The data on doctorates is telling. According to recent research the number of women receiving doctorates in philosophy is very near the bottom of the academic barrel.
New research is opening up our understanding of another factor, which resides in the beliefs about one’s ability to succeed in a career:
The decision to pursue a career rests in part on how we judge the following inequality:
If we believe this inequality to be true, we might proceed; if we decide it’s false, we might look elsewhere. Importantly, however, neither side of this inequality is easy to evaluate. Abilities are nebulous, context-sensitive things that are notoriously problematic to pin down. As a result, we often look to others for clues, leaving the door open for substantial social and cultural influences on career choices. A symposium at the 2014 SPSP conference in Austin highlighted a number of recent findings that link sociocultural influences on people’s assessment of the inequality above to the presence of gender gaps.
How do we get from sociocultural influences on this formula all the way to gender gaps? First, and most obviously, contemporary culture is rife with stereotypes about differences in men’s and women’s cognitive profiles; these stereotypes shape people’s beliefs about the quantity on the left-hand side (that is, the abilities they are likely to possess). Second, and less often discussed, practitioners of different careers may send different messages about the abilities that are required to reach the highest levels of achievement in their particular field; these messages shape people’s beliefs about the quantity on the right-hand side (that is, the abilities required for success). Putting these two elements together, we might make the following claim: One circumstance that gives rise to a gender gap in a career or discipline is when a gender group is stereotyped to lack an ability that the people in that discipline believe is essential for success.
The post from which the quote above comes comes is full of interesting ideas and results. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the questions concerning access and opportunity.
Here are some snippets:
In some disciplines success may be seen as depending on sustained effort and dedication, whereas in others it may be seen as requiring a “gift” or brilliance that cannot be taught. Because women are stereotyped as being less likely than men to possess innate intellectual talent, they may find the academic fields that emphasize brilliance as the key to success to be unwelcoming. [note that the claim here is that the fields themselves may seem less welcoming. This seems different from the conclusions of Carol Dweck that we discuss in our Psychology of Philosophy section.]
– Regardless of the purported cognitive differences men and women, or of the abilities purportedly required to become a physicist vs. a psychologist vs. an anthropologist, the mere presence of (1) different societal beliefs about the intellectual abilities of men and women, and (2) different societal beliefs about the intellectual abilities required for success in different fields will be sufficient to give rise to (or at least exacerbate) gender gaps.
Stereotypes may have many different sources. To the extent that they contain messages about ability, this research says they may quite significantly affect career choices. Though the research is specifically about gender, we should keep it in mind as we think about issues such as the incredibly low representation of blacks in higher education in The Uk. Or the abled body whiteness of US philosophy.
(Thanks to BL.)