Do women submit papers to conferences less often than men do?

And, if that’s right, what should we do about? Catarina is wondering.

perhaps women are more cautious when submitting papers to conferences than men? This week I wrote a blog post over at M-Phi on how women often seem to be a lot less confident concerning job applications than men: they set themselves much higher thresholds, and often think they do not fit a job description sufficiently when in fact they do.

Go join in the discussion!

14 thoughts on “Do women submit papers to conferences less often than men do?

  1. Naturally, comments are also very welcome in this thread, for those who prefer to voice their opinions here.

  2. It’s a rational response. Women are less confident and set higher standards for themselves because in many, if not most, situations higher standards are set for women. I don’t have the link to hand but, e.g. studies of grant recipients show that for the same grant women had to have more publications and overall better credentials. And innumerable studies on implicit bias suggest that given the same qualifications as men, women will be assessed less favorably.

    One gets in the habit of thinking the standards are higher than they are, that one isn’t adequately qualified. So even when the competition is fair or when women believe with justification that there will be anonymous review they will still assume that the standards are higher than they actually are and underestimate their chances to meet them.

  3. Some years ago I chaired the Eastern APA program committee. At the time I was not paying a lot of attention to feminist philosophical issues; they are not in my AOS, and the committee included several philosophers who were extremely well qualified to attend to them. However, when I put together the list of papers and topics for the committee to discuss, I noticed that in the entire bunch there were *no* obviously feminist papers. Not one. There were two on the topic of marriage, but they had no particularly feminist perspective. Besides those two, there were none that even addressed gender issues. (I should admit that I did not read every one of the 300 papers, so it’s possible that I missed one.) I was very surprised by this fact. My only hypothesis at the time was that potential colloquium paper contributors might be pessimistic about the program committee’s openness to the topics or perspective. This hypothesis fits with H. E. Baber’s thought, above.

    Of course, this is a different issue from the one raised here, which is more generally about women’s decisions to submit papers, but it might be related. I couldn’t count the number of papers submitted by women, because the process was triple anonymous, and I only saw the names of authors for the accepted papers. (I can’t recall what fraction of these were written by women.)

    I wonder if the APA division secretaries would be willing to provide information about the gender of authors of submitted papers and of accepted papers. It might be interesting and useful.

  4. I was on the program committee for the Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference this year. The BSPC works very hard to maintain a good gender balance, but it’s had trouble in the past getting enough submissions from women, despite being a very woman-friendly conference. Both this year and last year, the program committee tried actively soliciting submissions from female philosophers. This tactic was very successful.

    Any strategy like this does carry with it a worry of nepotism. It’s good to get more submissions from women, but you don’t want to only get submissions from women that you’re friends with. That’s going to be hard to avoid completely, but one thing we tried to do was to ask a lot of female philosophers for names of female philosophers we should solicit submissions from. By doing that, we were able to invite submissions from more than just the pool of women we knew about directly. Again, this seemed to work fairly well.

  5. H.E. Beber: agreed. I wouldn’t want to qualify this reaction as a ‘rational response’, but it’s certainly prompted by the internalization of the higher standards that are set for women. In my M-Phi post, I say:
    “There are all kinds of reasons why this is so, none of which entails gender essentialism; it is simply a consequence of how women’s potentials are perceived throughout their lives and of the fact that they have internalized a general feeling of inadequacy.”
    Elizabeth Barnes: I had in fact noticed the impressive number of (highly talented) women in the BSPC program this year, so clearly it’s working! But concerning the tactic of soliciting contributions from women, do you run into the situation of the women approached actually being under the impression that their submission will automatically be accepted? It’s something I worry about (I mention it in my NewAPPS post). Perhaps it depends on how one phrases things upon contacting them.

  6. As I remember of the data from 2004 (when I last looked) women in STEM fields also submit fewer journal articles. I don’t think we have any empirically tested theory about why this is so, but I’m inclined to think HEB is definitely on the right track.

    I think a related phenomenon is that men seem to think their ideas should be listened to. This feature shows up very early, and perhaps it is an effect of the socialization the academy provides, with largely male classes, male teachers who favor calling on the guys, better mentoring for men so that they acquire a public voice earlier, and so on.

    I also think we can’t leave out what happens to women’s work when it is submitted, even when the reviewing is anonymous. It would be interesting to do some studies here, and perhaps people have??

