eLife Latest: Gender diversity of eLife peer reviewers

Self-reported demographic data offer insights into the gender balance of our reviewer base, but low response rates limit some analyses.

Diversity among reviewers can make peer review fairer. eLife encourages editors to invite potential reviewers from as diverse a pool as possible. Our efforts to monitor and act to promote greater reviewer diversity, however, were previously limited because we did not collect demographic information from those invited to review until earlier this year.

As of February 2022, every researcher invited to review for eLife can now choose to share their gender. The information is recorded in the researcher’s profile within our manuscript management system but kept private and never disclosed to eLife editors, authors or other reviewers. Here, we report on the responses that we have received so far and share some other early observations.

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Report prepared by:
Samuel Porteous, Senior Editorial Assistant
Stuart King, Research Culture Manager

Gender question response rates

This year eLife editors have already sent more than 13,000 invites to potential reviewers and over 5,000 completed peer reviews have been received. Of those, gender information was provided for around one in five invitations to review (19.0%) and for around two in five completed reviews (41.7%, Figure 1).

Figure 1 shows a stacked bar chart for the proportion of invited and completed reviews with and without reviewer provided gender information
Figure 1: Response rate to self-reported gender question for invitations to review for eLife and completed reviews between January 1, 2022, and September 1, 2022.

A higher response rate for completed reviews compared to reviewer invitations is expected. People invited to review for eLife receive one prompt to share their gender, via an in-system message, immediately after they accept or decline the invitation to review. Peer reviewers who do complete a review also receive an additional reminder of this option in an email sent shortly after they submit their peer review.

These factors unfortunately also mean that we currently know very little about the genders of the researchers who decline, or otherwise do not respond to, invitations to review for us; gender information is only available in less than 5% of such cases.

Gender diversity of eLife’s peer reviewers

The data show that almost one-third of eLife peer reviews are completed by women (30.4%), with approximately two-thirds (66.3%) completed by men, and 0.4% completed by non-binary people or reviewers with other minority genders.

These figures correspond closely with the self-reported genders of those invited to review (Figure 2), which is expected since, as mentioned above, reviewers who are invited but decline the invitation are very underrepresented among the responses we have received so far.

Two pie charts showing the gender balance of invited and completed reviews
Figure 2: Gender of reviewers invited to review for eLife (n = 2,480) and those who completed reviews (n = 2,105) between January 1, 2022, and September 1, 2022.

The new data potentially suggest that women are now being involved more in peer review than in earlier years. Previous figures estimated that around one in five (21.6%) eLife peer reviewers between 2012 and 2017 were women. However, these estimates were based on predicted genders rather than self-reported genders. The different data collection methods combined with the incompleteness of the self-reported dataset means we are cautious to avoid overinterpreting these results.

The proportion of eLife peer reviews completed by women is roughly the same as what would be expected based on how many eLife corresponding authors are women (29.1% based on self-reported data for submissions in 2021).

The makeup of eLife’s editorial board is closer to gender parity than our reviewer pool. Currently, 54.5% of eLife Reviewing Editors are men, 43% are women and 0.5% are non-binary. These figures are based on the self-reported responses from 72% of eLife Reviewing Editors (up from less than 36% in 2021).

Differences by country

Reviewers can also include their affiliations in their profile, however, not all do. From this, we know that the majority of completed reviews are provided by researchers in the United States (45%), followed by the United Kingdom (8.2%), Germany (6.4%), France (4.0%), Canada (3.7%) and Switzerland (2.4%; Figure 3).

Pie chart showing locations of reviewers broken down by country
Figure 3: Geographic distribution of all completed reviews between January 1, 2022, and September 1, 2022 (n = 5,051). Named countries are the top 11 countries in terms of eLife submissions. “Other and unknown” are shown combined due to limitations in the current dataset.

The response rate for the gender question for completed reviews where the country of the reviewer was also known is slightly but consistently higher than the overall response rate. This is an artefact resulting from the data excluding reviews from researchers who do not list a country in their profile and who are also less likely to have shared their gender identity.

The rates at which reviewers added their gender to their profile vary by country. Reviewers in Australia, Israel and France were the most likely to respond to the gender question, with 50% or more of those who completed reviews providing an answer (Figure 4). Reviewers in the Netherlands were the least likely to respond to this question (Figure 4), and those in Switzerland, the Netherlands and France were most likely to actively indicate not wanting to share this information, with 10.9%, 6.5% and 4.7% selecting “prefer not to say” respectively (Figure 5).

Side-by-side bar charts showing the percentage of responses received to the gender questions for invited and completed reviews for different countries
Figure 4: Response rate to self-reported gender question for invitations to review for eLife and completed reviews between January 1, 2022, and September 1, 2022, overall and broken down by geography for the same 11 countries included in Figure 3.

The gender distribution of reviewers also varies between countries. Men were particularly over-represented in Japan and Israel, providing 88.4% and 80.8% of completed reviews from those countries respectively. On the other hand, women completed an above-average proportion of reviews in Canada (36.5%), Switzerland (34.5%) and Germany (33.6%, Figure 5).

Stacked bar graphs showing the gender distribution for completed reviews by country
Figure 5: Gender of reviewers invited to review for eLife and those who completed reviews between January 1, 2022, and September 1, 2022, overall and by geography for the same 11 countries included in Figure 3.

Next steps

By providing a means for reviewers to start sharing demographic information with us, we are becoming better equipped to continue monitoring and addressing inequities in eLife’s processes and practices. Going forward, we will also be providing reviewers with additional opportunities to tell us their career stage, race and ethnicity in addition to gender, to match the questions that we already ask authors during our submission process.


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