Round up the usual suspects



Let me open with a caveat. What I’m about to say is entirely my opinion (I don’t speak for the other bloggers here) and it’s based on my general impressions (I don’t have any data). Given that caveat, here goes. The goal of the Gendered Conference Campaign has been both to (i) increase awareness of gendered conferences and their bad effects; (ii) to promote the work of women in philosophy. And while the GCC has arguably been a success on the former front, I worry we’ve stalled a little on the latter. We’ve gotten the message out that it’s important to have women at conferences. But which women?

My impression is that there is a small pool of women who, as a consequence of the growing awareness that it’s important to have women represented at conferences, now get inundated with invitations. (And lest this post start to sound like sour grapes*, I should say that I take myself to be one of these women.)These women have a lot in common. They are mostly white women with good, stable jobs at nice universities. They are mostly professionally well-established and financially well-off. And so on.

Now let me be clear: I’m not saying these women don’t deserve to be invited to things! They absolutely do. Many of them will tell you, though, that they probably receive more invitations than they should. Meanwhile, what is happening to the other women – the women of color, the women with less fancy jobs, the women doing great work on topics less palatable to ‘mainstream’ philosophy? And what is happening to people, regardless of gender, from other underrepresented groups?

My hunch is that the current state of affairs arises from taking the standard model of conference organizing – “Let’s think of some cool people for our conference off the top of our head!” – and adding a gendered component. Wait – we need some women at the conference too! Round up the usual suspects.

The GCC, of course, was never meant to be something that by itself created diverse conferences. (No one involved in the GCC thinks that once there’s at least one women at every philosophy conference we can all go home because feminism is finished.) It’s the start of a conversation – a conversation that needs to keep evolving.

Given all the evidence of the severe underrepresentation of, for example, people of color in philosophy (and the fact that just organizing a diverse speaker line up doesn’t mean your conference will actually be a welcoming, inclusive place), perhaps now is a good time to begin thinking about how that conversation might evolve. There’s been talk of parallel campaigns to the GCC, but I worry some that dividing into multiple separate campaigns might not ultimately be sustainable (and some individual campaigns might be too small to sustain attention). Perhaps instead we could utilize the UP Directory to make more conscious, reflective choices about conference invitations. I don’t really know. I don’t have answers. This post is just a request for discussion and reflection.


*Hi, pedants! Yes, I know this isn’t what ‘sour grapes’ originally meant, is supposed to mean, etc. Based on Aesop’s fable, ‘sour grapes’ is supposed to refer to cases in which you convince yourself you don’t want something you can’t have. But you should make sure to point this out to me in the comments anyway.

Fit (as a fiddle)

Feminist philosophers paying attention to what happens when hiring decisions in academic philosophy are made on the basis of “fit”, and/or a presumed knack for spotting “talent”, may find some of the research cited in this op ed by Lauren Rivera (author of Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs) to be of interest.

Class-based definitions of fit are one reason investment banks, management consulting firms and law firms are dominated by people from the highest socioeconomic backgrounds. Also, whether the industry is finance, high-tech or fashion, a good fit in most American corporations still tends to be stereotypically masculine.

“Don’t similar people work better together?” Yes and no. For jobs involving complex decisions and creativity more diverse teams outperform less diverse ones. Too much similarity can lead to teams that are overconfident, ignore vital information and make poor (or even unethical) decisions.

Perhaps most important, it is easy to mistake rapport for skill. Just as they erroneously believe that they can accurately tell when someone is lying, people tend to be overly confident in their ability to spot talent. Unstructured interviews … are notoriously poor predictors of job performance.