Celebrating women in publishing: International Women’s Day 2016

For over 100 years International Women’s Day has celebrated the achievements of women worldwide and the struggle for gender equality. We asked women in senior positions at BioMed Central for their advice on how to make it in scientific publishing.

Although roughly 60% of those in scholarly publishing are women, the ranks of leadership still struggle to reflect gender equality. At BioMed Central around 67% of all staff are female and we asked women in positions of leadership what advice they would give to women at the start of their careers who hope to similarly rise up the ranks in publishing.

Here are some of the highlights from Jo Appleford-Cook (JAC), Editorial Training Manager, Caroline Black (CB), Editorial Director, Louisa Flintoft (LF), Editor of Genome Biology, Ruth Francis (RF), Manager Policy External Relations, and Elizabeth Moylan (EM), Senior Editor for Research Integrity.

Be self-aware and self-confident

JAC: Be aware of yourself. The type of person you are, your strengths and weaknesses. Find a career path that plays to your strengths and ideally the areas you enjoy the best. You can work on weaknesses though, so take courses and try to have an open mind on what you can learn from them.

EM: You probably need a certain drive and assertiveness to aspire to a leadership/management role. My feeling is that if women want to pursue a leadership role then nothing should hold you back. Some practical ‘training’ may be necessary on the way, such as a good mentor and some development training (I really benefited from attending a Springboard Women’s Development Programme course) but as everything in life it’s your own ‘self-belief’ that will get you where you want to go, even if not by the most obvious route.

Successful career progression isn’t a result of simply working hard and putting in the hours. It’s also about being noticed.


Caroline Black
Editorial Director

CB: Successful career progression isn’t a result of simply working hard and putting in the hours. It’s also about being noticed: so greeting people, deputising for people, speaking up in meetings. Being positive about the organization, colleagues, and other departments helps. Look to mentors and create networks

LF: Find a mentor – someone who is already in the kind of position that you aspire to. They can advise you on the skills you need to develop, point you towards opportunities, and give you advice about how to succeed in the workplace. I’ve provided mentoring to women (and men) who have got in touch with me without any previous introduction, e.g. through LinkedIn. One of them is now in my team.

RF: Publishing may seem male dominated at the top, as is the case in many industries but you can build your own networks. I have a couple of mentors I go to for advice, and a network of women friends and contacts in similar positions both in publishing and elsewhere. I know I can discuss difficult issues with them and I benefit from their knowledge and guidance.

Be open

JAC: Take feedback graciously. This ties into having an open mind on what you can learn. Other people’s perceptions of you matter – above, around and below you on the hierarchy – and will impact how you  progress.

CB: Be open to change and make it work, whatever your initial personal reservations.

Find the right fit

JAC: Find the right company. There are still plenty of stuffy, old fashioned companies that are full of old boy networks. It doesn’t mean you can’t work there, but learn what you can from them and don’t get stuck. Move on if you need to, to avoid being left in a junior position just because you’re a female. Equally though, junior positions are needed to learn the ropes, and you’ll probably be a better manager/leader if you are confident you know what you are doing.

Finding a company that can accommodate this flexibility is important.


Elizabeth Moylan
Senior Editor for Research Integrity

EM: I started work at BioMed Central as a full-time in-house Editor managing peer review on a range of journals but in subsequent years I was able to continue under part-time employment with various roles. Finding a company that can accommodate this flexibility is important – BioMed Central should be praised for its leadership in this area in promoting flexible working hours. I was able to keep working but also juggle the demands of a young and growing family.

RF: Publishing is a dynamic industry that is changing and innovating at the same pace as technological change. There are lots of opportunities so see them as that rather than feeling overwhelmed by the range of options.

Seek out opportunities

LF: Get experience that is relevant to leadership skills early on in your career, e.g. through offering to help with training of a new team member or taking ownership of a project.

RF: Try things out – get some work experience, or shadow someone in the industry if you can. Lots of publishers will be able to offer this kind of practical experience, or you can ask people who are already in the kinds of positions you aspire to for their thoughts on how to pursue your career.

CB: Seek out and embrace opportunities for team working, internal networking and management. When opportunities to supervise others arise, accept that management is a priority, not something that gets in the way of your own job. It’s also not about checking other people’s work, telling them what to do, and helping when they are busy, but about coaching and empowering, and facilitating the progress and profile of your team members.

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