APA-funded investigation of gender gap in philosophy

It is well known that philosophy lags behind all the other humanities, most of the social sciences, and many of the sciences in its gender diversity. Current estimates indicate that women account for around 20% (+ 3%) of philosophers, from graduate students to full professors. There is much less agreement about why the numbers are so low, although untested hypotheses abound.

But while philosophers are very good at generating hypotheses, they have no particular expertise in collecting and analyzing empirical data to test them, especially regarding complex social phenomena such as a gender gap. The Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP) is in a unique position to investigate the reason(s) for the gap because it is a cross-disciplinary professional organization whose membership includes psychologists who have the appropriate training for investigating this issue. Independently, the SPP has had an ongoing interest in gender diversity due to the severity of the gap in philosophy of mind and related areas in particular, and has an active diversity committee composed of philosophers and psychologists. The APA’s Committee on the Status of Women has been very active within the APA regarding information on or related to women philosophers (including graduate students). The focus of this project would be to understand the reasons for the gender gap itself.

Our proposal is to use this grant as seed money to develop an empirical study of the gap. The actual study would require further grant money, which we would seek from the NEH, the AAUW, and other sources we are able to identify. The project also has the strong support of the officers and executive committee members of the SPP, who will endeavor to find ways for the SPP to contribute financially within the constraints of its very limited resources.

For more, go here.  (Thanks, L!)

10 thoughts on “APA-funded investigation of gender gap in philosophy

  1. From the fact that nondisabled white men are overrepresented in the discipline, comprising close to 80%, it doesn’t follow that nondisabled white women are underrepresented, comprising close to 20%. This figure seems pretty close to the percentage of nondisabled white women in the population at large. Invoking the figure 20% in this way obscures the relative privilege nondisabled white women have in the discipline vis-a-vis disabled white female and male philosophers, and disabled and nondisabled philosophers of colour, both male and female.

  2. It is wonderful that they are doing it. I suggested to the board that they (or as it was then, we) apply for the APA in 2009 (I think). I would have done it then had I not been unknowingly over taken by an illness, one symptom of which is that one withdraws from commitments. In any case, their doing it, with all the work it will entail, offers the rest of the profession a very valuable resource.

    I certainly wish them all the very best of luck. There is a massive amount of information gathered under the NSF Advance Program. Alpha said on this blog in comments that she thought philosophers should use that resource, but it is almost ignored outside of STEM.

    Relatedly, there’s a workshop anyone doing serious work on this topic should be interested in, IMHO:

    The second Writing Workshop on Gender, Science and Organizations will take place on Friday, August 19, 2011 from 8 am – 5:30 pm at the American Sociological Association conference hotel in Las Vegas.

    We are a growing group of American Sociological Association & Sociologists for Women in Society members who have been working on research related to NSF-funded ADVANCE projects. These include studies on gender & STEM careers, scientific workplace organizations, transformation & change processes in organizations to promote gender equality, and other themes pertinent to gender & academia. Many of us work with intersectional theoretical approaches.

    At this self-organized workshop we are planning to talk about our current projects, write and think about possible collaborative projects in these areas. We invite interested colleagues to join us. Because space will be limited, please send an email to Kathrin Zippel (k.zippel@neu.edu) to reserve a spot and to join the distribution list for updates on the preparation for the workshop.


    Kathrin Zippel Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Northeastern

    My university is thinking of sponsoring a trip for me, since I’m (tangentially) involved with an Advance grant for them. Of course, STEM folk sometimes find it hard to take philosophers seriously!

  3. Just an off the cuff thought: recent investigations of the mind have abused us of the thought philosophers are often tempted by; namely, get someone to assent to a truth and they’ll change their behavior in relevant ways, if there are any.

    It occurs to me thinking about this and looking at the notice I just put up in the earlier quote that we can’t leave out institutions and the many ways they are resistant to change. Of course, in resisting change, they also perpetual attitudes and behaviors.

  4. Shelley,

    Unless I’m mistaken (and I very well might be?), the studies of gender in professional philosophy do not ask whether or not the philosophers are disabled, so no conclusion can be drawn about the percentage of philosophers who are nondisabled white males and nondisabled white females.

    Also, for your point to be right (namely that 20% of philosophers being nondisabled white females is adequate representation of the population at large), it would have to be the case that about half of white female are disabled. White women make up about 35% or so of the population at large. Unless we have a very expansive notion of ‘disabled’, then surely 20% of philosophers being nondisabled white women is still under-representation.

