to work, with some groups being disproportionately affected. The socially constructed norms, roles, and behaviors associated with gender in our society have placed women in academic science (i.e., researchers and clinician scientists) as primary carers both in the home and on the frontlines of healthcare during this time []. For women in academic science (including the authors of this commentary) this is compounding pre-existing inequities they face in advancing their careers, and is particularly problematic for early career researchers and those with other intersecting identities (e.g., race, age, sexuality) that lead to being additionally affected [
      • Crenshaw K.
      Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color.
      ,
      • Tricco AC
      • Bourgeault I
      • Moore A
      • Grunfeld E
      • Peer N
      • Straus SE.
      Advancing gender equity in medicine.
      . Women are contributing less to science during COVID, and some had to halt their research. This is concerning since women's involvement in research yields more diverse research, as well as research that properly accounts for sex and gender [
      • Sugimoto CR
      • Ahn Y-Y
      • Smith E
      • Macaluso B
      • Larivière V.
      Factors affecting sex-related reporting in medical research: a cross-disciplinary bibliometric analysis.
      ]. Large amounts of COVID research have been shown to inadequately capture sex and gender differences in populations [
      • Spagnolo PA
      • Manson JAE
      • Joffe H.
      Sex and Gender Differences in health: what the COVID-19 pandemic can teach us.
      ,
      • Schiffer VMMM
      • Janssen EBNJ
      • van Bussel BCT
      • Jorissen LLM
      • Tas J
      • Sels JWEM
      • et al.
      The “sex gap” in COVID-19 trials: a scoping review.
      .
      Women in science need to be supported as they carry the burden of the impact of COVID-19. This commentary focuses on the tension between society's reliance on women as carers and a career in academic science, underscored by COVID-19. We recognize here that gender is not binary, despite the majority of scientific literature heretofore representing it as such. We also recognize that we are privileged to represent the plight of gender across cohorts and to offer insight on potential solutions via this article.

      2. The compounded inequity of academic reward in science, pre-COVID

      Pre-COVID, it was well-known that more academic women carry the burden of domestic and care responsibilities than their male counterparts [

      Mason MA, Wolfinger, Nicholas H. Do babies matter?: gender and family in the Ivory Tower. 2013.

      ,

      Derrick GE, Jaeger A, Chen P-Y, Sugimoto CR, Van Leeuwen T, Lariviere V. Models of parenting and its effect on academic productivity: preliminary results from an international survey. 2019.

