As I boarded the airplane on one of the last flights I took before the pandemic, I made the familiar right turn, walked down the aisle, and located my seat. I learned that both the pilot and first officer were women. I have since discovered that this is an uncommon occurrence. According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, in 2020 only 5 percent of commercial pilots were women, and only 1.4 percent were captains. There are many potential explanations for such a gender disparity. Gender and other elements of diversity can unfairly influence both personal and professional opportunities. Indeed gender, race, and other inequities play out across a variety of disciplines, including health care. The advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a major strategic priority for ASH.
Gender inequities have been well recognized in the field of science publishing. A study reported in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology (Gollins et al. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2017;3:185-188) reviewed 25 dermatology journals and found that less than 19 percent had female editors-in-chief. Furthermore, 46 percent of journals never had a woman serve as editor. Another study (Alonzo-Arroyo et al. Pediatr Res. 2020; doi:10.1038/s41390-020-01286-5) reported that among 125 pediatric journals, only 19 percent had women serving as editor-in-chief, and only 33 percent had women as editorial board members. In some respects, ASH enjoys an enviable position. As a former two-term associate editor at our flagship journal Blood, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Cindy Dunbar who held the position of Editor-in-Chief (2008-2012) during my second term. Since Blood was initially published under its first Editor-in-Chief Dr. William Dameshek (1946-1969), Dr. Dunbar was the first woman to serve in that capacity. The current Editor-in-Chief of Blood is Dr. Nancy Berliner, Dr. Catherine Bollard is the incoming Editor-in-Chief of Blood Advances, and Dr. Laura Michaelis serves as Editor-in Chief of The Hematologist. Finally, Dr. Jessica Altman is the incoming Senior Executive Editor of the ASH Self-Assessment Program (ASH-SAP), 8th Edition. Our members can feel pleased that two (soon to be four) of our five periodicals have women at the helm. Furthermore, the Blood and Blood Advances editorial boards are approximately 40 percent and 51 percent women, respectively. Such diversity of perspective is likely to improve a group's ability to make equitable and inclusive decisions. These data are consistent with ASH's major commitment to champion DEI, including dedicated attention from two volunteer groups, the Women in Hematology Working Group and the Committee on Promoting Diversity. Learn more about what they have been doing on the dedicated webpage for ASH's DEI efforts (www.hematology.org/about/diversity-equity-and-inclusion). Yet there is still more to accomplish, particularly in the inclusion of colleagues from under-represented minority populations.
Peer review processes are another key consideration for cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for scientific publications throughout our profession. For our part, ASH plans to collect demographic data to measure our efforts in this area, as such information can be critical in addressing disparities (Baker et al. N Engl J Med. 2021;384:1184-1186). Dr. Berliner is firm on the commitment of Blood to a culture of DEI in all aspects of the publication, including authorship, review, and editorial activities. In her words: "We continue to review and improve our editorial and production procedures to make sure we are honoring that commitment. While pursuing our goal to make the journal the premier forum for the publication of original articles describing basic laboratory, translational, and clinical investigations in hematology, we aim to marshal a diverse group of editors, authors, and reviewers from around the world…to ensure a truly diverse collaboration."
Another more controversial issue in science publishing is whether practices such as double-blinded peer reviews in scientific journals will contribute to advances in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Some think there may be benefits for a double-blind review process. A study of single- (reviewers know the identity of the authors) versus double-blind (authors are unknown to the reviewers) review demonstrated an advantage for well-known authors and those from distinguished institutions, with the single-blind review reflecting a possible “prestige bias” (Tomkins et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017;114:12708–12713). However, in a 2020 editorial, New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini offered another perspective. He addressed the ostensibly analogous circumstance of blinded (behind a screen) orchestra auditions. Mr. Tommasini raised the perhaps unexpected opposite possibility that to encourage diversity and inclusiveness in successful orchestra auditions, they should be deliberately unblinded. He posited that it is important to judge a musician on more than just musical talent alone. Many candidates for such coveted positions play at an equally high caliber and therefore other distinguishing personal characteristics and experiences may foster a more diverse ensemble. This issue could be revisited in the context of a well-designed study.
Written communication of scientific and other newsworthy content is at the core of almost every endeavor ASH undertakes. We have the opportunity to hit a high note in advancing the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion not only in our publishing activities, but also throughout our Society. No audition required!