Women Harnessing the Power of Internet Publishing
By Genevieve Brown, dean of the College of Education, and Beverly J. Irby, professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling--both at Sam Houston State University
As academic administrators who are dedicated to women’s rights and social justice, we are always seeking new ways to help women strengthen their professional standing. In 1996, looking for a new forum for women to publish their research and new ways for experienced women leaders to share information with their junior colleagues, we decided to create a journal for women in leadership. Wanting to avoid any hindrance caused by a lack of funding, we opted to take our journal online.
In the mid-1990s, many women informed us that they had encountered significant barriers when trying to publish their research, particularly qualitative studies on women’s or gender issues. A recent review of articles published between l986-l996 supports this assertion: within that decade, only thirty-eight articles based on qualitative research on women’s or gender issues were published in professional publications listed on WilsonWeb1. This dearth of publishing on women’s and gender issues is particularly disconcerting when considered in the context of tenure review. In 1995 twice as many men as women occupied full-tenure faculty positions in public colleges and universities in the United States (Marczely 1997). At the same time, twice as many women as men occupied positions at the assistant professor rank (Marczely 1997).
If women publishing on women’s issues were ever to improve their tenure rates, particularly at four-year colleges and universities that require publishing for tenure, they would first have to boost their rates of publication. Wanting to increase women’s access to publication, information, and (eventually) tenured positions, we decided to give women in academia a new forum for their work. In the spring of 1997, we launched the first online refereed professional journal for women, Advancing Women in Leadership (AWL) (www.advancingwomen.com/awl/awl.html), with the collaboration of Gretchen Glasscock.
Tackling Old Challenges with New Tools
By 1996, the Internet had begun to gain traction as a creditable forum for academic research and publication. Yet few journals provided online access, and no professional e-journals were dedicated solely to sponsoring women’s academic work (Brown & Irby, 2002). However, as Burbules and Creamer both revealed, scholars were beginning to publish in and consult online journals (Burbules, 1997; Creamer, 1998). As a low-cost alternative to paper sources that was gaining credibility, the Internet provided an excellent opportunity for academics seeking to publish their work worldwide.
We saw this opportunity as particularly pertinent to women, and we wanted to take advantage of it by creating a free-access professional refereed journal, Advancing Women in Leadership. We wanted the journal to feature manuscripts that report, synthesize, review, or analyze scholarly inquiry and that focus on women's leadership, girls’ equity issues, or other social justice issues. We hoped to provide women both a forum for publication and an opportunity to network within and across fields.
We could not attain these benefits without first addressing the challenges of Internet publication—first and foremost, the challenge of creating a professional product online, where publishing is often assumed to be unregulated. In order to achieve the exacting standards we desired, we decided to implement a set of practices geared toward ensuring quality. First among these practices was the decision to feature only high-quality manuscripts, which we obtained by invited submission through our network of researchers in the field of women’s leadership. We hoped that if we could build a strong reputation, we would eventually attract excellent unsolicited manuscripts as well.
We also took steps in the editorial stages to ensure that the journal seemed authoritative to an academic audience. Manuscripts are subject to a rigorous review process guided by the expert reviewers who comprise our editorial board. As a result, we have narrowed our acceptance rate to 15 percent—an attestation to our journal’s selectivity. In addition, we have always refused to accept advertising in the journal, thus distancing ourselves from the commercial world and enhancing the credibility of the journal. Our careful adherence to these standards renders our articles more acceptable to the tenure review committees that determine the trajectories of women’s careers.
Advancing Women in Leadership for a Decade and Beyond
Glasscock forecast when we formed our publishing alliance that our journal would fuse the power of the Internet as a communications, networking, and information tool, enabling women to advance their personal and professional goals. At roughly the same time, Odlyzko predicted more generally that scholarly work would eventually appear primarily in electronic journals (1998). The past ten years have seen this prediction partially realized: 235 peer-reviewed open-access scholarly journals are now listed on the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Communication of Research Special Interest Group (SIG) website (aera-cr.asu.edu/ejournals/), including publications from 35 countries throughout the world.
AWL has been a significant part of this digital revolution, opening access to women writers throughout the world; two hundred and eight female authors from eight countries have published in AWL’s twenty-three issues over the past ten years. These authors have addressed more than twenty general themes related to women’s issues and social justice which might not otherwise have reached a broad audience, including tenure for faculty of color and white women; the effect of gender on realtors’ careers; how culture shapes adolescent girls’ body images; the role of race, ethnicity, class, and gender in education; women’s contributions to math and science; and mentoring programs for women and people of color. In offering a forum for writers on these topics, we have also taken part in a revolution in publishing specifically on women’s leadership: while WilsonWeb catalogued only thirty-eight qualitative research-related articles on women’s or gender issues featured in professional publications between 1986 and 1996, the number of these articles listed between 1996 and 2006 rose to ninety-six.
