So let’s just bite the bullet and hire more women.

Posted by anonfemphil on October 13, 2008

The hiring rates of women in philosophy at the TT level are among the worst in universities, worse even than physics.

If a discipline is falling behind others on its support of diversity, it probably is not such a good thing for the area.  Why should women even try to compete in a field they perceive as hostile?  Far better to go into psychology, for example.  At least in cognitive psychology, women have reached about 35%.  In 2008, 12 women submitted papers in philosophy to the SPP.  That suggests  a certain lack of growth in the field.

We may have reached a tipping point or a dead end, but whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.  If nothing else, this is not a politically healthy situation. 

So unfair though many people no doubt will think it is, maybe colleges and universities should make an effort to hire women.  Ads could encourage women to apply, committes could pay special attention to female applications and so on.  In a short period, we can turn this around, right?

Wrong.  Or probably wrong.  A lot of places have been doing that for at least two decades and it doesn’t seem to be making a big enough difference, if it is making any.  And if we look at the very well studied case of  race and jobs, we can see the same problem.

 Much prejudice tends to be indirect; bias leads one to perceive equally qualified people as qualified differently.  As a very interesting WaPo article on implicit bias says:

In perhaps the most dramatic real-world correlate of the bias tests, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago recently sent out 5,000 résumés to 1,250 employers who had help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. The résumés were culled from Internet Web sites and mailed out with one crucial change: Some applicants were given stereotypically white-sounding names such as Greg; others were given black-sounding names such as Tyrone.

Interviews beforehand with human resources managers at many companies in Boston and Chicago had led the economists to believe that black applicants would be more likely to get interview calls: Employers said they were hungry for qualified minorities and were aggressively seeking diversity. Every employer got four résumés: an average white applicant, an average black applicant, a highly skilled white applicant and a highly skilled black applicant.

The economists measured only one outcome: Which résumés triggered callbacks?

To the economists’ surprise, the résumés with white-sounding names triggered 50 percent more callbacks than résumés with black-sounding names. Furthermore, the researchers found that the high-quality black résumés drew no more calls than the average black résumés. Highly skilled candidates with white names got more calls than average white candidates, but lower-skilled candidates with white names got many more callbacks than even highly skilled black applicants.

For employers who think they want to hire minority workers, an average white applicant can seem better than a highly qualified minority candidate. 

So what’s causing the  problem and what can we do?  Good questions!

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4 Responses to “So let’s just bite the bullet and hire more women.”

  1. The implicit biases that go into framing the perception of potential hiring decisions are indeed quite troubling (and my guess is that they are likely to filter into decisions about what sorts of papers are worth accepting for conferences, as well as numerous other issues of professional advancement).

    There is a fairly well established tradition of looking at the effects of implicit prejudice on judgments regarding CVs and Resumes. To my knowledge, the first study of this sort was carried out by Arie Lewin and Linda Duchan (1971). They found a slight, though not statistically significant preference for male job candidates over female job candidates. A more recent, and in some ways more carefully controlled study by Rhea Steinpreis and her colleagues (1999) has found far more compelling evidence about the role of the perceived gender of a name on a CV in hiring and tenuring decisions. Steinpreis and her colleagues took two versions of a successful scientist’s CV (one that had secured her first tenure-track job, one that had secured early tenure) and put a paradigmatically male name (Brian Miller) on half of them and a paradigmatically female name (Karen Miller) on the other half. Participants were no more likely to recommend tenuring a male than a female candidate. However, both male and female participants were more likely to recommend hiring a male over a female candidate. Far more importantly, despite the identical records regarding the research, teaching, and service contributions, male candidates were evaluated more positively than female candidtates and many participants claimed that they would need more evidence that female candidates had done their own work (though no similar claims were made about male candidates)

    Your question, then, about what we should do about such prejudices is one of the most pressing questions at the level of the institutional structures that continue to propagate robust gender-based asymmetries in the academy. Fortunately, there are tools and strategies for navigating these sorts of implicit prejudices once we become aware of their breadth as well as their depth. In another post on this blog (Oct 18th) you point to Virginia Valian’s fabulous work on non-conscious biases (and incidentally, Valian’s tutorials are also fabulous). There have also been some very promising attempts to attack diversity issues in hiring head on, carried out by the ADVANCE and STRIDE committees at the University of Michigan (I recommend strongly looking at their suggestions for evaluating candidates which can be found here). Of course, whether these strategies are likely to help at all is contingent on people in the discipline recognizing that there are implicit biases at play in our psychology that we can’t just suppress and move on. The fact is that non-conscious processes play an integral role in our psychology. Moreover, they are incredibly difficult to modulate. And, unfortunately, this is something that is hard for many academics to recognize.

  2. sylvie said

    I appreciate very much that SPP is making an effort to identify the sources of the problem of underrepresentation of women, and to counteract these effects. I ask this question in a genuine way, not as snark. What is the goal of having this separate blog for diversity? It strikes me that there will be very little fruitful discussion here. The most likely scenario I see is that the only members of SPP who will spend any significant amount of time reading this blog, as opposed to a larger one (such as that for experimental philosophy) will be those of us who are affected by it. Which, honestly, doesn’t seem like a way to improve the situation. Can this blog be integrated into a more mainstream one, so as to present these ideas to the field at large, not just those of us who have a vested interested in it?

    Per the research on implicit bias, there are many interesting studies out there documenting this effect, yet there is surprising little knowledge about how widespread it is, or about ways to counteract it. If someone were willing to put together a very concise (4 pages or less, I think) overview of the main ideas and some references, to acquaint people with it, plus a short overview of ways to counteract or reduce the effect, this document could be mailed/emailed to the heads of search committees this year, for instance. That is the kind of concrete action that would be make a difference, I think.

  3. annejacobson said

    BH: thanks so much for the feedback and links. I’m concerned that you are exactly right about academics finding it hard to admit they have implicit biases. I’m amazed, in fact, by this phenomenon.

    Sylvie: Thanks for your comments. I think blogs can perform different functions; this one may be especially a repository for information and news letters. I wonder what chairs of search committees would do with a mailing about implicit biases. I’m hoping that the SPP can lay a foundation for it to be taken seriously. We’ll see.

  4. [...] So let’s just bite the bullet and hire more women. [...]

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