Big Questions Surrounding Gender Equity Blog

Gender Equity in Editorial Positions

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By Staci M. Zavattaro, University of Central Florida:

I remember the session clearly. I don’t remember the exact year, but I was fresh out of my Ph.D. program attending the annual American Society of Public Administration meeting. I went to the “ask the editors” panel because I wanted to learn the secrets to academic publishing after a string of rejections. Not surprisingly, the panel was mostly men telling a packed room how to publish in “their” journals.

One man stood to ask a question (I later learned who he was, and now I am proud to call him a friend) and instead he pointed out that essentially men were the gatekeepers of knowledge and wanted to know when editorial teams would be more reflective of the field as a whole – especially when it came to women in positions of actual power rather than as a token member of an editorial team. If you were there, too, you remember the raucous round of applause that broke out in the room. I still remember it clearly. I thought, “Holy moly I can’t believe someone asked that!” That comment took a lot of guts, but I truly believe my friend made the field more conscious of its biases.

Yet we still have a long way to go. In their blog post, Nicole Elias and Maria D’Agostino highlight several recent research papers explaining just how deep the gender disparity in the field goes. Feeney’s article made a splash on social media because it said out loud with empirical data what many of us suspected. We are making strides but still have more hills to climb. In her blog response, Pat Shields walks us through her experience as an editor, a position she has held for many years. Mary Feeney will take over the helm of the elite Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory. This year, many women have won international awards for their longtime contributions to the field. Women are gaining more powerful roles and cannot be afraid to embrace those.

For me, I am about six months into my term as editor-in-chief of Administrative Theory & Praxis. I am the first female editor of the journal, and I do not take that lightly. For me, there feels like extra pressure becoming a first, respecting the vision of those editors before, yet also pushing the journal forward into today’s reality of academic publishing that relies increasingly on metrics to show worth. It is a tricky balance for a journal like ATP because it is known as a place where people can share ideas that challenge the mainstream – yet we have to play a mainstream game. As editor, I am aware of that balance so try to remain true to our roots while also introducing new ideas and topics.

Similar to Pat’s story, my journey with ATP began when I was still a doctoral student. The first conference I attended as a presenter was the Public Administration Theory Network, the home to ATP. There I found a supportive group of scholars who pushed each other to rethink current ideas in the field, to challenge what we take for granted. Nobody laughed at my talk, so that was a bonus! I then got the guts to ask then-editor Thomas Catlaw if he had considered a special issue on social media in public administration (this was 2009 when the tools were just bursting onto the scene). He was intrigued and the next year, after I graduated, I was co-editing the special issue, and the articles from that issue remain some of the most cited in the journal. My first academic publication appeared in ATP. It is coming full circle for me with both the journal and the Network, as in 2017 I brought my own doctoral student to the annual meeting and he now is an editorial assistant on our team.

There are lessons to be learned from my story, from Pat’s, from Mary’s. For me, I will tell you, using a common Instagram meme, “find your tribe and love them hard.” In other words, find a group of scholars who support your work and make that your home. I have attended the Network meetings for nearly a decade now and still come home learning something new each time. Second, know your worth. If you are named to a position of power (that is the key here), trust you earned it for your merits. Impostor syndrome is a real and affects women more often than men. I still sometimes wonder if I am making the right decision when it comes to manuscripts sent in, but I am confident the decisions are the best for the journal. It is getting easier as I settle into the position.

Third, be kind. Oftentimes academia feels like a game. It feels like you need to be in the “cool kids club” to get ahead or rely on a “famous” dissertation chair to propel your career. While maybe that does help, perhaps I am naïve enough to still believe that kindness and hard work pays off. When people ask me for feedback as an editor, I give it to them. I try in my all decision notes, whether positive or negative, to give authors additional feedback. It takes time, but I have received so many thank-you notes so far. So really be kind to people you meet. Learn from them. Send emails just to say hello if you are thinking about someone. Kindness comes around.

Fourth, stay true to what you know. In my research, I study place branding and marketing. People still in our field of public administration think that’s a strange topic. I have been encouraged over the years to study something more acceptable, more known – after all, you want to earn tenure don’t you? I never listened. Maybe I was stubborn, but I believed in what I was researching. Heck, I am good at what I research so why change? Stay your course. If you study something people still think is odd, but you know in your heart it is important, do it. See how it fits within larger conversations in the field. Bring the field to you.

Finally, to badly quote a song, get by with a little help from your friends. That man who stood up at ASPA all those years ago spent two hours on the phone with me when I was having a breakdown about this job. Two. Hours. Remember the tip about kindness? It’s true. Another senior scholar encouraged me to keep pressing about place branding and marketing, and his advice helped me see that my topic mattered. One of my best memories was sitting at dinner one night at ASPA with Jessica Sowa, Rosemary O’Leary, Norma Riccucci, and Fran Berry. I thought, “Oh good grief, how did I get to this table?!” I sat up a bit straighter because I was so nervous. Then I realized, these women are top scholars but they are also really cool people. I relaxed a bit, and I am proud to call them all mentors today. I tell Mary Guy whenever I meet here that I want to be like her when I grow up.

It might sound like bragging, but the stories I share are a culmination of taking my own advice. Kindness and hard work got me those friends. Staying true to myself lets me stay around. I am getting better at asking for help when I need it. The neat part about more women editors is that we are building a great support network for each other. It is a tough role, but my hope is that at ASPA 2019, that “ask the editors” panel will be all women.

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