Women serve less frequently as peer reviewers both because they not asked as often and because they are slightly more likely to decline when asked, according to an analysis conducted by researchers at the American Geophysical Union.
As Jory Lerback and Brooks Hanson write in a commentary at Nature, they sifted through their list of researchers who published in and reviewed for AGU journals between 2012 and 2015. While its journals don't ask researchers and reviewers to provide age and gender information, AGU members have been ask to self-report such information since 2013, and some 80 percent of members do so.
From their dataset, Lerback and Hanson found that that women make up 26 percent of first authors and 23 percent of authors overall. Female first authors submitted fewer papers over four years than their male counterparts, but had a higher acceptance rate for those papers. The authors suggested that this could because of either "reverse sex discrimination" or more careful preparation and targeting of papers to journals, and they favor the second explanation.
At the same time, the duo found that women make up 20 percent of reviewers. Overall, they found that AGU editors invited about a third of author-recommended reviewers. Female first authors recommended female reviewers about 21 percent of the time, while male first authors did 15 percent of the time. Then, female editors recommended female reviewers 22 percent of the time, while male editors did 17 percent of the time.
Women were also more likely to decline these invitations to peer review than men, they note. Women between the ages of 20 and 30 declined 22 percent of the time, while men declined 17 percent of the time. Researchers typically cited workload as their reason for passing on the opportunity.
"We hope that first, presenting these results will increase awareness of these issues. Improvement depends on editors, authors, and reviewers (in responding to requests)," Lerback and Hanson tell Retraction Watch.
"It is important to see this as an opportunity for growth, and to try to understand that the social atmosphere that creates this sort of opportunity gap may create gaps for other underrepresented groups as well," the pair adds.