In the summer of 2016 in America, we are living in historic times, witnessing defining moments. Ceiling crashing moments. Yet, so many past moments – both important and mundane – have led up to this. As a woman thoroughly enjoying my 3+ decade-long professional career, I’ve seen a lot.
In 1982, we were coming out of college expecting to land professional jobs. And when we got those jobs, I’d venture that most of us young women were blissfully ignorant of the degree to which pay inequality victimized us and advancement opportunities bypassed us.
Over the years, certain behaviors in the workplace resulted in very different outcomes, depending on the gender of the person exhibiting said behavior. If you, like me, managed a staff and demonstrated strong leadership, you may have been bestowed a label that your equally strong male manager counterpart didn’t have to deal with.
Fast-forward to present times. At both the 2015 and 2016 Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) Annual Meetings, gender inequality was a buzzy topic. The interest in 2015’s presentation “Mind the Gap” spurred a deeper mining of the subject in 2016’s meeting. Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour, Association Dean of Science, Diversity at the University of Alberta, delivered a riveting Keynote titled “Crossing Boundaries: Encouraging Diversity” to a room full of attentive SSP members. Later in the day, a panel session titled “Mind the Gap 2: Continuing the Conversation on Gender (Dis)Parity in Scholarly Publishing” produced significantly higher than normal audience engagement.
The conundrum in the scholarly publishing community is that while the female demographic today represents roughly two-thirds of the community, female presenter opportunities only net one-third. Similarly only one-third of scholarly publishing CEOs are women, and only one-quarter are board chairs.
Dr. Armour pointed out that our subconscious gender biases affect our expectations – of ourselves and others. Studies prove that they also influence professional performance evaluations. Ironically, bringing light and legislation to closing the gap (i.e., the US Equal Pay Act, signed into law by JFK in 1963) has in fact accentuated and fed the bias.
So what’s to be done? The charge to the scholarly publishing community: Mind (read “mend”) the gap between members and leaders. According to Dr. Armour, the answer is to consciously build diversity. Diversity by nature yields more creative thinking, less group think, more idea share. Innovation is born from this environment. Studies show that diverse groups exhibit a higher collective intelligence.
Diversity-building advice to the scholarly communications community includes:
- More women participating on selection committees
- Conducting substantive career discussions with female graduate students
- Taking a hard look at existing policies (or lack thereof) for parental leave, daycare, flex work schedules
- A strong commitment to mentorship (which underpins strong networks)
Mentorship is another important theme within scholarly publishing today, and the reason warms my heart: growth. It’s evidenced by the healthy development of the SSP organization itself. While many societies today struggle to engage and sign-on young members, the opposite appears to be true of the SSP. This is truly an energized organization that showers members with an abundance of substance and opportunity.
If you are a scholarly publisher and you are not yet involved in this career-changing organization, what are you waiting for? Check out The Scholarly Kitchen, a brilliant blog started in 2008 and hosted by the SSP that is literally alive with ideas, conversations, and debates on all things germane to scholarly publishing. The bloggers (chefs) represent a deep and diverse pool of respected thought leaders very active in the organization and in their own scholarly disciplines. Posts appear almost daily. The social chatter is bountiful. It’s a place where networks can be established and potential mentors can be found.
On a personal note, I have been very fortunate to have had strong mentors throughout my work life, from my first boss – a smart and tough female manager who garnered universal respect in a male-dominated company of industrial engineers; to male managers who really were gender-blind, and gave me rich opportunities and the latitude to lead; to the leaders and peers at my current gig, the company I love – Sheridan.
Sheridan has for many decades been a shining example of gender neutrality at the highest leadership levels. Female presidents, COOs, vice presidents, directors, and managers are prolific and professional. And as a prolific and profitable company, Sheridan is a place that proves out the research that Dr. Armour shared: gender diversity does matter to the bottom line. In fact, Sheridan invests in every employee, at every level. And now, the national conversation has focused on this important leveler. Societies like the SSP are bringing commitment and vision to the cause.
Without getting all Helen Reddy on you, I’m proud that in my lifetime, it feels like it’s really, finally, happening. Equal pay. Equal opportunities. Gender neutrality. No ceilings.