Women are well represented by Sci-Fi publishers – but not reviewers

The representation gap grows at every stage in the SF ecosystem.

Strange Horizons' Niall Harrison has published his yearly overview of gender in science fiction, and the community has still got a way to go. Harrison broke down the proportion of books published that were by women and the proportion of books reviewed that were by women – as well as looking at the gender of the reviewers themselves.

On publishing, the news is largely positive. Data from Locus – one of the biggest SF journals, which publishes a list of book it has received every quarter – shows that the gender breakdown at the publisher's end is pretty even:

The split is even better for the US, where 45.8 per cent of books received are by female authors. But that relationship breaks down by the time the books actually get reviewed. Of the 14 magazines and journals which Harrison looks at, only four even approach the "true" ratio:

Cascadia Subduction Zone is explicitly aimed at treating work by women "as vital and central rather than marginal", and Harrison also explains that Locus' data is skewed somewhat ("Carolyn Cushman's column typically includes 8-10 short reviews per issue, 88% of which are of books by women. Other columnists typically tackle 3-5 books at greater length; 35.8% of these longer reviews are of books by women"), which means that Strange Horisons and Tor.com are the two which get the split most right.

And part of that might be attributable to the breakdown of the reviewers themselves. The relationship is largely what you'd expect: the more women you have on the team, the more accurately you represent the role of women in SF:

To be fair to the bottom two, Asimov's and Analog, they both have extremely small review staff – just three and one people respectively. Then again, F&SF, with just five staff, has a 60:40 split (that is, three women and two men), so congratulations to them.

The New Statesman doesn't review science fiction as a separate category, so it's hard to break out how we would do comparatively, but we do review comics, another area with its own well discussed problems of gender representation.

When it comes to reviewers, we've had a fifty-fifty ratio over the last year. But it should be noted that in practice that's one guest review by Hayley Campbell, and the rest by me. Which means I'm the one to blame for the fact that women have not been close to fairly represented:

There's no immediate equivalent to Locus for a measure of gender breakdown in publication, which means I have nothing to cite to support my feeling that a sizeable majority of books which publishers send me are all-male creative teams. (I'm also not entirely sure how to count colourists and letterers in this; a list in which the only women were colourists seems bad, but so does discounting them.) Nonetheless, it's clear that I need to step up my game somewhat. Let that be a lesson to us all, especially me.

Two covers of Cascadia Subduction Zone, the journal which does best at representing women.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.