42 thoughts on “Workshop: men discussing propositions and the aim of semantics

  1. As a supporter of your campaign, I’m really embarrassed to see an event that I’ve had a hand in planning come up here. That having been said, we tried really hard to get female speakers at this, and have built up a rather impressive stack of declined invitations. I’d be happy to have suggestions as to what more we can do…

  2. Thanks, Derek, both for your support and for stopping by so quickly. Did you notice any commonalities in the reasons for declining?

  3. I too am grateful for your support and attempts, Derek. So I hope my remarks that follow are taken to be attempts to be helpful.

    I so think we need to get further along in solving the problem. As the rewards for choosing an academic career in philosophy look less and less certain, this appearance of two tiers to membership in the profession is a very negative sign, even when people have tried to avoid it. And.of course there are other factors. Perhaps organizers need to think differently about the issues and, eg, set the co ference around times some women can make it before asking men.

    Another thing we might look at is the status of women invited. The new APPS blog had two women recently who were cited as ” most underappreciated” philosophers. I know both and think that their records certainly rival others who are very well recognized.

    And so on. Clearly, we need to do better than the standard procedures are allowing.

  4. JJ– I really like the idea of contacting the women before scheduling. Believe it or not, for all my thought about these issues, that hadn’t occured to me!

  5. Following the post I had on this topic at Crooked Timber and the various e-mails that followed that post (some very defensive, some very bravely self-reflective), I’ve been thinking about the gendered conference campaign a lot in the last days.

    Here’s another thought i had, which has to do with ‘quality’ (of people and their work).
    I don’t know how it is in the area of this particular event, but one problem is also that *in probabilistic terms* women may be more inclined to do other types of philosophy then men. For example, I would hypothesize that in the area of political philosophy in which I work, women are more inclined to do philosophical analysis of messy real-life situations (Iris Young being a wonderful example), whereas men are more likely to do abstract modeling or hyper-abstract and very detailed reasoning about a square-millimeter problem. *If* such a gender difference in styles of doing philosophy is true, then a further problem for a balanced representation of women in philosophy lies in our ideas of what counts as the ‘best’ research. As we know from the ‘Gender in Science’ literature, the work done by men is often valued higher.
    In my own field, I often sense that the analysis of more messy, comprehensive problems is valued less than the more mathematical-like philosophizing. I have done both, and still do both, but do much more of the former. And I don’t think the former is easier, quite to the contrary. Yet I have received much more scholarly attention for my more abstract and/or ‘universal’ work than for the messy analyses. Some even claim that the latter is ‘not philosophy’, but rather how to implement or apply philosophical ideas (implicitly suggesting that this would be something straightforward that everyone can do).
    So apart from the suggestions made by jj, we also need to think critically at how we, the scholarly community, decide what counts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ work. Surely that must have an effect on whom we decide worthy of our invitations.

    Having said all that, I very much understand Derek Ball’s problem too: in my experience too, women are more likely to decline invitations then men. Reasons? (1) they get too many invitations and decline half or two thirds; (2) child care responsibilities; (3) care responsibilities for other dependents, such as their parents; (4) they are tired and/or want to have a healthy and balanced quality of life and this entails a limit to how much they want to travel.

    Sorry if this is all a bit speculative; I’m only hoping to add to our (collective) understanding of what are the causes, and what (if anything) we can do about rectifying this situation, assuming we are in a situation where people care about a gender-balanced event, as clearly was the case here.

  6. Ingrid, it’s funny that you should bring up the point of how ‘quality in philosophy’ is perceived and evaluated, I was saying something quite similar in a recent discussion prompted by a blog post of mine at New APPS. (Btw, I quoted you there too, and left a comment at Crooked Timber to say that I had; but my comment hasn’t appeared, perhaps still waiting for moderation?)


    The discussion there might be of interest to the Feminist Philosophers in general, as somebody named ‘Brian’ (wanna guess which Brian it is? not very hard to guess…) came over to say that, to his mind, promoting gender balance often goes at the expenses of quality! (or something to this effect). He didn’t reply to my last response to his comments.