      . Additionally, men in academia are more likely to have stay-at-home partners than their female counterparts, while women are more likely to be in dual career relationships [
      • Schiebinger L.
      • Henderson A.D.
      • Gilmartin S.K.
      Dual-career academic couples: What universities need to know.
      ]. Women also tend to be tasked with or take on more academic service work (e.g., teaching, sitting on committees, providing emotional support to staff, trainees, and mentees) than men, further impacting their available research time [
      • Misra J
      • Lundquist JH
      • Holmes E
      • Agiomavritis S.
      The Ivory ceiling of service work.
      ]. Taken together, this translates into men having more time for scholarly activities (such as conducting and publishing research) and being more able to accommodate the travel and networking opportunities as well as potential relocation demands of an academic career than women. That women inherently have less time and flexibility due to competing responsibilities, puts us at an unfair disadvantage. The effect of this is that women scientists are underrepresented in both faculty and senior leadership positions in academic institutions, despite more women training as scientists than men [
      • Director-General UNESCO
      Cracking the code: girls’ and women's education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) - UNESCO Digital Library.
      ,
      • Glauser W.
      Rise of women in medicine not matched by leadership roles.
      . That men in academic science advance their careers at a quicker pace and with greater ease than women is, in part, the result of implicit and systemic biases present in academic reward systems.
      Problematically, and nearly universally, career progression in academic science is heavily weighted on publication-based metrics/measures [
      • Rice DB
      • Raffoul H
      • Ioannidis JPA
      • Moher D.
      Academic criteria for promotion and tenure in biomedical sciences faculties: cross sectional analysis of international sample of universities.
      ]. The top five academic performance criteria identified across biomedical faculties, globally, are: the number of peer reviewed publications; authorship order; journal impact factor; grant funding; and national or international reputation [
      • Rice DB
      • Raffoul H
      • Ioannidis JPA
      • Moher D.
      Academic criteria for promotion and tenure in biomedical sciences faculties: cross sectional analysis of international sample of universities.
      ]. These measures have largely been recognized as problematic since they may incentivize bad behavior (i.e., salami slicing, selective reporting) thus compromising the integrity of scholarly record [
      • Ioannidis JPA
      • Khoury MJ.
      Assessing value in biomedical research: the PQRST of appraisal and reward.
      ]. Less attention has focused on the problem that such metrics appear to favor men [
      • Symonds MRE
      • Gemmell NJ
      • Braisher TL
      • Gorringe KL
      • Elgar MA.
      Gender differences in publication output: towards an unbiased metric of research performance.
      ]. Globally, men dominate women in quantity of scientific output, papers with senior authorship positions, and international co-authorships [
      • Larivière V
      • Ni C
      • Gingras Y
      • Cronin B
      • Sugimoto CR.
      Bibliometrics: global gender disparities in science.
      ]. This is unsurprising considering that men have more time to contribute to science and may have more opportunity to build an international network through travel. However, men are additionally overrepresented in the journal peer review process [
      • Helmer M
      • Schottdorf M
      • Neef A
      • Battaglia D.
      Gender bias in scholarly peer review.
      ,
      • Murray D
      • Siler K
      • Larivière V
      • Chan WM
      • Collings AM
      • Raymond J
      • et al.
      Author-reviewer homophily in peer review.
      , are cited more in senior authorship positions [
      • Larivière V
      • Ni C
      • Gingras Y
      • Cronin B
      • Sugimoto CR.
      Bibliometrics: global gender disparities in science.
      ], and systematically cite their own research more (thus boosting men's citation counts) [
      • King MM
      • Bergstrom CT
      • Correll SJ
      • Jacquet J
      • West JD.
      Men set their own cites high: gender and self-citation across fields and over time.
      ]. Measuring productivity and impact through number and rank of publications offers a poor reflection of women's capabilities, productivity, and impact across their scholarly activities [
      • Tricco AC
      • Bourgeault I
      • Moore A
      • Grunfeld E
      • Peer N
      • Straus SE.
      Advancing gender equity in medicine.
      ] and, further reinforces inequity in who is progressing through the ranks of academia.
      Women in academic science have been rated lower and are less successful in grant competitions than their male counterparts [
      • Witteman HO
      • Hendricks M
      • Straus S
      • Tannenbaum C.
      Are gender gaps due to evaluations of the applicant or the science? A natural experiment at a national funding agency.
      ,
      • Burns KEA
      • Straus SE
      • Liu K
      • Rizvi L
      • Guyatt G.
      Gender differences in grant and personnel award funding rates at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research based on research content area: a retrospective analysis.
      . This is hypothesized to be due to implicit bias by reviewers and systemic bias in the structure of funding competitions, which favors men (i.e., more publications in higher impact journals, more previous funding); less likely is the possibility that they are less capable than men [
      • Witteman HO
      • Hendricks M
      • Straus S
      • Tannenbaum C.
      Are gender gaps due to evaluations of the applicant or the science? A natural experiment at a national funding agency.
      ]. Without funding, women have fewer resources to conduct impactful research, thus perpetuating one of their major disadvantages in funding competitions.
      These systemic barriers in academia, publishing, and funding allocation are further amplified when race intersects with gender [
      • Ginther DK
      • Basner J
      • Jensen U
      • Schnell J
      • Kington R
      • Schaffer WT.
      Publications as predictors of racial and ethnic differences in NIH research awards.
      ]. In a study that looked at publications as predictors of racial and ethnic differences in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research awards, black applicants reported fewer papers on their bio sketches, and were found to have fewer citations and publish in lower impact journals than white applicants [
      • Ginther DK
      • Basner J
      • Jensen U
      • Schnell J
      • Kington R
      • Schaffer WT.
      Publications as predictors of racial and ethnic differences in NIH research awards.
      ]. For women, intersecting identities (e.g., gender, race, age, Indigeneity) puts them at an even greater disadvantage.

      3. The burden of COVID-19 on women's productivity

      Prior to COVID, it was estimated that women were responsible for 75% of unpaid caregiving and domestic work worldwide [

      Moreira da Silva J. Why you should care about unpaid care work [Internet]. OECD Development Matters. 2019 [cited 2021 Feb 25]. Available from: https://oecd-development-matters.org/2019/03/18/why-you-should-care-about-unpaid-care-work.

