Academic acknowledgment – highlighting the gender bias

Gender disparity in academic research and authorship was particularly visible during the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak when many scientific journals were required to make “fast-track” decisions to publish COVID-19-relevant content. A study by Cristina Bittante et al. (2020), published in the Journal of Public Health: From Theory to Practice, assessed the percentages of female first and last authors among all manuscripts on the COVID-19 outbreak based on the retrieval of PubMed citations from January 1 to March 24, 2020.1 This study revealed that only 26.5% of first authors were female researchers and only 25.3% of last authors were women. Moreover, Bittante et al. reported no significant differences when the peer-reviewed manuscripts were stratified by journal rank (impact factor <10 vs impact factor ≥10) or journal country.

The gender gap issue prompted two female researchers, Paula Chatterjee and Rachel M. Werner from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, to conduct a cross-sectional study to evaluate whether 5,554 academic articles published in high-impact journals written by men and women were cited differently.2 Results of the study were published in a recent issue of JAMA Network Open (2021) and confirmed the work by Bittante et al., showing that only 35.6% of articles had women as first authors and 25.8% as last authors. Strikingly, this study also highlighted those articles authored by women as both first and last authors were significantly less likely to be cited than those with male authorship (median number of citations 33 vs 59; p<0.001). Chatterjee and Werner acknowledge that gender authorship inequality is likely the result of multiple factors.

Unless this issue of gender disparity in academic research is brought to everyone’s attention, nothing will change. The current power structure and methods that create such inequalities in the first place need to be dismantled. Both women and men need to work together in this effort to create a supportive network to help diminish the existing gender gap in academic authorship and acknowledgments.

Valuing the role women play in academic medicine

Women play a critical role in improving health globally, making up the majority of the healthcare workforce. However, Jyoti S. Mathad and colleagues reported in The Lancet (2019) that while up to 80% of global healthcare workers and faculty members are women, only a minority hold senior positions.3 The fact that academic articles authored by women are less likely than their male counterparts to get published and/or recognized may negatively influence the professional success of women, which may perpetuate male success in senior healthcare positions and thus the predominance of male academic authorship.

An online editorial written by Vineet M. Arora (MD, MAPP), the Herbert T. Abelson Professor of Medicine and Assistant Dean for Medical Education at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, USA, highlighted that despite an equal number of men and women entering medical school, less than 25% of professors in academic medicine are women. However, she commented that although male doctors tend to have more rapid career progression than women, this may largely be attributable to more women working part-time or taking career breaks to have a family rather than gender discrimination.

To redress the underrepresentation of women in senior leadership positions in medicine, it is necessary to have more female mentors and role models. It is important to break through the “glass ceiling” to enable women to reach higher leadership positions in academic medicine.

Closing the gap

We constantly strive to make healthbook TIMES Oncology Hematology a leading, gender-equal medical journal in Switzerland. We assure our readers that we will make every effort to receive, publish and cite an equivalent number of valuable articles from both female and male researchers in the future.

Female and male authors in this issue

Please enjoy the articles submitted in this edition by both male and female researchers, including Sara De Dosso and Alberto Vannelli on the management of cancer during COVID-19; Ilaria Colombo on WEE1 inhibition in ovarian cancer and Ursula Vogl on the treatment options in urothelial carcinoma; Alexander Meisel and Steve Pascolo on mRNA vaccines and cancer; Christoforos Astaras and colleagues on the treatment landscape of HER-2 positive metastatic breast cancer; and Adrian Schmidt on clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential, and more.

Please do not hesitate to give us your feedback to help us address the gender authorship gaps in upcoming issues.


Dr Ellen Heitlinger
healthbook TIMES Oncology Hematology