    And lastly, let me add (a bit inappropriately perhaps) that I know Derek a little bit from my visits to Arche, and he really is an exceptionally thoughtful person :)

  7. Catarina, great that you’re taking up the same discussion on other fora too. The irony about Brian’s claim is that the only real hard evidence we have (from social and cognitive psychology) is that the implicit gender bias mechanisms are actually *lowering* quality (since we are objectively overvaluing the work of men in scientific and leadership positions and undervaluing those of women). Of course, the real difficult question is what kind of gender balance would be needed to rectify that bias. Those who worry that being gender-conscious would negatively affect quality probably think that (if at all) only a tiny little bit of women are negatively discriminated against, and hence any type of ‘affirmative action’ or whatever they call it would lead to quality decline. I am not saying that these issues should not be on the table; but I am surprised how much philosophers, of all academics, those who should think hardest and most clearly, are unaware (and often unwilling to investigate) their own biases and think about what (if anything) is needed to rectify these.

    Catarina, I normally check the CT moderation queue at least twice a day, and haven’t seen your post (and it’s not in there now). I’m sorry if it disappeared – there are often many posts in the moderation queue and it’s almost impossible to prevent that from time to time a genuine post is unintentionally deleted as spam.

  8. Jender, thanks. Maybe we need to rethink the whole social form of having conferences. Not to do away with them, but to think of how many ways the choices may be limited by the standard ways of doing thinks.

  9. Derek, Arche seems to be organizing a lot of all male workshops. Here are links to a few:
    Is the problem always that the invited women decline? If yes, what is the typical ratio of invited women to invited men?

  10. Hi Ingrid (and everybody else),
    No worries about my disappeared comment: I just wanted to let you know that I had quoted you at New APPS and linked to the discussion at CT. If you find appropriate, you may want to add the link in the comments section of your post, but no big deal.
    About why philosophers, of all people, are so resistant to the idea that their judgments are affected by implicit biases: well, I think it makes perfect sense really. It makes sense in the context of a certain arrogance characteristic of the philosophical enterprise: WE are the THINKERS par excellence, we have entire, rational control over our judgments. I think it has a lot to do with the association of implicit biases and ‘irrationality’ or something like that (which is bonkers, of course, i.e. the notion of rationality in question!).

  11. Another irony: Turns out that asserting one’s lack of bias in fact increases it, as does being primed with objectivity.

  12. fp, it’s certainly true that events at Arche have a bad track record in the gender balance department. As an external member of the Foundations of Logical Consequence project (in fact, the *only* female external member; there are also two female PhD students in the project), I’ve been relentlessly talking about the issue with the principal investigators of the project, but apparently I haven’t succeeded in being entirely convincing (but *some* of the FLC events at least have had female speakers). I don’t know much what goes on with the other projects, but I hesitate to put Derek in the difficult position of explaining it to us and defending Arche here.
    And on another positive note about Arche, over the last couple of years the number of female PhD students has increased significantly, so at least that’s something.

  13. Indeed hmmmm! Also worth noting that Arche used to have a much better male:female ratio than it does now, and I think used to have a better male:female ratio at workshops etc. Coincidence? Probably not.

  14. Thanks for all of this helpful discussion.

    Jender: Reasons for declining included personal/family responsibilities, teaching responsibilities, and too many invitations/too much other travel scheduled. Women were much more likely to decline than men, but I did not notice a pattern among the responses.

    jj: Organizing the conference time around the schedule of potential speakers is a good idea, and one that hadn’t occurred to me. Thanks!

    fp: You’re right that that is a bad track record. As Catarina points out, Arche hosts a lot of events — more than a dozen just in the past year — and they are planned by different groups of people. I wasn’t involved in planning the workshops you listed, so I’m not sure what happened. (In one case, all the speakers but one were local graduate students working on a particular topic.)

    Perhaps this speaks to a need for a common policy on gendered conferences, or on diversity in conferences more generally. Do other institutions/departments have such policies? I’d appreciate thoughts on whether this is a good idea, and how such a policy could be formulated.

    hmmmm: Of course you’re right as well: this is a problem, and unfortunately not a problem that is easy to solve in the short term. As a relatively new hire myself, I can’t really speak to how the situation developed.