      ]. COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders have increased this responsibility, requiring that parents, namely women, take on full time childcare responsibility for younger children and facilitate virtual learning for school-aged children [

      UN Secretary-General. Policy brief: the impact of COVID-19 on women [Internet]. UN Women. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 25]. p. 21. Available from: https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/04/policy-brief-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-women.

      ]. Some are additionally caring for older or sick family members. For women in academic science, particularly mothers or other caregivers, this has severely impacted the amount of time and focus they have for scholarly activities. With children and adolescents in the home, academic women's careers are being sidelined or halted. Further, we are currently in a holding pattern of repeated shutdowns as we await third, fourth, and fifth virus waves and virus variants to arrive. The unknown timing and duration of these interruptions makes it more difficult for women to plan their research and meet deadlines compared with men.

      3.1 The early career conundrum

      Critical career transition periods such as postdoctoral or early career stages, have become more challenging for women during COVID-19 since these career stages often align with the period of having young children [

      Mason MA, Wolfinger, Nicholas H. Do babies matter?: gender and family in the Ivory Tower. 2013.

      ]. Data are emerging that, across career stages, female postdoctoral scientists and early career scientists who are parents, have had their ability to work most compromised by the pandemic [

      Tiesmaki M. Supporting health researchers during a pandemic: A research funder's response to COVID-19 [Internet]. Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research News. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 17]. Available from: https://www.msfhr.org/news/forward-thinking-supporting-health-researchers-during-pandemic.

      ]. Additionally, among academic researchers, this group of women appear to be the most affected by mental health issues as a result of the pandemic [

      Tiesmaki M. Supporting health researchers during a pandemic: A research funder's response to COVID-19 [Internet]. Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research News. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 17]. Available from: https://www.msfhr.org/news/forward-thinking-supporting-health-researchers-during-pandemic.

      ]. We face the serious potential for a lost generation of women scientists in academia and the areas they investigate due to COVID [
      • Cardel MI
      • Dean N
      • Montoya-Williams D.
      Preventing a secondary epidemic of lost early career scientists. Effects of COVID-19 pandemic on women with children.
      ].
      These challenges are further exacerbated for early career women clinician scientists, many of whom have responded to the pandemic with increased clinical work (and corresponding reduced research activities) to ensure patient needs are met. The pandemic has produced an unprecedented period of moral distress for these women, which is having a profound impact on mental health and wellness [
      • Sheather J
      • Fidler H.
      Covid-19 has amplified moral distress in medicine.
      ,
      • Horton J.
      The quiet despair of health-care workers in the pandemic.
      . This will impact their research productivity and thus career progression now and beyond pandemic recovery.

      3.2 The consequences on careers and career progression

      Just as science is a cumulative process, so is academic reward in science [
      • Merton RK.
      The Matthew effect in science: the reward and communication systems of science are considered.
      ]. Career trajectories are determined on the basis of productivity. Surveys of published contributions demonstrate the difficulty women may be having keeping up with their previous productivity and with men [

      Vincent-Lamarre P, Sugimoto CR, Lariviére V. Monitoring women's scholarly production during the COVID-19 pandemic [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from: http://shiny.initiativesnumeriques.org/monitoring-scholarly-covid/.

      ,
      • Pinho-Gomes AC
      • Peters S
      • Thompson K
      • Hockham C
      • Ripullone K
      • Woodward M
      • et al.
      Where are the women? Gender inequalities in COVID-19 research authorship.
      .
      A data monitoring site produced by bibliometric researchers is live-tracking authorship by gender across preprint servers (which have seen exponentially increased submissions rates during COVID) [

      Vincent-Lamarre P, Sugimoto CR, Lariviére V. Monitoring women's scholarly production during the COVID-19 pandemic [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from: http://shiny.initiativesnumeriques.org/monitoring-scholarly-covid/.

      ]. An analysis produced early in the pandemic revealed the pre-eminent preprint server in medicine, medRxiv (first launched in June 2019), saw a substantial drop in the proportion of women first authors from 36% in December 2019 to 20% in April 2020 (lowest level to date) [
      • Vincent-Lamarre P
      • Sugimoto CR
      • Lariviére V.
      The decline of women's research production during the coronavirus pandemic.
      ]. By December 2020, this proportion had climbed to just fewer than 30% [

      Vincent-Lamarre P, Sugimoto CR, Lariviére V. Monitoring women's scholarly production during the COVID-19 pandemic [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from: http://shiny.initiativesnumeriques.org/monitoring-scholarly-covid/.

