Oops, all male line up, sorry! we might just do it again?

Look at this conference on extended cognition and epistemology, not exactly a field where there are no women available whatsoever.

What is interesting is this quote from the site:

Apology :: The organizers of the conference sincerely regret the gender imbalance in the list of contributors. They admit that they should have, before the list of contributions became final, taken more proactive measures to guarantee a better gender balance in the special issue/conference line-up.

The “gender imbalance” being that all of the 11 speakers are male.

That’s indeed quite an “imbalance”.

What I miss in the “apology” (I guess I can put that in quotes too) is the intention to never let something as embarassing as this happen ever again. I probably should be happy they “regret” it in the first place?

Maybe I am overly sensitive.

34 thoughts on “Oops, all male line up, sorry! we might just do it again?

  1. First, Vince Hendricks, now the Eindhoven crowd. Is it time for a gendered apology campaign?

  2. I don’t think skeptical representation of sincere apology is the way to go. If colleagues can’t apologize without this being republished as dubious and scare-quote-worthy, then we make it difficult to communicate with them.

  3. The further complaint here is not easily grasped–given the explicit and virtually unprecedented apology featured on the conference website. This apology in effect acknowledges the merits of the goals of the GCC and makes no excuses for the organizers’ failure to do more to include women. How could such an apology be interpreted so as not to imply a commitment to do significantly better in the future?

    Rather than care enough to censure themselves for their gender inclusion deficit, the organizers, say, simply might have encouraged people to attend their conference in order to meet the contributors and see how great their community of scholars is. This type of scenario would have been truly infuriating, and yet…. At least there seems to be real awareness in motion on the gender front in the profession.

  4. I actually think it’s amazing that it was posted at all– I’ve never seen anything like it– so I’m inclined to think it’s sincere, and that they take this issue seriously.

  5. I’m with ProfBigK and Anon ‘sr’. Sometimes people make mistakes, and yes this is a big one. But acknowledging and calling attention to them, in a way that makes it clear the problem is a serious one? That’s unprecedented and awesome. In fact, I’d take the intention not to do it again to be very clearly implicated.

  6. I agree with profbigk, anon and jender (and I said so in comments at a post on this at NewAPPS). I don’t see why this should in any way be construed as a non-apology. I guess the worry is that adding remarks like this will redeem the organizers’ responsibility towards gender balance, while everything stays just the same. But I don’t see any reason why this apology should prima facie read as insincere.

  7. It gets worse. Maybe this has been flagged before, but attendees are encouraged to attend the Episteme conference, which is a second all make conference taking place the next day.

  8. Well, I guess I am a bit overly sensitive. I agree that it is good that they recognise the problem and apologise.
    I don’t think, however, that it is implicit in the apology that they will take care not to do it again in the future, and that is actually something to which I would like to see some explicit commitment.

    As a matter of fact, I think the NWO (the Dutch research funding organisation) who partly fund this conference, should put it in their rules for funding conferences that there must be a decent gender balance, or at least that the conference organisers should prove that they did all they reasonably could to avoid gender imbalance if there is one.

  9. I have a mixed reaction here. It is unprecedented to apologize before our drawing attention to the conference, instead of afterwards. But somehow I do feel a bit funny about that making such a difference. I’m willing to allow that the apology implicates that they won’t let it happen again, but I’m worried that there’s no reason to think the implicature is true.

    To put the issue a bit crudely and without some qualifications like “probably:” Presumably the problem wouldn’t have occurred if they’d known how to prevent it in the first place. But they really don’t know how to prevent it. So unless there are some substantial interior revisions (changes in beliefs, knowledge of best practices, etc) , it will happen again. But they probably don’t even know that.

    Apologies are very easy; changing is not.

  10. I don’t understand these assumptions that the organizers really don’t know or probably don’t know how to prevent it. They are the ones who offered the public statement that they should have taken more proactive measures. If they didn’t know of any such measures, then they wouldn’t have identified them as erroneously not-taken.