  15. I don’t know of departments that have a diversity policy and persoanlly I don’t find it a good idea to implement policies of the kind. When I organize conferences, 50% of my invitees are women (I work in an area that is heavily male dominated). Why are 50% women? I regularly read the work of women and their names pop into my mind when I’m organizing conferences. And in my experience the philosophical value of workshops with an equal gender balance is higher than at workshops with unequal gender balance. The atmosphere is better among other thigns.

    I do not have the experience that women are more likely to reject. I wonder why you have that experience? Are the women that are invited in average more senior or more sought after than the men you invite? Are the women invited later in the day than the men are invited? If any of this is the case, then that might explain why the women are more likely to reject invitations.

  16. I know there has been an interesting proposal to extend the GCC to summer schools. A four-day Arche/CSMN summer school on the de se last year had a 100% male lineup: http://www.csmn.uio.no/events/2010/de-se.xml. Its always a shame to see low numbers of women speaking at conferences and workshops, but it is particularly alarming when there are no women speaking at (1) longer workshops, (2) on areas of philosophy like phil language where (rumor has it) gender differences are less severe, and (3) where one of the main goals is presenting the state of the art to upcoming grad students and postdocs. The state of the art is… a boy’s club? Still? Really?

    Arche is a fantastic resource for LEMMings. And Derek is right, they host a lot of conferences and workshops. It’d be fantastic if they took a more proactive position on gender and representation at their many events.

  17. amazed: Clearly, we need to do better, and since no one person is involved in planning all of these events, something at an institutional level seems appropriate. So I would be interested to hear why you think that an explicit policy is a bad idea, and also if you have other suggestions on how to encourage an institution to be more proactive.

    (I don’t think that the factors you mention (seniority and later invitations) were at work in the case that started this discussion.)

    hmmm: Extending the GCC to summer schools strikes me as a really good idea. Is there some objection?

  18. Just to comment on whether women tend to decline invitations more often than men: in my experience, that is the case indeed (I talk about it in the comments on the post at New APPS I linked to above). Also, I’ve talked about it with many female philosophers, and most of them say that it is indeed hard to coordinate trips with child care and other obligations. Many say they haven’t traveled at all for years, waiting for their children to get older. I think there is a general problem *inside* the families, in that it is still much easier for the men to travel for work than women. This should be negotiated with the partners.

    Here my situation is such that my husband travels even more for work than I do, but I still make sure to attend many events (I actually truly enjoy traveling for work and attending conferences!); what we do is that we plan everything *months* ahead, so if I’m asked to go somewhere on a short notice, I will most likely decline. I try not to travel more than once a month (except for really short trips), and I have trips planned all the way to October already.

    Anyway, I’m not saying my situation is particularly illustrative, but there is clearly the problem of how things are negotiated inside the family. One of the chapters of Cordelia Fine’s wonderful book is precisely about that: even when having busy careers outside the house, women systematically still do more of the child care and housekeeping, which might be a reason why many of them have to limit their commitments.

  19. We’ve already covered gendered summer schools, gendered anthologies and gendered editorial boards as part of the Gendered Conference Campaign. ‘Gendered Conference Campaign’ is a name, not a description. In that way at least, we are like the Holy Roman Empire. ;)

  20. It would be interesting to know not just *whether* women are invited, but *when* they are invited. I’ve had quite a few very last-minute invitations which *of course* I usually can’t accept. One of these took the form of an email explaining that they’d just realised they had no women and so they were inviting me (to a conference something like a week or two away, in another country). If this is representative, then it may help to explain why there’s a higher rate of refusal among women.

  21. In response to your question, Derek: If an institutional policy is implemented, I am worried that the following scenario will be quite frequent: a workshop line-up is put together; initially all or almost all of the invitees are male, then due to the institutional policy women get added to the line-up. One might say: who cares at what stage women got added to the line-up and who cares why they got added. I think it would be preferable if the culture of an institution is changed in a way that women are considered as possible invitees without having to resort to a policy that enforces them to be so considered. Now one might say that an institutional policy helps to bring such a culture about. If it does, then a policy may be a good thing. But I’d be surprised if a policy were sufficient to change the culture of an institution.
    Apparently there are lots of people who only think of men when they think of who to invite to conferences. This blog has many discussions of why that is the case and what can be done to change it. The issue is obviously highly complex. I doubt that implementing an institutional policy would bring about a change other than on a superficial level, but I may well be wrong.

