Reader query: open posts and gender

A reader has written to me noting that in her department no woman has been appointed to a permanent *open* position in 25 years, though women have been appointed when areas are specified. She’s wondering– and I am too, now– whether this is an isolated phenomenon, and also whether there is any empirical evidence which might speak to the issue. (E.g. an open post might make people look for *the genius*, which is associated with maleness, etc.) Any thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Reader query: open posts and gender

  1. This is little more than a wild guess, but I would think that you would have a lot more problems inhibiting implicit bias when you are searching for a ‘good philosopher’ (whatever that means!!!) rather than searching for something with clearer success conditions. Presumably, when you are searching for an ‘Early Modern’ philosopher, or a “Philosopher of Mind”, you are looking for someone who does particular things well, and a reflective search committee can focus on those criteria in a way that blocks the intrusion of some (though clearly not all) tacit assumptions driven by gender bias. Where you are looking for something far more amorphous, it is harder to run through the ‘checklist’ to make sure you are using the same standards to compare candidates who are gendered male and female–especially when it’s not clear what the checklist should have on it. (Something like that, I take it, is the impetus behind using actual checklists to rectify hiring asymmetries in some places in the sciences).

    I would love to see the data, though, if anyone has it…

  2. OTOH, Bryce, I have at least second-hand evidence that at least some departments get authorized for an ‘open’ search precisely when they are especially committed to hiring a woman or someone who will help diversify the department, so that they can cast a maximally wide net… My guess is that context is everything here.

  3. Unsurprisingly, Rebecca, we agree completely on that point. Even worse, I think that there are likely to be lots of values and biases “hiding in the nooks and crannies” in the case of genuinely open searches. That said, IF an open search is not OPEN, we should probably expect other factors to play a role. The effect should be most pronounced–as you note–in cases where the department is trying to hire a woman. But, I would expect an attenuation of bias where there is an internal decision to TRY to hire, say, an social epistemologist. Here, the standard strategies for inhibiting bias can be brought online, even though the search seems from the outside to be an Open search. My guess is that this is going to make it nearly impossible to get good data on the role of bias in Open searches. But, again, this is all just speculation.

  4. Agreed on all counts, Bryce :) I think the best guess is that when a search has the word ‘open’ in the ad, that’s only really loose evidence concerning wtf is going on. I would be surprised if you are wrong, though, to guess that a vague search for ‘philosophical goodness’ is extremely likely to allow implicit biases to run rampant.

  5. I am English and am searching my mental databases to understand what you are saying. Putting aside your nested subclauses , I think you are asking if open invitations on the net will result in more female applications for jobs?
    Is this correct?

    It probably won’t. Women don’t apply for jobs unless they meet all critieria. Men do if they meet some criteria.

    I’ve just posted some British selections for women academics with a take on gender psychology inter alia.
    In Britiain, elite men get a tap on the shoulder in ‘The Gents” (washroom to you) when they need a job. Our Prime Minister got his first job from a word with his mother-in-law! Women need places like this.

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