      ]. This is a strong indication that early career women are particularly falling behind since, as noted by the researchers, trainees (PhD students and postdoctoral researchers) typically hold first author positions and senior mentors retain last authorship in medicine. Several other studies of journal submission and publication rates, including one study across over 2000 Elsevier journals [
      • Squazzoni F
      • Bravo G
      • Grimaldo F
      • Garcıa-Costa D
      • Farjam M
      • Mehmani B.
      No tickets for women in the COVID-19 Race? A study on manuscript submissions and reviews in 2347 Elsevier Journals during the pandemic.
      ], demonstrated similar findings [
      • Andersen JP
      • Nielsen MW
      • Simone NL
      • Lewiss RE
      • Jagsi R.
      COVID-19 medical papers have fewer women first authors than expected.
      ,
      • Bell ML
      • Fong KC.
      Gender Differences in First and Corresponding authorship in public health research submissions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      . Such studies provide direct evidence of the detrimental and disproportionate impact that COVID has had on women's, and especially early career women's, publication rates.
      Women are also disproportionately underrepresented as authors of COVID-related research [

      Vincent-Lamarre P, Sugimoto CR, Lariviére V. Monitoring women's scholarly production during the COVID-19 pandemic [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 15]. Available from: http://shiny.initiativesnumeriques.org/monitoring-scholarly-covid/.

      ]. This possibly points to the difficulty, inability, or exclusion some are experiencing in pivoting towards this high impact and important research area. In Canada for instance, women scientists and sex-and-gender inclusive research were severely underrepresented in applications of funds in the first round COVID-specific grant competitions the Canadian Institutes of Health Research [
      • Witteman HO
      • Haverfield J
      • Tannenbaum C.
      Positive outcomes of COVID-19 research-related gender policy changes.
      ]. This prompted the agency to introduce measures to improve equity funding allocation [

      Clifford T. CIHR's commitment to enhancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the research funding system [Internet]. CIHR. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/52174.html.

      ], which resulted in an increase in applications from women from 29% to 39% and an increase in successful applications in women from 22% to 45%, between the first and second COVID grant competitions [
      • Witteman HO
      • Haverfield J
      • Tannenbaum C.
      Positive outcomes of COVID-19 research-related gender policy changes.
      ]. Pivoting to COVID research from a different focus requires time to develop new ideas and collaborations. Scientists who are also balancing other care demands (at home, clinical, etc) are at a great disadvantage.
      COVID research is certain to be published in higher impact journals and accrue more citations than non-COVID research. Not only are women missing out on this opportunity, but our society, overall, is failing to benefit from more relevant research including sex and gender considerations, as well as research examining questions that are uniquely relevant to women (e.g., the effect of COVID, treatments and vaccines on breastfeeding mothers). As different jurisdictions worldwide cycle in and out of stay-at-home orders, reduced publication rates for women can be expected to continue as the pandemic continues. Women may never “catch-up” on productivity due to the ultimate catch-22; while women are falling behind, men (particularly noncaregivers) are getting ahead from having more dedicated, undisrupted time. The result will be a cumulative advantage for academic men in science.

      4. Solutions: How can academic rewards address inequities?

      Solutions towards gender equity in medicine have previously been suggested and are applicable here and more broadly across academia [
      • Tricco AC
      • Bourgeault I
      • Moore A
      • Grunfeld E
      • Peer N
      • Straus SE.
      Advancing gender equity in medicine.
      ]. These include: quantifying inequities, systemic and behavioral change, career flexibility, increased representation, creating opportunities for mentorship, and financial support [
      • Tricco AC
      • Bourgeault I
      • Moore A
      • Grunfeld E
      • Peer N
      • Straus SE.
      Advancing gender equity in medicine.
      ].
      Standard measures of academic performance must be adjusted to account for disparities all groups, including women, are facing. It is imperative that academic and affiliated institutions, scientific funders, and journals collectively prioritize initiatives to ensure that women in academic science sustain their growth trajectory and potential impact permanently and reduce further attrition. We propose the following actions in support of this:

      4.1 Funders and institutions

      • Funders and institutions ought to jointly collect national and local data on researchers’ experiences, circumstances, using an intersectionality lens to understand which populations are facing disparities at particular moments in time. Such data ought to be collected on an ongoing basis so solutions can be sensitive to changes. Some funders are doing this [

        Tiesmaki M. Supporting health researchers during a pandemic: A research funder's response to COVID-19 [Internet]. Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research News. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 17]. Available from: https://www.msfhr.org/news/forward-thinking-supporting-health-researchers-during-pandemic.

