Differential treatment by chair

Posted: April 30, 2013 by Jender in implicit bias

I recently experienced an unpleasant dismissal by both a speaker and session chair at a major conference where I was a commentator.

The session to which I refer was divided into a number of pairs of speakers and commentators. My session was last, and I therefore had the opportunity to see how the previous speakers and commentators (all males) were treated by the male session chair.

As is the norm, the speaker usually responds to comments before opening the floor to questions from the audience. However, as soon as my comments were finished, without hesitation the chair began to accept questions from the audience, giving the speaker no chance to respond to my comments. This had not happened to the preceding male commentators.

At the end of each sub-session, the chair had asked the male commentators if they had further responses to make during questions and after the last question, and also made remarks pertaining to the content of the comments, which he mentioned he had read prior to the session. I was entirely ignored, and he had clearly not read my comments.

As I got up to leave at the end of the session, the chair acknowledged that he had forgotten to ask for a response to my comments, although he seemed to take this matter lightly and did not apologize. The male speaker said that this was fine. He himself had also never acknowledged receipt of my comments by email prior to the session. When my comments were alluded to sympathetically in questions from the audience, he dismissed them as being irrelevant to his main argument. In the course of verbalizing this dismissal, he managed to entirely forget my name.

Although this incident is comparatively minor, it was evident to audience members that I had been treated distinctly differently to the male commentators. Given that this was in front of a 90% male audience, it unhelpfully reinforces the notion amongst male philosophers that female philosophers need not be attended to as to their male counterparts.

This might have been easier to bear (though by no means lacking in blameworthiness) if the paper on which I was commenting had been worthy of my time. But it had been classified as a “weak acceptance” as it fitted well with the program.

I have mostly, and certainly recently, experienced considerable respect from my male colleagues – so this dismissal has served as a timely reminder (as though one were needed) that there is absolutely no room for complacency.

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