  7. Re soliciting submissions from women: we worded the emails very carefully to try to avoid any presumption that a submission would lead to an automatic acceptance. It would probably be difficult to eradicate that worry entirely, but being sensitive to it when composing the invitations did seem to help.

  8. I (a woman philosopher) can relate. My self-confidence is very low when it comes to submitting work for conferences, or casting a wide net when applying for jobs. My work in ethics is not exactly mainstream and I assume, at the outset, that my paper will be rejected. So, why submit? My spouse, a philosopher as well, forces me to submit conference papers. We occasionally have unpleasant arguments about this issue. Thanks to him, I do end up submitting my work for conferences/pubs; I went to four very good conferences this year and have an upcoming pub. But my strong irrational reluctance to submit my work persists. (When my papers are accepted, I always–I’m being honest here–*always* think that being a woman had a lot to do with it.)

  9. Oh, CVT, ouch. But tell us, when you are at one of these conferences and you, e.g., hear a man’s paper that is not the greatest paper in the world, does it hopefully occur to you that perhaps you deserve to be there?

    I don’t mean to sound as if I’m immune from similar low-confidence issues; I am always certain that I can’t add to the amazing work already being done. (This persistent belief makes it hard to write at all.) But frankly, going to conferences always disabuses me of that notion. Some papers are similar to what I do, a few are incomparably superior, and a couple always stand out as… rectifiable by me!

  10. Profbigk, thanks for your kind words. Oh yes, the attitude I describe above is thoroughly irrational. My low self-esteem comes straight from grad school where I had been practically the sole woman and did not find a mentor either. The boys in my program excluded me and people who read my work mainly “went through the motions.” I think my essays are good, solid and have been very well received whenever I presented them. But I always anticipate rejection. Thanks for listening. It helps very much to hear that this attitude is apparently not uncommon for women in our profession.

  11. CVT, thank you so much for your testimony! It’s exactly this general feeling of inadequacy that I suspect may lead women to submit papers to conferences (or volumes or journals) less often than men. I also suspect that most women ‘blame themselves’ for this feeling, whereas it is clearly a result of their own experiences of not being listened to enough, of not being treated seriously enough etc. And yes, it’s a VERY common feeling; I’ve been encountering it time and again in my female students and other young protegees (I don’t seem to suffer too much from it, essentially because when I was growing up and doing my undergrad, I was surrounded by positive female role models — about half of the professors were women, and those included many of the most influential philosophers around).

    Nevertheless, while the problem has a systemic origin and must also be systemically addressed (by the institutional measures we keep talking about here at FP and elsewhere), some work on the individual level will also have to be done. The metaphor is of the glass ceiling which is placed above women’s heads by people around them, and which then gets internalized: an internal glass ceiling. Now, to break their own internal glass ceiling, many women clearly need some extra encouragement (which is only fair, given how much they’ve been swimming against the current), but ultimately *they* will have to break it. I talk a bit about this in my M-Phi post:

    But I am now thinking that something along the lines of what Elizabeth Barnes suggests may be the way to go: draft a list of women whose work you think is relevant for the conference you are organizing, and then email them soliciting contributions (while at the same time avoiding the presumption of automatic acceptance). In this way, the message is clear you, as an organizer, specifically thought of the women in question, and their potential initial reaction of assuming that their work isn’t relevant for the conference is mitigated.

  12. If one does not wish to feel like one is playing favorites (‘nepotism,’ ha ha!), or only asking the women one knows, then I offer the following anecdata. Another way to generate feelings of being welcome to send papers and expected to send papers is just to contact groups of women in philosophy with the statement that this is or has been a conference welcoming of diverse perspectives. Seriously, it accomplished a MAJOR shift in my attention to the North American Social Philosophy conference when a woman (whom I only vaguely know) sent the cfp for it to SWIP-list with the comment, “I have presented here and found this to be a really welcoming and inviting place.” So one needn’t just solicit those one knows.

    I feel both happy and sad when I read CVT’s last sentence, “It helps very much to hear that this attitude is apparently not uncommon for women in our profession.” Ouch, it should be uncommon, alas! But yes, it does help, does it not? (Helping makes me happy.) One is not crazy or odd to feel this way, and is instead in good company to have this widespread response to systematic undermining of women in philosophy. Hell, it’s at least understandable, even if it’s not ‘rational.’

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