        ,

        Covid-19 impact on researchers [Internet]. Vitae. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/impact-and-evaluation/covid-19-impact-on-researchers.

        and we encourage others to follow suit. This will provide an indication of where resources ought to be focused.
      • Institutions and funders could target equity-fostering initiatives (such as grant extensions, salary supplements) at groups experiencing acute disparities. Applying interventions such as pausing-the-clock or universally providing top-up funding without a targeted approach may work to further inequities. For example, universally extending the duration of early career by 1 year, means the gap between men and women will grow wider during that period. Those who predominantly do not have family and household responsibilities will be able to accomplish more compared to those who do. Some funders and institutions have processes or dedicated programs in place to support the success of disadvantaged groups such as those with competing roles as caregivers [

        Clifford T. CIHR's commitment to enhancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the research funding system [Internet]. CIHR. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/52174.html.

        ] or front line workers [

        Wellcome. Coronavirus: information for grant applicants and grantholders [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://wellcome.org/grant-funding/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-grant-applicants-and-grantholders#response.

        ], who take career breaks or require flexibility work patterns [
        • Jagsi R
        • Jones RD
        • Griffith KA
        • Brady KT
        • Brown AJ
        • Davis RD
        • et al.
        An innovative program to support gender equity and success in academic medicine: Early experiences from the doris duke charitable foundation's fund to retain clinical scientists.
        ], postdocs and early career researchers restarting academic careers after periods of leave [

        Imperial College London. Career Breaks and Flexible Working [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/life-sciences/staff-info/support-for-staff/funding-opportunities/career-breaks-and-flexible-working/.

        ].
      • Create opportunities for the work of women in academic science to be recognized. Representation matters and promoting women in academia should be an active process. At a global level, women deliver health, but men lead [
        • WHO Global Health Workforce Network’s Gender Equity Hub
        Delivered by women, led by men: a gender and equity analysis of the global health and social workforce.
        ]. In response to the lack of female leadership in initial COVID-19 responses, women's advocacy group, Women in Global Health launched a tool (Operation 50/50) that provides journalists with 100 female clinicians, specialist and experts in COVID-19 [

        COVID 50/50 [Internet]. Women In Global Health. 2020 [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://www.womeningh.org/covid5050.

        ]. The creation of these and similar opportunities are critical for women to maintain their visibility to further ensure gender-responsive approaches.
      • Institutions can introduce equitable and inclusive performance measures. Institutions ought to reconsider the purpose of performance evaluation in meeting organizational strategic goals. The global shift toward more equitable, diverse, and inclusive organizations [

        Charbonneau L. Most universities report having equity, diversity and inclusion plans, but challenges remain [Internet]. University Affairs. 2019 [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://www.universityaffairs.ca/news/news-article/most-universities-report-having-equity-diversity-and-inclusion-plans-but-challenges-remain/.

        ] has inevitably been set back by COVID. In addition to setting hiring targets and quotas for hiring minority groups, institutions must simultaneously ensure they are attracting and promoting the most capable researchers. To do this, the research ought to be equally evaluated for its diversity/inclusion (of authorship and of research), integrity, and real-world impact. Candidates ought to be evaluated using equitable, well-rounded assessments. The Performance Promoter Score aims to efficiently capture input from a broad range of sources in order to provide a 360 degree review of candidates [
        • Aguinis H
        • Burgi-Tian J.
        Measuring performance during crises and beyond: the Performance Promoter Score.
        ]. Such approach may work to reduce the implicit bias present in hiring decisions and in performance appraisal.
      • Consider rewarding alternative research outputs that reduce focus on the number of journals publications (where implicit bias may select against women) including contributions to trusted preprint servers (which aim to vet only on the basis of integrity and ethics) [
        • Kirkham JJ
        • Penfold NC
        • Murphy F
        • Boutron I
        • Ioannidis JP
        • Polka J
        • et al.
        Systematic examination of preprint platforms for use in the medical and biomedical sciences setting.
        ]. While potentially being more inclusive, preprint servers also offer a quicker mechanism to make research publicly available. Emerging data show that preprints undergo minimal, nonsubstantive changes during peer review indicating they may be representative of their eventual journal publications [
        • Carneiro CFD
        • Queiroz VGS
        • Moulin TC
        • Carvalho CAM
        • Haas CB
        • Rayêe D
        • et al.
        Comparing quality of reporting between preprints and peer-reviewed articles in the biomedical literature.
        ,
        • Polka JK
        • Dey G
        • Pálfy M
        • Nanni F
        • Brierley L
        • Fraser N
        • et al.
        Preprints in motion: tracking changes between posting and journal publication.
        . As such, preprints may offer a better mechanism for quantifying and examining women's contributions.

      4.2 Journals

      • Journals ought to prioritize women-authored papers and women led teams. For example, in 2019, the Lancet journal published a women-focused issue [
        • Clark J
        • Zuccala E
        • Horton R.
        Women in science, medicine, and global health: call for papers.
        ,

        The Lancet, 09 February 2019, Volume 393, Issue 10171, Pages 493-610, e6-e28 [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/issue/vol393no10171/PIIS0140-6736(19)X0006-9.

        . Similarly, to address a lack of racialized women authored publications, editors could do the same with a focus on under-represented racial and minority groups. In early 2020, the editor in chief of Cell Reports introduced a question on gender in the journals’ editorial process to gain insight on the gender and potential biases of editors and peer reviewers, after recognized problem of disparities in female first authorship [
        • Gewin V.
        The career cost of COVID-19 to female researchers, and how science should respond.
        ]. Earlier this year, the journal's publisher, Cell Press, introduced the option to include a statement about a study's inclusion and diversity efforts (with respect to authorship and study design) across all of its journals [
        • Moutinho S.
        Cell’s publisher invites statements in papers about studies’ diversity and inclusion efforts.
        ]. Similar data collection strategies using an intersectional lens should be used to track intersection of gender, race, and ethnicity for example and these results should be publicly available on journal websites.
      • Journals can ensure women are represented among authors, editorial boards, peer reviewers, and journal staff. The data-collection efforts by Cell Reports have resulted in the journal setting targets of commissioning papers by women and having at least one woman review every paper [
        • Gewin V.
        The career cost of COVID-19 to female researchers, and how science should respond.
        ]. They have amplified women's voices and they have an editorial board consisting of 40% women with a target of 50% in sight. There are ongoing initiatives across scholarly publishing to ensure equitable and diverse representation across all levels of publishing [

        C4DISC: Coalition for Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarly Communications [Internet]. [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://c4disc.org/.

        ,

        Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council [Internet]. International Society of Managing & Technical Editors. [cited 2021 Feb 26]. Available from: https://www.ismte.org/page/DEIAdvisoryCouncil.

        .

      4.3 Men in academic science

      • Stakeholders must encourage male allyship in academic science. Attitudes among academic men interacting with women on a day-to-day basis may be less considerate of the plight that women are facing, highlighting how critical the role of allyship and mentorship is. For example, one of us had a male superior remark on the “disappointing” productivity in the year following the birth of a child. In another instance, a male superior remarked on an early career woman being ‘distracted’ during a period that included 6-months without childcare during COVID. These statements and the dynamic of them are counterproductive to correcting existing gender inequity in academia and can erode the confidence of early career and trainee women in academic science, particularly during the overwhelming stressful time that we are experiencing. They also demonstrate that, despite society's expectations of mothers as primary caregivers, having and raising a child/children may be viewed as something of a ‘side hustle’ in academia – a secondary job, that, while enjoyable, ought not be the main focus of one's life.

      5. Conclusion

      This commentary was written in recognition of International Women's Day 2021. We have attempted to highlight the unique impacts that COVID is having on the careers and career progression of women in academic science. Existing inequities in academia and academic reward have been aggravated by COVID and are at risk of persisting beyond the pandemic. We believe this situation presents a critical opportunity for academic institutions, funders, and scholarly journals, among others, to introduce innovative measures, resources and opportunities to ensure that women's careers in academic science will thrive now and beyond COVID.

      Author contributions

      Larissa Shamseer and Andrea Tricco conceived of the idea for this manuscript. Larissa Shamseer wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All of the authors revised it critically for important intellectual content, gave final approval of the version to be published and agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

      Funding

      Ivy Bourgeault is funded from the University of Ottawa through the Research Chair in Gender, Diversity and the Professions and from Status of Women Canada, ON 16255, Empowering Women Leaders in Health. Eva Grunfeld is funded by a physician scientist award from the Ontario Institute for Cancer research and by the Giblon Chair in family medicine research. Sharon Straus is funded by a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Translation. Andrea Tricco is funded by a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Synthesis.

      Declaration of Interest

      None.

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