Fostering diversity: insights from a journal editor

13th April 2023

Image of Fevzi OkumusFevzi Okumus, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management and co-founding Editor of the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, reveals the steps editors can take to create a culture of diversity.

There’s a growing recognition that diverse and inclusive environments boost creativity and excellence in organisations. In the academic sector, equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are key to addressing the complex issues facing our world today – we need contributions from all groups to make a real-world impact. Unfortunately, there are still many challenges to participation. To further change, we must work collectively to tackle systemic barriers, reduce bias and encourage diverse contributions. 

Scholarly publishing is a vehicle to disseminate knowledge and ideas, however, in the past, it has excluded certain voices and perspectives. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that publishing must become more equitable and inclusive, and initiatives such as the Joint commitment for action on inclusion and diversity in publishing are helping to drive change. Journal editors play a critical role in supporting and leading efforts, particularly as the sector continues to operate within an environment where researchers ‘publish or perish’.

EDI in research is not a new endeavour. Over the past 17 years, as Editor-in-Chief International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, I have worked tirelessly to foster a culture of inclusion within my editorial board. There is no secret formula, it takes time. And while I admit there is still much for us to improve, we have made huge leaps in nurturing and supporting EDI in our journals. 

Open door policy

When I first took over as Editor-in-Chief, my approach was to have an open door policy for reviewers. Provided they fulfil certain criteria, they are welcome to review for our journal. This means we expect anyone joining the editorial board to have a PhD. They should also review a minimum of five or six articles per year. We then reflect on how they review. If someone is consistently late, negative, arrogant, always rejecting submissions or writes very brief comments, we flag those reviewers and eventually remove them from the editorial board. 

Seek representation

I aim for my editorial boards to have global representation and for half of the reviewers to be women. I also have feedback, participation and support from people across the world.

Creating a diverse team of reviewers takes work, so I’m always recruiting. Whenever I attend conferences, I'm continually looking for rising stars from different countries and fields to add to the editorial board. I'm also happy to appoint editorial board members from other fields if needed, not just tourism and hospitality, but marketing information technology, for example. I think receiving feedback from different corners has helped us tremendously. 

It can be challenging to recruit people to the board as we require them to spend 5-10 hours reviewing every week and there is no payment. There have been many occasions when I’ve invited a women scholar to join the editorial board and she declines, often due to family or work commitments. I think we would have more diverse representation if publishers offered reviewers and editors more incentives.  

Support diverse authors

One of the advantages of having a diverse editorial board is that they are well equipped to support diverse authors. For example, we may have papers coming from Asia, Africa or South America, where language can be a huge barrier to participation. If you want to have articles published from those regions, then it’s important to select reviewers carefully because you can easily reject papers that are not up to our standards. 

Our assistant or associate editors screen each submission and if there are issues with language, with formatting, content or methodologies, my team writes to the authors to fix those issues and resubmit. If I have a paper from Asia, Africa, South America, or other countries, where we don't receive papers very often, even if I reject the paper, I ask them to revise it based on the reviewers’ comments and resubmit, perhaps to our other journal. We are supportive and we also look very carefully at reviewers’ feedback and if unnecessarily negative then we don't invite those reviewers again.

Encourage diverse content

We always welcome submissions in EDI, and we’ll have it guest edited by four or five scholars who are experts in diversity management, accessibility, equality and so forth. I also invite people to write review articles on diversity management and related issues. Diversity management and equality have always been important, but these subjects have come more to the fore in recent years. When topics arise and become part of a bigger movement, we will create a special issue. For example, we don’t yet know how AI technologies like ChatGPT will impact our field and whether robots will be considered as part of EDI.

In 2022, we sent out a call for papers for a special issue on diversity and inclusion. The issue was guest edited by a group of diverse and leading scholars in hospitality and tourism, namely, Dr Wan Yang, Associate Professor, Cal Poly Pomona; Dr Shi (Tracy) Xu, Senior Lecturer, University of Surrey; Dr Juan Madera, Professor, University of Houston; Dr Laurie Wu, Associate Professor, Temple University; and Dr Emily Ma, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst. This special issue is almost finalised and should be published late 2023. 

In addition, in 2022, we started a critical reflection paper series, inviting all the editorial board members to write a paper on a methodology or topic they felt was missing or limited, or anything they can challenge. We encourage them to think creatively and consider what is going to happen in the future.  At least two or three papers in the series will always be related to quality diversity management, labour turnover, the current situation following COVID, quiet quitting, and so forth. We are always open to new ideas. 

Keep impact at the centre

It’s always important to remember why we are publishing research and that we don’t fall prey to the game of publish, publish, publish, and the rise of papermills and research that has very, very little impact. Publishing is not just all about citations, cite scores or impact factors, it’s about how we positively impact lives, tackling issues like unemployment, homelessness, power, sustainability and diversity. 

That's why we started critical reflection papers. These allow our editorial board members and leading scholars to question what is wrong in our field of research and how we can challenge this way of thinking and operating. Having people contribute from different backgrounds, cultures, thinking and traditions, greatly helps develop our field.

Take that first step

Creating a diverse culture within your editorial board takes time and requires constant attention. There are challenges to overcome and there is no one size fits all approach, but it’s a must – we need to make our research environment more equitable and inclusive. As Editors, we can make a huge difference to EDI, and at the same time, progress our fields in ways we never imagined. We just need to begin.

One of the advantages of having a diverse editorial board is that they are well equipped to support diverse authors.

Are you in?

Our sector makes an incredible difference to the world, but it’s shrouded in unhelpful traditions, outdated measures of impact and barriers to participation.

We’re seeing green shoots of progress, but significant change will require the entire sector to commit and act. This is why we’ve relaunched our Real Impact Manifesto which asks you to join us in working towards a fairer, more equitable environment where research can have a real-world impact and those within it can reach their full potential. We outline six commitments where we can work together for change – will you join us?

Find out more