  5. Well, the “studies” of gender (which?) you refer to do not indicate the percentage of philosophers who are disabled and this is indeed as problem which never gets addressed and certainly not in studies of gender in philosophy; however, as a disabled philosopher, I know that the percentage of disabled philosophers is less than 5% (probably less than 2%) and only a percentage of that figure are women. The percentage of disabled people in the US population is (I believe) between 15 and 20%. You don’t say anything about the percentage of people of colour in philosophy. I recently saw a figure that the percentage of POC in philosophy was about 1%. Is that representative? In my comment I used the term “relative privilege” to refer to the situation of nondisabled white women vis-a-vis other groups.

  6. I should also add that I don’t mean to detract from the very important comment that people of color are very under-represented…perhaps the most under-represented.

  7. Shelley, I’m not sure about your figures, but you are raising a very interesting way of looking at the situation. What I think it asks us is to consider what, if we really attack the white male hegemony that now exists, our goals would look like. If my figures are right, then white non-disabled women are still underrepresented, but not as badly as it seems now to many of us.

    I’m afraid that the discussion below follows the census in assuming everyone is either male or female. If anyone could indicate how to adjust the figures, that would be helpful. However, this very rough picture for the moment tells us something.

    I’ve been looking at the census bureau statistics. The figures are for 2009.
    White, non-hispanic people are 65.1%; white including hispanic are 79.6%.
    If we take the lower figure, then the percentage of white women should be 32.5%. That is 99,000,000+. Also, according to the same chart, the number of disabled people is 49,746,248. If we simplify and assume that the proportion of white women among the disabled is the same 32.5%, that means that 16 million white women are disabled, which is close to 16%. But the 16% of the white women is actually 5% of the population. Thus, if disabled white women were proportionately represented in philosophy, they’d be 5 percent of the profession. White non-disabled women would be 27%. The assumptions I’ve made would put non-disabled white men at 27% of the profession and 5% disabled white men.

    This figure does make one realize that the whiteness of the profession is way out of proportion to the proportion of white people in the population. And it highlights how under-represented disabled people are, since the assumptions would make 10% the right proportion for disabled white philosophers.

    I could have screwed up the figures entirely, but if not, then an interesting question is how we adjust them to make them more realistic, and what that would show in the way of goals. For example, perhaps a reasonable target would be for white non-hispanic people to be 80% of the profession as a first realistic target for equality. Then white women would be 40% of the profession and disabled women woule be something like 7% of the profession. A consequence of that is that non-disabled white women would be at 33%.

    We should realize that there are probably more disabled people in the profession than we can tell by looking. I have no idea how that affects the figures. Is the census just about the visibly disabled? Probably not, but then what?

  8. Thanks for the figures, jj. I really think the disabled/nondisabled issue is an important one, and I’ll admit that it’s one that I just haven’t thought about very much. I’m glad Shelley raised it.

  9. Studies such as this one misrepresent the composition of the profession, as well as the history of that composition. Philosophers who care about justice and equality in the profession should not be satisfied when someone reports the “improvements” in the ratio of men to women in his department. I see no reason to laud studies such as this which, in my view, are part of the problem of the underrepresentation of philosophers who are not white and nondisabled, and they therefore perpetuate that underrepresentation.

    The claim that “there are probably more disabled people in the profession than we can tell by looking” seems to misconstrue the issue of representation. Probably no one who doesn’t know anything about my work and hasn’t spent a good amount of time with me would say that I am disabled. I am representative of disabled people in the profession because I say that I am disabled. Equally, a lesbian who is not “out” to her colleagues is not representative of lesbians in the profession. I am no expert on the US census, but I doubt that it counts as “disabled” people who don’t claim they are. How would the government get this sort of information?? In other words, if we are going to claim that there are likely more disabled people in the profession than is visibly evident or who are willing (for very prudent reasons having to do with wanting to get a job and job security) to say so (which would indicate that we aren’t as underrepresented as I am saying we are), than we should also claim that there are likely more disabled people in the US than the census counts.

  10. I agree with Anne entirely. I think it is wonderful that this is being done. I think it has been widely recognized for a long time now that just such a study was urgently necessary, but without the appeal of the STEM disciplines, or indeed much awareness of the gravity of the situation outside of philosophy itself, it has been hard to see how to get resources to bear on the problem. I am very encouraged by this proposal and look forward to fruitful results.

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