    I’m afraid I need to log off now, since I need to write a lot of papers that I’ve been invited to present at various workshops…

  22. A thought following Jenny Saul’s comment: one reason why women may be invited at the last moment more then men (but I am really not sure that this is the case) is that only when the list of speakers is almost finished, someone will tell the organisor that s/he is only (or almost only) inviting men. I think if enough people get it as an ‘automatic’ instinct (or whatever we want to call it) that when starting the organisation of a workshop/conference/edited book/whatever) you need to think about diversity of speakers/writers, then the bias can be corrected at the very start, and the least harm will be done, and the higher will be the chance that women get invitations well on time.

    Personally (living in a highly bureaucratic country) I don’t believe in institutional rules to solve gender bias, but rather in reaching a threshold of people who understand the problem, have worked through it for themselves so that they are no longer followed by questions of guilt/questions of intentional badness etc (since these feelings don’t help at all, imo), and who then ask the right question, or drop the right names as suggestions, on the right moment.

    As for last-minute invitations: I suggest as a standard policy that each of us can adopt, to tell anyone that if they ask you last-minute, that you would have loved to attend but that your agenda is booked up in general 6 months in advance, so that if they ever want you as a speaker in the future, that they please next time invite you well on time. I started doing so a few months ago, and reactions have been good/understanding.

  23. I have received a lot of last-minute invitations. But also a lot of invitations well in advance. I have not been able to accept any of the last-minute invitations I’ve received. It would be interesting if women are more likely to be the recipients of last-minute invitations due to being invited to workshops as an afterthought.

  24. Some of the contributors to this discussion are conflating “gender balance” and “diversity”. This discussion is about the former, not the latter. Unfortunately.

  25. I like Ingrid’s policy of invitations having to be made at least six months in advance; in my case it is inevitable anyway due to the somewhat complicated family agenda (we like for there to be at least one parent in the house!). Let me add that this is all very normal here in the Netherlands (not surprised the proposal comes from Ingrid!): even dinner dates with friends are often planned months in advance. It takes some getting used to, but it has advantages.
    I don’t have the feeling I get a lot of last-minute invitations on account of being a woman though. For example, I was invited to a conference in the Azores in September 2011 already last year, and at that point it was clear that they were looking specifically for women, but at the very early stages of the organization. So maybe this is becoming more common, or so I hope!

  26. Let’s face it, this will be a problem that we will have for awhile. Why? There are disproportionately fewer women in philosophy. The more that people do the right thing and invite women, the more that these few women will be called on again and again. I think we are seeing that happen already, and the greater childcare/family responsibilities, or even simply a greater commitment to work/life balance, exacerbate the problem. Until we get more women in the profession I see this continuing to happen — and so, we have a bit of a catch-22, because the profession looks (and in some cases is — but that’s not the point here) unfriendly to women. To my way of thinking the way out of the dilemma is either to have fewer conferences (too damn many, in my view) or to start thinking about having more events online, which would be better for the planet, anyway. Or, have conferences be more local affairs. As for myself, I try to accept good invitations when I can, and I try to think about the importance of representing women, but the truth is that there is only so much travel that I want to do and only so miserable that I can make myself in order to further my career and the discipline. (To be clear, I love conferences, but I’m not crazy about the exhaustion and disruption of travel and miss my family when I’m gone).

  27. Shelley, point taken, and I think it’s great that you keep reminding us that there are all kinds of other imbalances that we need to worry about. However, for me it’s more of a ‘one step at the time’ thing, although I suppose a case could be made for the idea of treating it all as one and the same battle.

