Women in Philosophy

I’m glad to see some more discussion of the gender situation in philosophy discussed more widely. It started with an article in The Philosopher’s Magazine, “Where are all the women?” which was then picked up in “A dearth of women philosophers” in the NYT. There are some interesting responses on Feminist Philosophers blog (first, second, third post), on Edge of the American West, on Knowledge and Experience, and mentioned on Leiter’s blog.

For background data (not in philosophy, but in science and engineering) on research on gender differences in aptitude, patters and mechanisms of discrimination, trends, etc., I can only recommend again the definitive report of the National Academies’ Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering from 2007:

Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering

as well as a new report (2009):

Gender Differences at Critical Transitions in the Careers of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty

It’s instructive to compare philosophy to mathematics: roughly the same numbers, but in mathematics it has been improving (31% women math PhDs in 2008 vs 24% 10 years earlier) while in philosophy the numbers have remained around 28% for a while.

3 thoughts on “Women in Philosophy

  1. What I take to be most puzzling is the fact that we start out with a very even gender distribution among philosophy undergrads, but then slowly but surely the proportion gets more and more tilted. From those who enroll to those who graduate and then on to those who obtain a PhD the proportion changes already, then on to those who acquire permanent positions, and finally with the dismaying proportion of women full professors in philosophy. So there is a significant difference with respect to other areas (such as engineering, I presume) where female enrollment is low to start with. What on earth is going on?In my current first-year intro to logic class there are more women than men, and I’m doing my best to keep these women aboard! Some of them have specifically chosen to take the course with me rather than with any of my male colleagues (there are 6 groups for the same course), which makes me think that having a higher proportion of female faculty is quite important to break the cycle. Rohit Parikh tells me that at Brooklyn College in NYC they have a higher proportion of female enrollment for computer science than in most other universities, and that he suspects this is directly related to the fact that Brooklyn College has a higher proportion of female faculty in its computer science department than most other universities.

  2. The figures that I’ve seen, though, indicate that a significant part of the leak in our own pipeline comes early on, at the level of bachelor’s degrees. (Women keep on trickling out of the pipeline later on, too.) But do women and men typically enroll in introductory level courses at the same rates? And then more women than men decide not to take a second class? If that’s the case, then would those courses be a good place to concentrate efforts? (And what kind of efforts?)It’s such a good question why having more female faculty makes a difference, though it seems to help. I would be so interested in knowing whether, for instance, Penn State has been graduating more women with BA’s than the national average. And why is it apparently the case that a lower percentage of those who earn master’s degrees are women than those who earn PhD’s?

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