Gendered Conference Campaign: What People Are Doing

I hope this post will be the first in a series, in which people write in to tell us about their efforts to achieve a better gender balance in conferences, volumes, etc. It would be great to know what measures people are taking, what works, and what doesn’t.

Simon Kirchin wrote to me yesterday:

Hi Jender and all,

I’m a frequent reader, but a non-writer (save for the discussion about my ‘Thick Concepts’ conference last year.) This is just something about The British Society for Ethical Theory (BSET) of which I am President. I know that there is a continuing worry about conference line-ups, and a worry about ethics recently. (A worry I share, I hasten to add.) Three items of BSET news, plus one other item:

(i) For our 2011 conference one of our two keynotes will be female (Susan Wolf, UNC Chapel Hill);

(ii) For our 2012 conference we have managed to get our first choice pair of keynote speakers, both female. (I’d better not reveal their names just yet.) I should point out that the BSET Exec Committee does not have a deliberate policy of making sure we invite at least one female, and we don’t take the view that any three of these speakers is ‘token’! But, we are aware of people’s concerns in this regard and we did talk about it at length at our July meeting, in relation to keynotes and other things. Similarly:

(iii) For our 2011 open sessions we have decided to instigate super-anonymous review (?), which we’ll advertise in the next CFP. All papers will go to an email, and all identifications removed *before* the papers are sent to the ‘Chief Referee’, whose job it is then to send out to referees, gather and read reports, and compile the programme of 9 open sessions.

I hope this goes someway to show that BSET is aware of people’s worries. Not perfection yet, perhaps, but better than before.

(iv) On another note, if you are interested, I am compiling papers for an edited collection on thick concepts, following the conference last year. Of the probable 11 contributors (inc. myself), two are women, one early career, one mid-career. Again, the numbers aren’t perfect, but I had four women turn me down for various reasons when deciding on the eventual list.

It’s great to hear that these concerns are being discussed, and that people are tracking their progress toward better gender representation. Also interesting to hear– again– about a high proportion of women turning down invites. (It would be interesting to know the reasons they gave, to see if there’s any pattern) And, of course, I’m very pleased to hear about the super-anonymous reviewing.

And please do let us know what you or your organisation is doing to achieve better gender balance!

9 thoughts on “Gendered Conference Campaign: What People Are Doing

  1. This really is a very good thing; as has sometimes come up in discussions of these conferences, it may be difficult to pin down exactly why these things get so skewed, and the first step to getting beyond that is for the people directly involved to be aware of the problem and to look at it in a way that’s not purely reactive. Congratulations to Kirchin & BSET for leading the way in this, by making clear what’s going on right from the beginning! I think this is a massive and very heartening improvement, and I hope a great many more conference organizers start doing the same.

  2. I’m a female postgrad in moral philosophy. It means a lot to me to hear that BSET are talking about the issue and looking for solutions. Thanks!

  3. Hi all,

    Thanks for your comments.

    In answer to the question towards the end of jender’s original posting, all four people who turned me down cited pressure of work and other exisiting commitments. (I should add, in case it isn’t clear, that as with the BSET invitations, I asked people to contribute solely on merit.)

    Best wishes, S

  4. This is about the women who turned down the invitation to contribute. Simon mentions “pressure of work and other existing commitments”. There are, of course, lots of social reasons for that to be the case. But ONE possibility, among others, which may or may not be relevant in this case, is that when women are invited to contribute to conferences, books, or journal issues, it may be the a relatively small group of women who get asked frequently. Most people in the discipline of philosophy know who the really high profile women are; I suspect they are the first ones who come to mind. And it may seem safer to stick with a high-profile, known quantity, than to take a chance on someone less well known (although she may be every bit as good). Does this sound plausible?

  5. I am not a high-profile philosopher, but nevertheless one of those women who turns down a lot of invitations, especially writing invitations, invitations to be on (grant/award) committees, and invitations to give seminars abroad. And my reasons are exactly what Simon writes – “pressure of work and other existing commitments”.

    I think a lot may depend on the institutional setting in which one has to work. My institutional setting is that of being a chair/full professor in a country (the Netherlands) that has about 10-20% of female full professors. But (a) there is the (mistaken, in my view) institutional belief that many invitations should go only to full professors rather than also to associate/assistant professors or postdoctoral researchers, and (b) every time a committee is formed one wants to have 30-50% of its members to be female. Easy calculation: if a country has 10-20% female full professors, but wants 30-50% of committee members to be women, then female professors do a lot of committee work.
    If you have, for example, a PhD examination committee with 7 members, and you have at least two women, then they form 2/7th of the committee, which is more than 10-20%. If this kind of “statistical overrepresentation” of women happens (unnoticed) at a larger scale (and there are of course very good reasons for wanting women to be in those positions of power!), then female academics simply end up with much less time for themselves, that is, for their own writing.

    In addition, I think that it is much more likely for a male academic to be partnered to a person who doesn’t have a very demanding job, than for a female professor. At best, a female professor will be in an egalitarian household, where she does half of the care and household work. So she often doesn’t have the home support which many male professors have, and/or indeed wants to spend a ‘normal’ amount of time with children and other relatives.

    So the “pressure of work and other existing commitments”-explanation sounds very plausible to me.

  6. Hi all,

    A friendly comment on Introvertica’s comment.

    I think there is a lot of truth in that. I think that two of the four people I asked get asked often to do things, although that may also have to do with them being reliable. (I should add, given that this is a public forum, that of the two who are writing for me, one is fairly well-known, and one is a grad student who has a small but growing reputation. Both fit well with the collection and, I’m speaking tentatively here, neither was the last to be asked.) There are a few things that have to be balanced when putting together an edited collection. Unfortunately but realistically, one is trying to get big hitters who will appeal to the publisher and referees. On a related note, a friend of mine said he had a volume recently turned down by his first choice publisher mainly because it didn’t have enough people who would sell in the US market. (There are geographical prejudices also.) When it comes to big conferences and, specifically keynotes, I’m afraid that one wants established names if one can. There, I think the phenomenon that Introvertica mentions comes right to the fore: the small pool of establihed women will be very busy, and one will be lucky to get them. One-day workshops are different, I think; there is more freedom there to choose, and I think people should try to do that. On another related note, as we all know, money is tight, particularly in the UK and particularly for conferences. That practical matter futher restricts the pool of people one can choose from for big conferences. If one is commited to trying to get one or more female speakers, and if one or more turn you down from the UK, then it may be difficult or impossible to get another woman from a different country purely beacuse of financial reasons. (I speak from experience. Groan!)

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