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Only one in three Covid-19 papers are authored by women

‘Worrying’ lack of female voices is shaping pandemic response, researchers find

Women make up only a third of all authors who have published research on Covid-19 since the start of the year, according to a study of more than 1,200 papers.

Even fewer women are senior authors on these papers, adding to concerns that the pandemic is increasing pressure on researchers who are already under-represented and disadvantaged in academia.

“Women’s voices are not really shaping the response to the pandemic, and that is very worrying,” lead author of the paper, Ana-Catarina Pinho-Gomes, a researcher at the University of Oxford, told Research Professional News. “If women’s voices are not taken into account, there’s a likelihood studies are not being carried out in a gender-sensitive way—and that may have implications for our understanding of the disease.”

Published on 11 June in the journal BMJ Global Health, her work shows that women made up 34 per cent of all authors on the included Covid-19 academic papers, irrespective of seniority. When first and last authorship was used as a marker of seniority, the percentage of women fell to 29 per cent for the former and 26 per cent for the latter.

The situation was slightly better in Oceania, where women made up an average of 37 per cent of paper contributors. But it was far worse in Africa, where only 16 per cent of authors were female.

Women made up 32 per cent of authors in America, and 31 per cent in both Europe and Asia.

Female perspectives are essential in developing and conducting studies on the wider impact of the pandemic, such as its effect on the economy, families, social interactions and mental health, Pinho-Gomes believes. Studies that involve female researchers are more likely to publish data broken down by gender than when a research group is made up of only men, for example.

Pinho-Gomes and her team think various factors may underline the problem, such as men in leadership roles shaping the research agenda, gender bias in peer review, and parenting or care responsibilities leaving women with less time to conduct research during the pandemic.

The researchers analysed more than 1,200 papers on Covid-19 published from January 2020 and listed in the PubMed database, discounting ones in which author gender was unclear. They found that the lower percentage of female authors held true at both high-impact and lower-impact journals.

One potential solution may be to introduce quotas to encourage editors or heads of research groups to involve more women in research, said Pinho-Gomes. “It’s important to highlight this issue as early as possible in the pandemic before there is a second wave—we will be better off as a society if both women and men are contributing to research,” she said.