Investing in a gender equal research future - International Women’s Day 2024

Research Publishing
By: Rachel Jacobs, Fri Mar 8 2024
Rachel Jacobs

Author: Rachel Jacobs

Group General Counsel

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. However, it also acts as a stark reminder of the discrimination and gender bias that women still face. Although progress has been made, data released by the UN shows that the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. There is currently a USD 360 billion annual deficit in spending on gender equality measures, and when we look to our research sector, less than a third of researchers globally are women (33.3%) and only 11% of senior research roles are held by women in Europe. This is a problem. Not only for the impact that this has on limiting women’s potential, but for the missed opportunities that having a more inclusive economy and society affords. When we then think about the role research plays in tackling the world's most pressing challenges, dare we ask ourselves what has, and is, being missed due to the lack of female representation?

As a global publisher and purpose driven company we see it as our responsibility to play an active role in promoting and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Not just internally through our business, but through our publications and the external activities that we undertake with our networks, brands, and partners.

To mark International Women's Day, we reflect on a few recent examples of how we are taking action to enable a more equal and inclusive future for women.


Networks and partnerships 

Due to lack of representation of STEM careers at an early education level, lack of funding and prevailing gender bias in some fields, women make up less than a third of research professionals globally. We are actively collaborating with partners to address this.

With the  Ministry of Education, Government of India, we have launched  Her Research, Our Future,  an initiative to foster and support research collaboration and share the voices of young women researchers across India. 

In the U.S., we continue to expand our relationships with the United Nations (UN) to drive action forwards around our shared goals of advancing discovery. Last year following  the UNGA Science Summit storytelling event, where we supported female researcher representation, we took part in the UN SDG Media Zone  again promoting gender equality in conference presentation and discussion. We continue to expand our partnership with the UN and its organisations. 

Globally through our Nature Conferences and Nature Awards Programmes, we remain focused on enabling open discussions around  gender equity and fostering long standing partnership to support the future of women in science. Our Estee Lauder, Inspiring Women in Science Awards (which in 2023 featured a keynote from the UN under-secretary-general), and our recently announced ‘Women in Technology’ awards with Sony,  provide a global platform to celebrate the impact of female research and stimulate discussion to inspire the next generation. Alongside financial support for research development, winners and shortlisted candidates benefits from networking events, relevant training, and mentoring opportunities. Our latest award with Sony, as the only global award of this size for women working in technology, marks a key milestone in the programme. As ever prominent organisations continue to recognise the role of research and the role of women within that, a wider spotlight is placed on the steps that need to be taken to enable a more equitable and diverse environment. 

Encouraging gender parity through inclusive publishing practice

Publishing research that reflects the entire research community enriches our ability to pose questions and to find solutions to challenges in research and beyond. As signatories to the Publishers Association’s 10 point Inclusivity Action Plan and the Joint Commitment for Action on Inclusion and Diversity in Publishing, we remain focused on taking steps to improve representation and amplify the voices of underrepresented perspectives. As part of our DEI in Research Publishing programme we have focused on: building inclusive publishing practices; developing diverse researcher networks and content; and driving engagement and collaboration within our communities and industry.

Research conferences are a key way in which our community connects but can typically lack gender representation. In 2019  we  published  a set of principles to set expectations of diversity at conferences organised by Springer Nature, ensuring equal gender representation. We have also introduced: a frameworks to enable editors and editorial boards to recruit more diverse peer reviewers and editorial board members; new resources to support  inclusive authorship; released guidance and practice for reporting on sex and gender in research studies; outlined ways in which to support  better gender diversity in research design alongside a new approach to inclusion and ethics in global research; provided inclusive language advice via our sensitivity reading frameworks; developed a DEI in Research publishing hub with resources and insights for inclusive publishing; and continue to commission research to understand how researchers perceive and experience DEI in the research community to better inform our actions.

Earlier this week Nature also published the preliminary analysis of self-reported gender data in corresponding authors, with the aim to use this data  to help address and  advance diversification across its author base. While the numbers are in line with others in the industry and what we know from research on women’s output, they highlight the need for progress. As I outlined at the start, change is hard and is taking time, but by continuing to shine a spotlight on these issues, and collaborating with our community to understand where more support is needed, we can continue to make positive progress.

Provide opportunities for career development and growth.

Driving forward gender parity, however, is not just a focus with our external communities. It is also a central focus of our internal business approach - from ensuring inclusive hiring practice, to career development, growth and enabling equal opportunities across our business for women. 

We continue to introduce structures that enable this such as: inclusive hiring checks to build  more diversity and representation within the publishing space;  investment in our employee networks; internal training on inclusive behaviour; and our annual Global Inclusion and Diversity survey  will ensures that the actions we are taking clearly reflect the needs and experience of our staff. We have also set goals to improve representation on our global leadership and management board - the latest progress data will be released this month.

Our global SN Women network, is one of our eight employee networks which leads a wide variety of events and programmes to raise awareness around issues of concern or interest to our female and wider staff group. Their outreach across 2023 saw them be nominated for “Outstanding Women Network of the Year” at the British Diversity Award (to be announced later this month), which alongside our win for British Diversity Team of the year in 2022 illustrates the clear commitment and active role we play in championing DEI across our company.

Alongside SN Women we also run a number of initiatives to support staff members with career and personal development, including  places for women across the globe on the FT Women in Business Forum, participation in the DEI mentoring programme for women of colour, LGBTQ+ women and disabled or neurodivergent women and the wide variety of events and programmes led by Springer Nature’s SDG 5 working group – a cross business forum of colleagues working to amplify SDG 5 through events and content collation.


Achieving gender equality is more crucial than ever. This is just a small snapshot of what we are doing globally across our business and with our partners to support that. We look forward to celebrating IWD with you and standing alongside our wider community to accelerate progress. You can follow our activity and outreach for this year’s IWD @SpringerNature #InvestInWomen.

Our commitment to gender diversity is shared alongside our other Springer Nature publishing policies. More information about the activities and guidance mentioned above can be found on our dedicated DEI pages here.

Rachel Jacobs

Author: Rachel Jacobs

Group General Counsel

Rachel Jacobs has been group general counsel of Springer Nature since May 2015, having formerly held the same position at Macmillan Science and Education. She joined Springer Nature from Informa plc, where she led the group legal team in London. She began her legal career at city firm CMS Cameron McKenna and has a first class BSc. Hons. degree in Environmental Science.

Rachel Chairs Springer Nature’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, and is a board member of Urban Partners, a voluntary business partnership of organisation in the Euston, King’s Cross and St Pancras area of London.

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