Similar to other fields of research, women authors worldwide have been under-represented in COVID-19 papers published since January 2020. They account for just about one-third of authors credited for research work, according to a new study conducted by The George Institute for Global Health, University of Oxford.
The study recently published in BMJ Global Health found that this was the case when the frequency of female first and last authors were calculated. These two positions are important because the first author is the scientist who did a large portion of the work. The senior most author is mentioned last despite limited contribution. Assessing the attribution given to women gives us a clear picture of where women stand in the field of science, especially when it comes to investigating COVID-19.
First, 1,445 papers were picked out across languages, from which 1,370 were added to the final analysis.“We conducted a systematic search in PubMed, using the MeSH term for ‘COVID-19’ in Medline, on 1 May 2020,” the paper stated. Studies without peer-review and unclear names were excluded.
Out of 1,235 papers evaluated for first author credit, a sorry 29 percent were women. When last author credit was evaluated in 1,216 papers, just 26 percent women authors were found. With the studies combined, overall, women represented 34 percent of author credits from 6,722 authors.
“Our findings on the major gender gap in research authorship on COVID-19, and in the most senior positions in particular, mirrors the under-representation of women in other areas of science research; a trend that has persisted for years,” lead author Dr Ana-Catarina Pinho-Gomes of The George Institute UK, said in the news release.
A similar previously published analysis of 1.5 million papers found that women were 40 percent of first authors, while they were 27 percent of the last author. This goes to show that gender-disparity is the norm in science. But if we continue this way, it might be detrimental to understanding the mortality rate in the pandemic, which differs based on gender and economics.
“There are many possible reasons for their under-representation in COVID-19 research. For instance, women may have less time to commit to research during the pandemic, they may also be denied access to COVID-19 research owing to its anticipated high impact, and such research may also be considered the realm of those in leadership positions, which remain most commonly held by men,” Pinho-Gomes explained further.
Adding women to research only helps because they tend to find more sex-disaggregated data, helping identify gender-specific solutions. Also, assessing long-term social impact of the pandemic will be incomplete without including the female gender’s contribution.
A solution proposed by the study said that editorial teams should monitor gender representation actively. “A further step would be to consider gender quotas, as these have shown to help rectify women’s under-representation in prominent positions, for instance, in political, economic and academic systems,” the paper said.