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Promoting equity in research

This week, Science Advances published two articles that inform universities and departments about ways to promote gender equity in science. The pandemic has exerted many challenging pressures on the culture and productivity of scientific research. Over the past year, studies have shown that these effects have been disproportionately borne by parents, and especially by mothers. This comes on top of an inequitable system that has disadvantaged women researchers for years. Last year, Caitlyn Collins from Washington University in St. Louis wrote an editorial in Science, “Productivity in a pandemic,” that also addressed many of these issues. The Science Advances articles provide more detail and important considerations.

In an editorial, “Supporting women in academia during and after a global pandemic,” Tiffany Reese, Tamia Harris-Tryon, Jennifer Gill, and Laura Banaszynski from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center lay out changes in university policies that could reduce  the excessive burden that the pandemic has placed on women in academia who raise children. As the title states, many of these suggestions are important not only to address the effects of the pandemic but also for addressing gender inequity generally. One provocative suggestion is to lengthen the “tenure clock” (the probationary period before a decision is made to promote and tenure) to 10 years for everyone, regardless of gender or parental status. This lowers the burden and stigma of requiring parents to opt into an extension of the tenure clock. During my years in university administration, I heard many debates on this topic. Numerous schools and departments within universities have switched to 10-year clocks already, so it could be that this is an idea whose time has come.

In a Research Article, “The unequal impact of parenthood in academia,” Allison Morgan, Aaron Clauset, and their colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder and at the Sante Fe Institute analyze extensive data on research productivity for over 3000 faculty members in U.S. institutions in history, business, and computer science. The data show that parenthood explains all of the difference in research productivity between male and female researchers by decreasing the short-term productivity of mothers during the years immediately after the birth of a child. These findings illustrate the importance of adopting policies along the lines described in the editorial of Reese et al.

The Science family of journals is committed to producing scholarship and policies that promote equity in science. These studies provide important guideposts for the academic scientific community.