Strategies to Prevent or Reduce Gender Bias in Peer Review of Research Grants: A Rapid Scoping Review

PLoS One. 2017 Jan 6;12(1):e0169718. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169718. eCollection 2017.


Objective: To review the literature on strategies implemented or identified to prevent or reduce gender bias in peer review of research grants.

Methods: Studies of any type of qualitative or quantitative design examining interventions to reduce or prevent gender bias during the peer review of health-related research grants were included. Electronic databases including MEDLINE, EMBASE, Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), PsycINFO, Joanna Briggs, the Cochrane Library, Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) Reviews, and the Campbell Library were searched from 2005 to April 2016. A search for grey (i.e., difficult to locate or unpublished) literature was conducted and experts in the field were consulted to identify additional potentially relevant articles. Two individuals screened titles and abstracts, full-text articles, and abstracted data with discrepancies resolved by a third person consistently.

Results: After screening 5524 citations and 170 full-text articles, one article evaluating gender-blinding of grant applications using an uncontrolled before-after study design was included. In this study, 891 applications for long-term fellowships in 2006 were included and 47% of the applicants were women. These were scored by 13 peer reviewers (38% were women). The intervention included eliminating references to gender from the applications, letters of recommendations, and interview reports that were sent to the committee members for evaluation. The proportion of successful applications led by women did not change with gender-blinding, although the number of successful applications that were led by men increased slightly.

Conclusions: There is limited research on interventions to mitigate gender bias in the peer review of grants. Only one study was identified and no difference in the proportion of women who were successful in receiving grant funding was observed. Our results suggest that interventions to prevent gender bias should be adapted and tested in the context of grant peer review to determine if they will have an impact.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Financing, Organized / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Peer Review / ethics*
  • Peer Review / standards*
  • Publications / ethics
  • Publications / standards
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research / economics*
  • Sexism*
  • Workflow

Grant support

This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). ACT is funded by a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Synthesis. CT is funded as a Scientific Director of the CIHR. SES is funded by a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Translation and by the Mary Trimmer Chair in Geriatric Medicine. The funder had no role in the study design, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication.