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Five things you should do as a journal editor

to support social justice

How you can take small steps to support social justice.

Today, the world of science is not fair. We know that there are underrepresented groups in both science and publishing w1,w2 and inequalities are contributing to real disparities within our scientific communities. 

We believe it is time for all journal editors to take action. We all must put equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the forefront of our agendas and encourage our colleagues to do the same. Only by leading from the top, will you support others to also eradicate prejudice and discrimination. You can do this by making small but monumental changes, which will also help to protect the moral principles of your journal. 

As one of the 30+ publisher signatories to the Joint Commitment for Action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing, BMJ are continuously scrutinising our own processes to minimise the biases in publishing that are apparent - whilst recognising that there is so much more that we all still need to do. 

Where do journals and editors fit into the perpetuating cycle of social injustice?

Many of us might make the assumption that there is little impact a journal editor can make on creating more diversity in research. By the time a manuscript has been submitted to a journal, the work has already been carried out. 

Now is the time to move away from this line of thinking, and instead, consider the research to publication process as a cycle. What happens at the end of the cycle has as much impact on the on start as it does on the outcome.

Take, for instance, the traditional “publish or perish” nature of STEM publishing: an individual's publication rate is likely to affect their career progression w3 and studies have shown that there is a disproportionately higher rejection rate for authors from underrepresented groups.w2, w4,w5

This is largely attributed to unconscious bias in the decision making and peer review processesw6 - both areas in which are directly within the journals and editors sphere of influence.

By not stepping in from the start, as a journal editor, you are contributing to social injustice through inaction. 

Five quick wins

1. Add diversity to the agenda of your next editorial meeting

This is your opportunity to talk openly about structural racism and other biases inherent in publishing and your field and this will show your editorial team that EDI is an important objective of the journal. Use this time to ask your team the following:

  • In which processes and areas can your journal improve? What approaches can they suggest to make these improvements?
  • How can editorial team members improve their working awareness of unconscious bias?
  • What actionable steps can they take to consciously reduce the impact of bias on editorial decision making?

2. Diversify your commissioning

Lack of diversity of authorship is not something we can address overnight, but commissioning is one area where you as editors have the most direct influence. 

  • Start by taking stock of your commissioning contact list and identify where it needs to diversify
  • Actively seek diversity when inviting editorials, commentary, blogs and podcast guests
  • Consider avoiding commissioning pieces with an all-male author line-up by inviting a mix of genders to take part
  • Review your instructions for authors and ensure you are appropriately encouraging diversity, for example, ask authors to consider involving co-authors from underrepresented groups

3. Diversify your editorial team and advisory board

The diversity of your editorial team has been shown to impact the diversity of both your peer review pool and authorship diversityw7.

You want to maintain a broad range of voices from ethnically and geographically diverse backgrounds.

To improve in this area, consider the following:

  • Review your recruitment sources, and how you word invitations to join and use networks
  • Ask board members to nominate colleagues from underrepresented backgrounds
  • Expand your numbers (if needed) to gain diversity
  • Consider having observers and/or associate members as a training opportunity. This is a good way to train new board members, creates earlier career research opportunities, and can gain more from those more experienced but with limited time

4. Diversify your peer reviewer pool

Finding peer reviewers can be a challenge in itself, but making the effort to diversify your peer reviewer pool can help with reviewer scarcity. 

Another positive aspect of widening your pool is that it will actively showcase other aspects of diversity and inclusion initiative for your journal.

For instance, editorial boards with larger peer reviewer poolsw5 will illustrate their awareness of unconscious bias as they invite and select suitable reviewers.

  • Update your public-facing resources to encourage authors to recommend reviewers from under-represented backgrounds. 
  • Review invitation wording to ensure it is always inclusive
  • Consider your sources for finding peer reviewers
  • Consider your policies on co-reviewing and reviewer mentorship and how they are credited, this can be a good way of helping new reviewers gain experience.

5. Appoint a lead for diversity and inclusion for your journal

Lastly, we strongly recommend appointing a lead on all matters related to diversity and inclusion. This is a quick and easy way to ensure the journal is progressing in its EDI goals. Such responsibilities can include (but are not limited to): 

  • Review processes and working with the Editor in Chief (EIC) to set priorities
  • Develop strategies that will diversify authorship, peer review, editorial teams, and the advisory board
  • Monitor and increase diversity amongst author and peer reviewer groups 
  • Raise awareness of unconscious bias amongst the editorial team, and drive initiatives that will keep these important areas at the top of the agenda 

To learn more, join us at the Researchers to Readers conference on Tuesday, 23 February 2021, where Simone will be participating in a panel discussion on Inclusivity: Becoming part of the solution.

How publishers can help to improve inclusivity within academia

It is widely acknowledged that there are considerable diversity problems within the research ecosystem. As privileged and powerful players within that ecosystem, this panel session will explore the ways publishers are trying to make their products and practices more inclusive. This session will encourage delegates to consider the complex equality, diversity and inclusion challenges we all face, and aims to stimulate a supportive and collegial discussion to address some of those challenges to improve equity of opportunity for all.


We would love to hear if any of these above steps have had an impact on your journal. Do get in touch and let us know how you get on, or if you have any questions.


  1. All things being equal: diversity in STEM. The Lancet Digital Health. [Internet]. Published: April, 2020, Available from: 
  2. Hopkins A, Jawitz J, et al. Disparities in publication patterns by gender, race and ethnicity based on a survey of a random sample of authors. Springer Link, Scientometrics volume 96, pages 515–534(2013) [Internet]. Published: 10 November 2012. Available from:  
  3. PLOS. Principles to enhance research integrity and avoid 'publish or perish' in academia. Science News. [Internet]. 16 July, Available from: 
  4. Silbiger NJ, Stubler AD. Unprofessional peer reviews disproportionately harm underrepresented groups in STEM. PeerJ 7:e8247 2019. Available from:
  5. Fox C, Paine T. Gender differences in peer review outcomes and manuscript impact at six journals of ecology and evolution. Wiley Online library. 04 March 2019 [Internet]. Available from: 
  6. Hofstra B, Vivek V, et al, The Diversity-Innovation Paradox in Science, National Academy of Sciences. [Internet] 28 April, 2020 . Available from:
  7. Gaston T. Addressing the Regional Diversity of Reviewers. Peer Review Management, Wiley. 11 September 2018 [Internet]. Available from:

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