When it comes to finding a permanent academic position in philosophy, “women have 58–114 percent greater odds than men, or a probability difference of 10–17 percent.”
That’s from another part of the recent Metaphilosophy article, “Networks in philosophy: Social networks and employment in academic philosophy,” posted about yesterday, by Pablo Andrés Contreras Kallens (Cornell), Daniel J. Hicks (UC Merced), and Carolyn Dicey Jennings (UC Merced). The finding was based on data regarding 2,778 people who graduated from academic philosophy PhD programs between 2012–2019.They continue:
This finding is highly counterintuitive. As discussed above, women are significantly underrepresented in philosophy, constituting 26 percent of faculty in a 2011 survey (Paxton, Figdor, and Tiberius 2012) and 30–34 percent of new Ph.D.s in philosophy awarded to women annually over the past several decades (Schwitzgebel 2017). There is some debate over the causes of this persistent underrepresentation (see, e.g., Antony 2012), but a number of authors have identified as likely factors implicit bias (Lee 2016; Régner et al. 2019) and more generally a less welcoming or more hostile environment toward women and other underrepresented groups (Settles and O’Connor 2012). Yet factors such as implicit bias should give women a disadvantage in the academic job market, which, again, is not what our analysis shows.
(See the related post, “Implicit Attitudes, Science, and Philosophy,” by Edouard Machery.)
The authors rule out explanations for women’s apparent advantage here that are already addressed by their regression analysis, such as areas of specialization and prestige of graduate programs.
The authors consider some alternate explanations. One is that “women have, on average, greater aptitude for philosophy than do men by the time they reach the job market” because “greater attrition faced by women at earlier stages in their career may lead to the remainder having higher average aptitude when they are on the job market,” or because “if women are held to higher standards than men at earlier stages in their career, perhaps that leads to greater learned aptitude.” They express skepticism about possible evidence for this:
Analyzing articles in major economics journals, Hengel (2022) finds that women tend to become better writers than men (according to technical measures of readability) as their careers develop, and that women’s papers tend to spend longer time in peer review. Combining these observations, Hengel argues that women are held to higher standards than men in peer review and suggests that women gradually internalize these higher expectations (see also Bright 2017; Leuschner 2019). It isn’t clear, however, that these findings can explain the effect found here. The effect that Hengel identifies appears gradually over several years; in their first few publications, there is no difference in readability on average between women and men. But this is also the period when most applicants are on the academic job market. Applying Hengel’s model to the academic job market in philosophy would seem to require a similar gender-linked aptitude difference appearing much earlier than Hengel finds in economics publishing.
A different possible explanation is that “in recent years, hiring committees and others have taken steps to remediate underrepresentation and its most likely causes.” They continue:
For example, hiring committees might conduct a search in subfields with a greater share of women and other underrepresented groups, such as feminist philosophy, and then might adopt strategies for reviewing applications and conducting interviews that are designed to block implicit bias. Other changes, such as the shift from hotel rooms to videoconferencing for first-round job interviews, might have the side effect of reducing discriminatory processes against women, even if they weren’t adopted with this intention. But even if these kinds of changes have successfully mitigated factors that work against women, it is hard to see how they would give women a substantial net advantage.
It may be that, all else being equal, hiring committees tend to prefer women candidates.
They note that the gender effect they found is “likely to be a recent development.” They say:
As mentioned above, women have received 30–34 percent of new Ph.D. degrees in philosophy for decades, but in the past decade have made up only 19–26 percent of philosophy faculty (Schwitzgebel and Jennings 2017). If women had this placement advantage over men for several decades, we would expect women to be better represented among faculty than new Ph.D.s. For example, suppose there were 100 new Ph.D.s in a given year, 35 of which were women (35 percent) and the remaining 65 men. If 66 percent of the men and 77 percent of the women secured a permanent position (a 10-point probability difference), the new faculty would have 43 men and 27 women (rounding to the nearest whole number), or 39 percent women.
Summing up, they stress that their finding about the job market should not be taken to imply that there aren’t still problems regarding the treatment of women in philosophy:
All together, while our analysis finds that women are hired at greater rates in the academic job market in philosophy, it is not clear what might explain this difference, and it is likely to be a recent development. Moreover, we emphasize that this finding is entirely compatible with the existence of a hostile climate, implicit bias, and other factors that drive women (and other gender and sexual minorities) away from academic philosophy. For example, in a 2012 survey conducted by the Philosophy of Science Association, respondents who identify as women found the climate of both the PSA Biennial Meeting and the discipline as a whole to have a less welcoming, more sexist, less diverse, and more exclusionary climate, with more incivility and harassment, compared to respondents who identify as men (Settles and O’Connor 2012, table 6). Furthermore, Dowell and Sobel (2019) [see here] separately summarize the evidence showing that sexual harassment is pervasive across academia. Among other points, they note that 15 out of 655 publicly documented cases of sexual harassment in the “Not a Fluke” database are in philosophy, and that 4 out of 15 high-profile cases examined by Martinez (2017) involved philosophers.
You can read the whole paper here.