    Public apologies on a conference website may be easier than profession-wide change, but I disagree that apologies are very easy; I would personally be very reluctant to point out my errors on a website of a conference I organized. As others have said, such an apology is unprecedented, and I would suggest that doing the unprecedented is rarely very easy.

  11. anne…. @11: Presumably, the conference organizers were not adequately sensitive to the gender imbalance problem in the first place. If indeed there is no great shortage of women who work in or around the area of extended cognition and epistemology, any number of women could have been found or asked: the problem would not have been all that hard to prevent, for persons who had thought and cared enough to try.

    The apology–which makes no excuses–basically concedes that the organizers had not thought and cared enough to prevent a gross gender imbalance. That is why the problem occurred. Now, after the fact, the organizers seem to have developed an awareness that moved them to announce their prior failing, which is not of a type requiring extraordinary knowledge or efforts to prevent going forward.

    In my experience, observational and personal, apologies are not “very easy.” I am unaware, as are some other commenters, of anything like this proactive public apology.

    I can hardly imagine a philosophy world where, for instance, a prominent department posts on its website: “We sincerely regret not having any full-time members from historically underrepresented and marginalized ethnic groups. We admit that we should have taken more proactive measures to build a more diverse faculty or, at least, list of speakers.” If the day were to come where departments displayed concern and priorities of this kind, I would be fairly confident that they could figure out how to prevent such a failing going forward.

    Fortunately, the case of gender awareness appears to be trending in a positive direction. Considerable credit must go to the GCC. Real results can be expected to follow.

  12. I agree that the organizers deserve some credit for admitting their mistake. This apology was an unusual and largely positive thing for them to do. But they did make a fairly serious mistake, and one they could have easily avoided. So a mild rebuke is not undeserved either, the apology notwithstanding. As for the sincerity of the apology, I will take their word for it now, but reserve final judgment until the next conference comes around. As my mother said (frequently), actions speak louder than words.

  13. Kate, I was at a workshop last week held at a university that focused on the serious problem it has with no tenured women in philosophy. In fact, I think i’ve heard from a number of male phils about comparable problems in their departments. I take an admission of a problem with an active attempt to get advice to solve it to be very significant. In the workshop case, it was on the webpage at least.

    Also, I think an apology on a webpage for past hires is very disanalogous to the conference organizers’ apology. In addition to all sorts of considerations about their current junior faculty, it could well have legal implications that would drive the college or university counsel to get it down asap.

  14. Plus, while I am wary about conjecturing about motives, they may well have thought their apology would preempt our writing them up. And indeed, it has gotten them quite different treatment.

    I am genuinely puzzled by theidea that apologies are not easy. If I think the cops are interested in my driving, I’ll apologize profusely even when I don’t know what I did. More generally, if the possibility of something pretty unpleasant is on the horizon, I’d find a preemtive apology very easy.

    Let me stress that I wouldn’t find it easy if I think the criticism is wrong, except maybe with cops.

    I did refused to apologize or admit error with a cop in New Jersey. He made it very clear that if I didn’t agree that the bus that drove into my sitting car was NOT at fault, I would greatly regret it. I came to believe him.

  15. But evidently not too wary about conjecturing about motives. If the influence of the GCC is now so formidable as to prompt preemptive public apologies, that’s already progress.

  16. In my experience, apologies are more difficult when it comes to something substantive, and when it entails admitting to a more serious wrong rather than, say, bumping into someone in a checkout line– and they seem to get easier when it comes to dealing with those who are very clearly in a position of authority and you want to express deference (e.g., the police). I suspect it probably gets more difficult when it’s in a professional context, because reputations are often at stake, and reputations are professionally very important. I think, too, that women are socialized to apologize in a way that men generally aren’t. I actually have to work really hard not to apologize– I’ve realized that I have this instinct to apologize constantly, even when things aren’t my fault (e.g., someone bumps into me in a checkout line), and these sorts of habits seem to split with some regularity across gender lines.

  17. Small correction– I think it might be easy to apologize for things that are substantive but that don’t have the potential to reflect poorly on one’s character.