Although we can’t claim that the increased access our journal provides has directly affected women’s overall tenure rates, we do think that access to online publishing has made a difference for women. According to recent data compiled by the American Association of University Professors, 44.8 percent of all professors on the tenure track are now women (2006); if these women attain full tenure at the same rates as their male colleagues, women will be well on their way toward parity in academia. Unfortunately, women have not made significant gains within ranks of full tenure: they still occupy only 31.2 percent of tenured positions. Nevertheless, our writers tell us that their careers have directly benefited from publication in AWL. Numerous contributors have emphasized that they would not have attained tenure without the opportunity to initiate their scholarly publication in AWL. Other contributors have spoken of professional networks they developed through our journal: one author wrote that her article prompted other female engineers to contact her and discuss collaborative research agendas.
The benefits of access extend beyond our contributors to our expansive audience. According to recent communication with Glasscock, our site received 60,000 page views in 2006. As Glasscock elaborates, “Many consider the journal to be an extremely valuable resource, and it has certainly succeeded in drawing a large, loyal audience.” Like our contributors, our audience represents a diverse group, with readers hailing from Dubai, Singapore, and China, and AWL is one of the top Web sites in India. Reviewers credit our site with establishing a sense of community and empowerment among women around the world, as well as providing important resources to assist women in their work for equity. By providing intellectual diversity to readers in any physical location, and by facilitating an exchange of ideas that is essential to career development everywhere, AWL has aided women in harnessing the power of Internet publishing in academia.
Yet even after ten years, the Advancing Women in Leadership Journal remains the only refereed online professional journal for women leaders, suggesting that Internet publishing remains a missed opportunity for many women in academia. We hope that more women will take advantage of the benefits of online publishing to strengthen their careers and reach an expanded audience.
1WilsonWeb, the HW Wilson Information Retrieval System for the Internet, is a comprehensive search tool that simplifies access to information stored in databases. Access to WilsonWeb is available at www.hwwilson.com.
Recommendations for Developing an E-publishing Project
In a 2002 article in the Journal of Electronic Publishing, we noted fourteen “lessons” that would be helpful to those anticipating beginning an on-line, refereed, professional journal. These lessons included:
- Determine your journal’s purpose and audience.
- Develop a strong review board. Solicit individuals who are recognized by the audience and who can be depended upon to give thought and effort to quality reviewing in a timely manner.
- Hire a clerical or graduate assistant to help with editorial duties such as mailing/emailing letters and manuscripts, making telephone calls, and corresponding with authors.
- Be aware that this endeavor is labor and time intensive. Set aside time for brainstorming, soliciting, consulting with reviewers and authors, editing, and technological editing.
- Clarify the expectations of scholarship with the publisher and determine the layout with these expectations in mind.
- Determine whether you will allow advertising.
- Determine criteria for manuscript selection and develop a review sheet for the editorial board.
- Establish a relationship with a technology consultant.
- Determine whether you will publish on a rolling basis (as manuscripts are accepted) or at specific times throughout the year.
- Determine how you will classify manuscripts with recommended revisions--as rejections or acceptances. (Because ours was a peer-reviewed journal, we decided to treat manuscripts needing revisions as rejections until the manuscript had been revised, returned, and reviewed by the editors. If major revisions are needed, a second rejection with revisions applies. Our acceptance rate, which was initially 20 percent, is now 15 percent.)
- Remain flexible regarding how transactions will be conducted. (This was important in 1997, as some scholars preferred not to use the Internet for communications.)
- Develop an extensive network of potential authors. We treated all individuals we met at scholarly meetings as potential contributors to the journal.
- Promote the journal and create a system for disseminating information about it. Create an attractive and informative website and make certain that it is included on search engines and electronic journal listings.
- Ensure that all manuscripts are reviewed by at least three selected editorial board members. Maintain a tracking system of in/out manuscripts, review deadlines, and follow up as necessary.
We believe that these recommendations are still highly relevant in the world of e-journal publishing.
American Association of University Professors
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Creamer, E.G. Assessing faculty publication productivity: Issues of equity. Report No. ED)-HE-98-2. Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1998. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED420242).
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