Yes, Gender Inequality (Still) Exists in Publishing

What if I told you that earlier this year studies reported a 10 percent increase in the number of top medical papers published by a female lead? I know what my first reaction would be: joy, happiness, pride, finally. It’s no secret that inequality remains a problem in our country, especially within the sciences. Women are far less likely to be involved in STEM programs (that’s science, technology, engineering, and math) than men are. Often, there’s even a lot of prejudice within the field. One 2013 study found that, when presented with male and female job candidates with the same qualifications, scientists were significantly less likely to hire the woman, and when they did, they offered her an average of $4,000 less than her male counterpart.


So it’s kind of exciting to hear that more women are taking on the role of lead writer on top scientific papers. What’s not as exciting is that, even though there’s been an increase of 10 percent, still only 37 percent of lead medical writers are female. I don’t know about you, but 37 is a lot farther from 50 than I care for.


Well, that’s just the sciences, you might say. STEM has always struggled with being a boys’ club. Surely more women are being published in other areas of writing.


I wish I could tell you that was true. Back in 2014, Publishers Weekly‘s salary survey found an almost $15,000 wage gap between men and women in the industry. That’s just one indicator of gender inequality within the publishing sphere, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like things are getting any better. In July 2015, Irish publisher Tramp Press found that when they asked writers to include a list of their literary influences with their manuscript submissions, only 22 percent of the listed influences were female. Personally, I can think of a whole lot of influential female writers who deserve more recognition than that.


And what does that say about our society anyway? Are women so undervalued that we can hardly appreciate the ways in which they’ve contributed to literature? Arts? Culture?


Apparently so. Writer Kamila Shamsie was so disappointed in the industry that she proposed a Year of Publishing Women, in which publishers would pledge to publish only female writers for the entirety of 2018.


Is this really necessary? The answer is yes. Females are continually underrepresented in the literary world, especially women of color and LGBTQ+ women. VIDA, a non-profit feminist organization, tries to promote gender parity by counting the number of bylines given to women each year at major publications. The organization took their survey to a new level this year, including results on LGBTQ+ women, women of color, and women with disabilities. And things aren’t looking too hot.


Take the New York Review of Books, for example. Only 21 percent of the writers represented were female, and of that 21 percent, only 10 percent were women of color. Of course, this is a bleaker example, but even the more promising examples aren’t all that stellar. Media organization New Republic boasts 45 percent representation by women, but only 36 percent of those women are women of color. And only 20 percent identified as something other than heterosexual.


The bottom line is that publishing needs to represent more females. It’s not that there aren’t females writing; there certainly are. It’s that those females aren’t being published at the same rate as men. Take author Catherine Nichols, for example. She submitted the same exact manuscript and cover letter to fifty different agents, once under her real name, and once under a male pseudonym. The results? Seventeen agents requested more info when presented with the manuscript from a man, but only two agents wanted more when it was received from a woman.  Essentially the same writing was eight times more favorable if it came from a man as opposed to a woman.


That’s crazy! We all know there are some incredible ladies out there doing absolutely amazing work. (Just look at the staff at Champlain Publishing.) So where are they all?


Yes, progress is being made. The increase in females publishing top medical articles is evidence of that. But we still have a long way to go. Equality for women, and I mean all women, regardless of their race, ethnicity, ability, sexuality, or gender identity — that’s the end goal.