  18. Dear all,

    I am truly embarrassed that we didn’t realize the gender imbalance earlier, hence the apology. Evidently, the apology cannot take away the fact that we made a serious mistake.

    Moreover, although it wasn’t explicit in the apology, I certainly have “the intention to never let something as embarassing as this happen ever again” (as Hippocampa put it).

    One thing that we could have easily done (and will do in the future), is to have a proper gender balance in the list of invited contributors at the very least.

    Submissions received in response to an open call for papers are harder to control. However, I found one suggestion, by Catarina Dutilh Novaes (on newappsblog), which may be fruitful. It is to include in the call the following statement: “Preference will be given to graduate students and/or female speakers.”

    Any other suggestions are more than welcome.

    Incidentally, it is because of blogs as this one that I have become aware (very late, I know) of the perniciousness of the problem. So GCC does have effect!

    Krist Vaesen

  19. Krist, thanks indeed for stopping by. You have relieved some of my fears too. I think you’ll find Jender’s link very useful. And having women as invited speakers can make a huge difference.

    I’d be a bit wary of having gender preferences as part of an annouuncement, and of course I’d be concerned about acting on preferences one doesn’t want to announce. The difficulty is that women already have a problem with people thinking they got something just because they are female. So the annoucement would reinforce the dismissal.

    I expect my part of the discussion may have made you uncomfortable, and I do regret that. It is very hard to know how to discuss issues like this. I think that in dealing with philosophers some of us are more inclined to positive assumptions than others. And in fact that may reflect our different experience. I think I am the oldest writer on the blog, and in fact entered academia at a time of quite explicit and deep discrimination. I’m extremely happy to see my colleagues’ brighter expectation being met.

  20. mmm, I see your point, annejjacobson. Do you have in mind alternative ways to handle the call-for-papers-problem?

    Regarding your suspicions concerning the sincerity of the apology: no worries, I fully understand.

  21. Krist, our gendered conference campaign has focused on invited speakers. I do think that once one has women in such positions, this will fairly quickly be followed by women sending in contributed papers.

    We don’t automatically advertise conferences, but I think that, given this discussion, we can advertise some of your conferences, so a number of women philosophers will be aware of the cfp. Encouraging grad students of any sort is a good idea.

    It’s easier to refer to me as ‘Anne.’

  22. Anne, thanks for your reply.

    Next time I organise a conference it will be gendered, and drop a line here, so more women philosophers will be aware of the cfp. Good idea!

  23. What if, after a blind review process, the reviewers’ selections are all male? Doesn’t a subsequent revision of the conference lineup to include women, who otherwise would not have been selected on the merits of the papers alone, serve only to reinforce the very stereotypes you are trying to overcome?

  24. I don’t think we should strive for gender balance in *contributed* speakers. Refereeing should be bilaterally anonymous. By circulating the CFP widely, and posting it on venues that women (and other minorities) visit, you can already increase the number of submission by them, and this increases the chance of (but does not guarantee) a better gender balance. One could also solicit contributions from minorities that work in the field by writing to them individually (something along the lines of “Your work fits very well in this domain. Note that all papers will be reviewed anonymously, so we cannot guarantee that your abstract will be accepted. We are writing to individuals who have made valuable contributions to this field, to make them aware of our conference.” (This also avoids tokenizing minorities).

  25. I recently heard Sally Haslanger address a different sort of situation with a comment that I am going to adapt here. (She shouldn’t be assumed responsible since my adaptation is my own idea.)

    A lot of the time when one makes the final selection of accepted papers, one has in fact a pool of papers all of which could be presented. In these cases, the final selection ‘by merit alone’ is in fact often very fallible. On another day the final selection might be different. In these circumstances, it does seem permissible to add in criteria that help create diversity, or indeed some other effect that’s desirable, such as encouraging participants from different fields, underrepresented countries, etc.

