In the “Men behaving splendidly” session at the APA, there was some discussion of what percentage of women should we push for. Elizabeth Harman made a strong and important point; it was roughly this: When we give conferences we are educating the next generation, so we should have 50 % women philosophy speakers.
Whatever the right numbers, it is a very safe bet that a conference without women speakers, or with a very small minority of them, is not encouraging women to participate in philosophy.
But, you might say, you don’t think badly of women philosophers; you may an effort to include some, but it doesn’t always work out. Well, read below; in some ways it makes points made at the APA, but briefly and directly:
In a study I conducted among white workers, I found that 70% of the participants’ jobs, past and present, had been landed with the help of friends or relatives who were in a position to provide inside information, exert influence on the candidates’ behalf, or directly offer job or promotion opportunities.
Yet virtually all of these employees, as well as white managers I’ve interviewed, maintain that they oppose racism and are in favor of equal opportunity.
In my work on diversity, I often meet CEOs who are genuinely concerned about disparities and are highly motivated to increase their organizations’ diversity. Yet they frame the issue in terms of discrimination and “bias against.” They don’t see the powerful locked-arms effect of the “bias for” that’s prevalent in hiring and promotion decisions. I once spoke to an executive whose company was being celebrated for its commitment to diversity, but over dinner I was told proudly by one of the key HR managers that the company relies on referrals from existing employees for many of their middle-management hires.
Which brings me to take an unpopular stand: Up with bureaucracy.
I don’t mean the kind of bureaucracy that drives people crazy. I mean the kind that provides minority candidates with protections from biases that are embedded in corporate decision-making. It’s perfectly logical for managers to want to interview and hire known quantities—résumés can be opaque and mendacious, and there’s no Angie’s List equivalent for finding highly recommended employees (at least not yet). But when it comes to hiring and promotion, I’m in favor of a systems approach that reduces reliance on the kinds of judgments that lead to bad decisions—an approach that is measured not on process but on outcomes with regard to the competency, race, ethnicity, and gender of hired or promoted employees.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that a systems approach can feel inadequate; the “numbers” never tell a complete story. Neither companies nor universities rely solely on test scores, because they know that doing so wouldn’t lead to the best outcomes. So the trick is creating a systems approach that evaluates candidates in a holistic way. That means an array of metrics, from competency tests to psychological profiles regarding fit for the job. Companies need to establish specific criteria on what constitutes competence in any given job, and they need to collect data on those specific criteria rather than rely on assumptions or impressions. To be effective, metrics need to be specified in advance, and they need to be up to date and not based solely on managerial perceptions.
Part of the solution is a new mind-set on executives’ part. There’s abundant evidence that just trying harder or wanting to do better doesn’t make a difference. What does matter is being conscious of the decisions we are making—we need to move these crucial decisions from the unconscious to the conscious realm. If we think about being accountable for the decisions we make, and if we stop believing that we can make truly unbiased or objective decisions, then we are less likely to make decisions that reflect implicit or unconscious bias in favor of people like ourselves—and more likely to end up with a workforce that is more diverse and better fits the needs of our organizations and their global clients.