eLife Latest: July 2022 update on our actions to promote equity, diversity and inclusion

This fourth report on our ongoing work to address inequities in research and publishing shares our recent progress and plans for the rest of 2022.

At its halfway point, 2022 has proven to be yet another stark reminder of the fragility of recent progress toward building a just and equitable future. Against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, this year has, among other things, witnessed: Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II following the Russian invasion of Ukraine; a shocking rollback on human rights in the United States via the removal of the constitutionally protected right to an abortion; and a continuing surge in anti-LGBTQ+, in particular anti-transgender, rhetoric and legislation in numerous countries. In each case, it is those who are already among the most marginalised in society – women and girls, people on low incomes, Black, Indigenous and Asian people and people from racial or ethnic minorities – who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the impact.

Pervasive geopolitical issues cannot be tackled alone. We each have a responsibility to do what we can, including those of us working within the research community. At eLife, we remain committed to promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in biology and medicine through our actions. We started regularly reporting on these efforts in January 2021, and have since shared updates every six months. Here, in our fourth such update, we report on our activity so far this year and our plans for the remainder of 2022. As before, this work will encompass the following areas:

  • Implementing a framework for sustained action
  • Encouraging inclusive and equitable research
  • Addressing bias in peer review
  • Underpinning action with equitable infrastructure
  • Supporting inclusive and empowered communities

Questions and comments are welcome. Please feel free to share via a comment on this blog post or via email to edi@elifesciences.org. Anonymous feedback may also be shared via this form.

Report prepared by:

Stuart King, Research Culture Manager

Implementing a framework for sustained action

Since January, we have worked to devise a unifying Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Framework to help embed our values within the work that we do. Intended to support a bottom-up approach, the framework is designed to help make equity, diversity and inclusion essential considerations within the planning of any significant project at eLife (similar to how the available budget would already always be considered).

Project teams are now being supported in adopting this new approach via a standardised form with key questions to consider and a way to document decisions. We will communicate more on this activity in future updates.

Next steps: To further our ambition to embody our values, we will next:

  • Trial the project planning form and strategic framework with at least five eLife projects of varying sizes before the end of 2022
  • Develop two more resources to further support project teams to intentionally consider equity, diversity and inclusion objectives when planning future projects

Encouraging inclusive and equitable research

As reviewing research is at the core of eLife’s mission, we want to leverage the influence of peer review to help dismantle systemic legacies of exclusion and discrimination – such as racism, sexism and colonialism – within research. Since our last report, we have identified policies in place at other publishing organisations that eLife could implement to help to address parachute research. Also called ‘helicopter research’ and ‘neo-colonial science’, this term describes the unfair and inequitable practice whereby researchers from wealthy institutions, typically in the Global North, carry out fieldwork or institutional visits in lower-income countries and take back data or resources without meaningfully collaborating with local researchers or involving the local communities. A proposed approach is currently under consideration with eLife’s Editorial Leadership and Ethics Committee and if implemented will be announced in due course.

Next steps: In time for our next report, we will take the following actions with the aim of supporting and encouraging more inclusive and equitable research:

  • Review and adopt standardised and gender-inclusive recommendations for reporting sex and gender information in research publications
  • Set dedicated objectives to help promote equity, diversity and inclusion in research within the planning and implementation for at least one eLife Special Issue

Addressing bias in peer review

Since diverse panels of reviewers and editors, on average, reach fairer decisions for authors, this year we have run our first open call for new eLife Reviewing Editors to help diversify our editorial board in a deliberately more equitable way. This call was to address the underrepresentation of researchers based in Latin America and the Caribbean with our editorial board. We received over 60 eligible applications, from seven different countries, which are currently under review by a committee that includes local eLife Reviewing Editors, Senior Editors and early-career advisors. We will soon report on the outcomes of the call and the new appointments once this process is complete.

Around 71% of eLife editors have now responded to our diversity monitoring form (up from 45% in January 2022 and surpassing the 50% target set in our last report). This increasingly complete view of the diversity within our editorial boards will inform our priorities for diversifying our board, and we will provide another in-depth report on the diversity of our editorial community in 2023.

In parallel, because we know that improved representation will not inevitably result in equitable involvement in peer review or unbiased decisions, this year we have kicked off additional projects to address bias in peer review. We have designed a data-analysis pipeline that will aid our routine monitoring and a pilot initiative to give eLife Senior Editors individualised feedback on decisions made during peer review. Work will continue on these over the coming months.

Next steps: Within the next six months we will:

  • Report on the outcomes of our call for new Reviewing Editors based in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Launch a pilot initiative to give eLife Senior Editors individualised feedback on their editorial activities and decisions and plan the next steps
  • Report on the gender distribution of eLife reviewers based on self-reported demographic data

Underpinning action with accessible and equitable infrastructure

Products, services and systems used and developed by eLife, in particular our Technology and Innovation team, are all tools that can support our efforts to embody our values and drive research culture change.

We have now commissioned the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to assess our journal website’s accessibility and will apply the lessons learned to improve access to eLife content and other platforms such as Sciety. In addition, we will set up a feedback group to ensure that a diverse cross-section of our community can contribute to our innovation processes.

Next step: In time for our next report, we will:

  • Establish a new feedback group that is geographically diverse and representative of our researcher communities in terms of gender and career stage

Supporting inclusive and empowered communities

This year we welcomed 128 researchers from 51 countries to form the third cohort of the eLife Community Ambassadors programme. The Ambassadors are almost at the end of the eight-month learning and community-building stage of the programme and will shortly move on to an advocacy and activism phase. During their time so far, among other activities, Ambassadors have attended workshops on how to contribute to scholarly peer review while centring on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion and on how underrepresented early-career researchers can effect change and bring kindness into science. They have also joined panel discussions on disability and inclusion in science spaces with researchers with lived experiences of disabilities and non-English language science awareness.

Next steps: By January 2023, we will take the following steps to further support and diversify various eLife communities:

  • Onboard the five newly elected members of our Early-Career Advisory Group and empower them to influence planning and decision-making at eLife
  • Recruit two new Scientific Non-executive Directors to bring additional perspectives to our governing board
  • Streamline the application and review process for our early-career reviewers' pool to allow us to match the increasing demand more effectively
  • Run the fourth year of the Ben Barres Spotlight Awards to support researchers from underrepresented backgrounds and countries with limited research funding


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