  26. Yes, Anne, this is something I also saw in the few conferences where I was involved in refereeing or other aspects of the organization. There are some papers that get a definite ‘yes’ from all or most referees. Then there are some that for reasons of fit or quality will definitely not get accepted. But there is a blurry ‘maybe’ category. During such discussions, the final cut is decided in several ways. Here are some approaches I’ve witnessed (deciding between papers from two authors, X and Y)
    The following strategies tend to *decrease* diversity:
    1. X is famous in the field, Y is unknown. I’ve once refereed for a conference where this situation cropped up. Even though I did not give X a favorable review, and thought Y was better, I was overruled by the organizers, who said that X was clearly a major player in the field, and his paper should definitely be included in the lineup.
    2. X is an assistant professor from prestigious institution A, Y an assistant professor from a community college in the middle of nowhere. The organizers decided to pick X, since he was from A, where “they do so much good work there on the topic”.

    The following strategies *increase* diversity
    3. X is a graduate student, Y is a tenured professor. Papers have the same overall score. The organizers decide to give X a chance, since s/he has relatively a higher potential gain from presenting work in this conference.
    4. X is a man, Y is a woman. Papers get the same score. The organizers choose the woman.
    I do not see problems with strategies (3) and (4), since the scores on the anonymized papers were the same, and were are a nice way to counteract, in a conscious way, the implicit and explicit bias that occurs in strategies (1) and (2).

  27. Let me add that having a gender-balanced lineup of invited speakers is no guarantee of getting a gender-balanced collection of submissions. Last year I organized a workshop precisely on extended cognition, having me and Helen de Cruz as female speakers, and John Protevi, Richard Menary and Julian Kiverstein as male speakers. We got something like 30 submissions, and only ONE by a woman, which in the end did not make it to the final list (of 6 accepted papers, if I remember correctly). So we ended up with a male-only list of contributed papers…

    This experience made me conclude that it is advisable to be a bit more proactive in terms of soliciting contributions from members of under-represented groups (as suggested by Helen in #28), in that having a diverse list of invited speakers is no guarantee of a diverse pool of contributions. Once you have been able to get a diverse collection of contributions, then the strategies suggested by Helen in #30 seem to me to be very pertinent.

  28. “’Your work fits very well in this domain…. We are writing to individuals who have made valuable contributions to this field, to make them aware of our conference.’ (This also avoids tokenizing minorities).”

    If my contributions were regarded as valuable enough to make a special effort to write to encourage me to respond to a call for papers, I’d wonder why my contributions weren’t also regarded as valuable enough to ask me to be an invited speaker. CFP outreach that targeted me as a minority would get, if not a PFO reply, none at all.

    The profession has been a leader in strategies to avoid “tokenizing” minorities. Of course, a few of us think that a better approach would be to do more than tokenize, not less. In the meantime, tokenizing would be better than virtually nothing, whether or not stereotypes among our doubters might be “reinforced” in the process.

  29. Anon sr philosopher: I agree conference organizers should make this effort to include members from underrepresented groups in the invited list. However, I think it is still valuable to solicit contributions in the way suggested, for instance when
    1. It’s a small-budget conference with only 1 or 2 keynote speakers (I’ve organized a workshop like this with Eric Schliesser – this workshop was funded by both our personal budgets and could not involve more than a couple of keynotes). Surely there are more valuable contributors than the ones you invite? (Alternatively, one could invite speakers but say that they have to fund everything, except perhaps accommodation. I’m not sure if this is a better idea – remember, an earlier survey on FP showed that many women decline keynote speakers because they do not have funding)
    2. The people one is thinking of are talented grad students. I’ve solicited papers from both male and female grad students who I know work in the field, and none of them took this badly.

  30. Helen, I think your ideas about filling out the selections are good ones.
    I agree with “Sr” that more tokenizing would be good. I think that still women are too often systematically disadvantaged in all sorts of small way that have to do with how one learn to produce professional work. It seems right to balance out the scales when one can.

    As for, “but do you want to use gender as a criterion,” we need to remember that gender is a criterion already for all sorts of small but advantageous things, such as joking around with make professors about sports, etc.

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