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Why is inclusivity important when thinking about identity as part of Peer Review Week 2021?

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

This year’s theme for #PeerReviewWeek21 centres on identity: exploring the multifaceted role of identity in peer review.

Peer Review Week official coloured logo including the 2021 title and dates: Identity in Peer Review September 20-24, 2021

On the face of it, identity is such a broad term – so what does it mean in relation to peer review, and why is it significant? This blog post looks at some of the concepts identity might encompass, and explores the important role it can all play in peer review.

What do we mean by identity?

I have most often heard the term identity used in relation to peer review when talking about anonymity (rather than blind review) – the identity of the reviewer is often hidden from the author, and vice versa, to encourage an impartial and honest review process without bias. However, for Peer Review Week 2021 I want to consider the wider meanings of identity – both personal and social.

If we are talking about personal and social identities, there are endless possible terms and ideas we can include. For me, some of the first that spring to mind are:

  • gender

  • age

  • sexuality

  • socio-economic backgrounds

  • culture

  • ethnicity

  • disabilities

  • neurodivergence

  • career stage/experience/seniority

These are all aspects of a person’s identity which help to make up how they see themselves, how others perceive them, and how they interact in different professional and social situations.

Why are identity and inclusivity important in peer review?

Inclusion written on a blackboard in colourful chalk

The scholarly community has a responsibility to create an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable and supported to carry out their roles. To do this, we need to practice inclusivity in a meaningful and integrated way.

As part of the Equality Act 2010 it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. These characteristics include:

  • age

  • disability

  • gender reassignment

  • marriage and civil partnership

  • pregnancy and maternity

  • race

  • religion or belief

  • sex

  • sexual orientation

In addition to not discriminating against these aspects of identity, it is equally important to go further and proactively create an environment that is inclusive and accommodating for all. By doing so, we can try to make sure that peer review opportunities are open to all those with the appropriate skills.

From a business point of view, inclusivity is also critical. Insights from research carried out by McKinsey tell us that in the US alone, there would be an additional $12tn GDP if the gender gap was narrowed by 2025, and an additional $2bn in potential revenue if financial inclusion efforts broaden services for black Americans.

Inclusivity in peer review – what does it look like?

We know that inclusivity is important in peer review, but how do we create positive change and work towards a more inclusive peer review community?


The language we use across all styles of communication builds a picture of the environment we operate in. If people feel included, respected and recognized in written and spoken communications, they are more likely to feel like a valued member of a community. Creating inclusive content and avoiding exclusive language means we need to recognize and challenge our own biases and habits to reflect on and change existing practices.

Inclusive language examples
1. Avoid company or team acronyms
2. Use plain language in your writing rather than expressions or jargon
3. Refer to a theoretical person as 'they' instead of 'he' or 'she'
4. Ensure your company's designs or images reflect a diverse group of people
5. When speaking to colleagues about family, use gender-neutral labels for family members
6. When in doubt, ask individuals which pronouns they prefer (but make it clear they can choose not to identify, as well)

Education and training

A major part of creating an inclusive environment involves continually educating ourselves and adapting practices.

We have pulled together a list of useful resources for those who want to learn more about inclusivity:

  • The Problem with Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (Geraldine Cochran, revisited on Scholarly Kitchen, 2021) – a great place to start when learning more about the differences between these three terms and how they can be addressed

  • Publishing Enabled – our podcast interview with Katy Alexander and Simon Holt from the initiative Publishing Enabled talking about inclusive language and communications in publishing

  • Inclusion as part of your communications strategy – our blog post and online masterclass where you can learn more about how to make inclusion a central part of your communications strategy. Includes top tips and practical examples

  • The Royal Society of Chemistry has some nice examples of a society's commitment to inclusion and diversity - Inclusion and diversity framework, Gender bias in publishing etc.

  • Practical examples of inclusive marketing – HubSpot has put together a handy blog post showcasing seven companies that have really focused on inclusive marketing and put it into practice in their communication campaigns. This is a great resource when thinking about how to ensure your communications and practices are inclusive

  • Rogue peer review – a polysemy in the making – discover more about rogue practices in peer review affecting people's identity and work – podcasts and Research Information article

Examples of good practice

Although there is always more work to be done when focusing on inclusivity, we want to recognize that there are positive, innovative practices going on already within the scholarly communications industry.

– Tanja Junkers, Monash University, Australia has been a trailblazer in advocating for publishers to update their name change policies for journals and has been a major contributor to this development with publishers like the Royal Society of Chemistry and Wiley

– A network of 17 US national laboratories and 13 publishing groups signed an agreement in July 2021 to make it easier for transgender and gender non-conforming researchers to change their names on digital editions of published papers. The agreement acknowledges the administrative and emotional difficulties some researchers have experienced when requesting name changes and pledges to change this

  • Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Compact – Launched in 2020, the SDG Publishers Compact SDG Publishers Compact signatories agree to develop sustainable practices and publish books and journals that will contribute to the SDGs, including Goals 5 and 10 which specifically focus on addressing inequalities

  • Publishing Enabled – An industry working group focusing on disability and inclusion run by and for people with lived experience of disability. This group is working towards improving the experiences and representations of people with a disability who are working in the publishing industry

  • Diversity in editorial and peer review positions – There are great examples out there of journal teams striving for improved inclusivity, including the South African Journal of Science. They have developed a mentorship programme to broaden the ethnicities, genders and experience levels represented by the editorial team

  • Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC’s) Joint Commitment for action on inclusion and diversity in publishing – Launched in 2020, the RSC has brought together 44 publishing organisations to set a new standard, built on four central points, to contribute to a more inclusive and diverse culture in scholarly publishing.

Inclusivity is an area that I personally love learning more about, and I'm really excited to see some of the events and resources out there as part of this year's #PeerReviewWeek21. You can check out the official Peer Review Week 2021 page for more information, and if you have any comments or experiences to share, do pop them in the comments.

Be sure to sign up for Acknowledging the impact of personal identity on Peer Review with our CEO Lou Peck on Friday 24th September 2021.


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