  28. I want to second Jenny Saul’s observation: I have been invited to workshops (indeed one of them in Arche), fairly close to the conference date and had to decline (I don’t think it was just me – my sense was that everyone was invited late). But my schedule is very busy. If you invite me a year in advance, I’m most likely to say ‘yes’. If you invite me a month in advance there’s a good chance I’ll have to say ‘no’. Conference organisers should take that into account.

    (I also support the idea of contacting potential female speakers *before* scheduling – I’m sure if someone consulted me about dates before scheduling a conference, and made sure to choose a date that can work for me, I would definitely accept the invitation).

  29. Speaking for myself only: I’m not ‘conflating’ gender balance with diversity, rather I see gender balance as part of the broader goal of diversity. Everything I’ve written in this tread so far is consistent with that, and the fact that I mention ‘diversity’ at some point is precisely to flag this issue (which, for me, seems evident, though I could of course have gone on to spell that out so as to avoid the misinterpretation that I think that diversity = gender balance). The main issue is that I entirely agree that the real problem is ‘diversity’ in *all* its dimensions, and in fact not just in the dimensions that are most commonly discussed in discussions about diversity, like race/class/disability/age etc. (this is a different discussion, but one form of diversity which is, imo, heavily non-discussed in academia is the effect of one’s native language on being part of the list of invited conferences speakers, journals, anthologies, etc. )

  30. It’s true that some of what’s behind the all male conferences is the relatively fewer women in philosophy, but in discussing what can be done, it’s worth emphasizing that that is not anything like the whole problem.

    One other factor is that the desire to have something like celebrity speakers. Members of a minority as such have a harder time reaching such status, if research by people like the highly respected researcher, Dovidio, is right. Dovidio’s research, for example, shows that people are much better at remembering the performances and accomplishments of members of the in-group; they discuss work by the in-group pretty exclusively. Another factor: women are less likely to be effectively mentored. Another: women are under the stress of stereotyped expectations of inferiority,

    Some place in this or another recent discussion, someone wonders whether women also take on somewhat different topics. I think we might also wonder whether one’s being in the mainstream shows in one’s work; that is, one may be more inclined to gear one’s work to the questions and approaches that are the standard ones. Women’s work may look different.

    And so on and so forth. Academic professions can be very conservative, and there are a multitude of ways that this can slow down any inward transition for a group of people. But a great deal of this can be changed at least a bit by people of good will.

  31. jj, if your comment was responding to me, I wasn’t saying that the reason that there are few women speakers is that there are few women philosophers. I agree that in many cases, few or no women are getting invited in the first place, for the reasons you describe. Rather, my point was a different one — it was to say that as we work to rectify this problem, through the Gendered Conference Campaign and similar efforts, that we will end up running into the problem of too few women to go around, and to suggest that this is already happening a bit already as we are more successful in getting people to be more aware of their invitation practices. And so, we should think about ways to deal with the increasing demands on few numbers of women.

  32. Trying hard counts for a lot, and I’m glad to know Derek et al did! Thanks for noting that.

    I admit, I tend to think first of the most senior luminaries when I’m planning events. If we rely on who ‘pops,’ then many of us are shooting off emails to Nussbaum and Haslanger at the expense of less famous but excellent philosophers. Catarina’s list of women in logic, and the PhilSci Asso.’s directory seem like excellent starts on the road to prioritizing consideration of less famous but well-fitting scholars doing recent work on the subject at hand. If only there was a more centralized source of philosophers, a sort of society whose members could all pay some sort of membership dues in order to … HEY!

  33. There are so many of these ‘Men Discuss X.’

    I am glad that you are sending these letters. But I am finding a new thing seems to be happening. ‘Men Plus 1 Woman Discuss X.’

    I wonder if it is simply a coincidence or if the letters are having that effect. I suppose it’s progress? Of a sort?

  34. Please forgive me if this comment is out of line, too far out of sync, or otherwise not helpful to/productive for the post/discussion.

    Perhaps examples are too easy to find and listing them provides no good purpose here. Still, the list of speakers and commentators at the conference link below jumped out at me when I read it (because there are so many comparably qualified female philosophers working on the topics…).

    Conference: Property, Markets, and Morality

  35. David, I actually got an email about that one yesterday, but haven’t yet had a chance to do a post and letter!

Comments are closed.