Diversity and Inclusiveness How to Improve the Situation for Women in Philosophy

How to Improve the Situation for Women in Philosophy

by Nicole Hassoun

The Demographics in Philosophy project (women-in-philosophy.org) evaluates the proportion of women at various ranks in approximately 100 departments for the past ten years as well as publication rates in journals. We have found that the proportion of women is lower in philosophy than in some STEM areas and it is improving more slowly. Moreover, things only get worse as one ascends the hierarchy both in terms of faculty rank and department rank on the Philosophical Gourmet Report.

Percent Women and Male Authors for All Articles, By Year (click to enlarge)

However, the situation with respect to journals is most troubling. In a paper forthcoming in Philosophical Studies, “New Data on the Representation of Women in Philosophy Journals: 2004-2015,” a few of us looked at data on the representation of women published in the “Top 24” journals from the Leiter Survey as well as existing historical data. We found that things have not improved since the 1970’s and the percentage of female authors has since remained extremely low, in the range of 14-16%. The percentage of women authors is less than the percentage of women faculty in different ranks and at different kinds of institutions (which is averaging about 25%). Though, there is great variation across individual journals and the discrepancy between women authors and women faculty appears to be different in different subfields.

Journals in ethics/political and general philosophy journals publish a statistically significantly smaller number of articles by women than the number of women in value theory (where the most women reside) and the field at large. This is bad news for diversity as many women work on value theory and if they cannot publish in ethics and political philosophy journals then their only other option is to publish in general philosophy journals.

Percent Women Authors, by Article Type and Year (click to enlarge)

Further data is necessary. Journals which do not practice blind review seem to have a higher percentage of women authors than journals which practice double blind or triple blind review (though our sample size for each type of review was small and the results could change significantly with a larger sample of journals). It would also be good to know more about how submission rates and editorial practices affect diversity. So, we are currently analyzing the whole JSTOR database of articles in philosophy (all the data from approximately 60 journals since their inception) and gathering data on submission rates and editorial practices. Still, we do not think the overall picture will change significantly.

Presidents, Provosts, Deans and Department Heads from schools as diverse as NYU, Rutgers, UCLA, Cornell, Duke and Berkeley to Emory, Tennessee, and Arkansas responded to our outreach efforts to say that they could use our data to improve the situation for women at their institutions (http://scienmag.com/new-website-uses-big-data-to-address-underrepresentation-of-women-in-philosophy/). In some cases, upper level administrators even said that they would use the data in their review of departments and their heads.

Still, it is difficult to see how we can improve diversity much in the short term by addressing departments directly. There is evidence that the problem extends from introductory philosophy courses to the top of discipline with women exiting philosophy at all levels as one ascends the disciplinary hierarchy – from assistant to full professor and from unranked to top Philosophical Gourmet Report ranked programs. It seems a broad-based effort to recruit and retain students and faculty is necessary.

Moreover, the political will necessary for addressing the problem is often lacking. At least, it is a bit hard to believe that if top departments really wanted to hire and retain women, they would not be able to do so (given that there are hundreds of applicants for each job and about a third of them are women) — they need to care enough about the problem to do so.

Fortunately, there may be a better option: Changing journal publishing practices might be the easiest way to increase diversity in the field. Rather than having to convince 100 schools to make expensive investments in hiring and retaining faculty, or even in diversifying their undergraduate and graduate programs, if the top journals published more work by women, that could greatly aid women in securing jobs, tenure, and promotion. After all, full-time hiring and tenuring practices depend significantly on a candidate’s academic publishing.

So the next step for the Demographics in Philosophy project?: Surveying and getting editors from some of the top journals together with people working on diversity in the discipline to discuss what can be done and to come up with a list of best practices. We have preliminary expressions of interest from the editors of Mind, Ethics, American Philosophical Quarterly, The American Philosophical Association Journal, Journal of Moral Philosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science amongst others.

There are many proposals for improving diversity in the profession in the literature. Editors might encourage authors to read, cite, and engage with more work by women, by employing the version of the Bechdel Test in deciding which papers to publish. They might invite women to submit and publish more original articles in their pages. Some have even suggested quotas.

It may also be important to ask general journals to broaden their remits. Most general interest journals publish very little in value theory and some may have an overly narrow view of what is central to the discipline. The Philosophical Review, for instance, published 3 articles by women last year (out of 12) though they received approximately 600 submissions. By employing slightly different selection criteria, they might well be able to increase this number of female authors without sacrificing quality. Because their submission data for last year does not suggest a bias against women, it is an open question why women are not submitting more articles for review. One hypothesis is that women simply lack self-confidence. But, another is that many realize that the top journals are unlikely to publish the kind of work that they do.

In any case, journals concerned about their reputation, and the reputation of women that they publish, may resist making any significant changes alone. But, together, I hope, we can make our discipline a better, and more welcoming, place for all.

If you have ideas for improvement or to contribute to our efforts, please contact us dataonwomen@gmail.com.


Nicole Hassoun is a residential fellow with the Hope & Optimism Project at Cornell University and an associate professor in philosophy at Binghamton University. Hassoun is the author of Globalization and Global Justice: Shrinking Distance, Expanding Obligations and head of the Global Impact Health project, in addition to her work with the Demographics in Philosophy project.



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