Archive for the ‘women held to different standard’ Category

Do Women and Minorities Have an Advantage on the Job Market?

This story is for everyone who thinks women and minorities have an unfair advantage on the job market in philosophy.

My old department is typical in a lot of ways: It is a well-respected, undergraduate-only program at a state university that is not the flagship; the faculty is 100% white and almost all male; and the philosophy majors look a lot like the faculty. It is similar to many philosophy departments at state universities and liberal arts colleges across the country.

Two years ago we were doing a search. Early on, a person from the EO office came to brief us on the rules. We were told, in a 60-minute presentation, about all the ways we might be biased against female and minority candidates, and many of the ways we could attempt to overcome those biases. We were also told that it was appropriate to seek to hire someone who would be a good role model for students from underrepresented groups, including women. (In fact, I had managed to convince my former colleagues to include, among the preferred criteria in the ad for the position, something about attracting female and minority students to the major.)

“But,” one of my former colleagues asked the EO officer, “isn’t it illegal to prefer a candidate on the basis of gender or race?”

The EO officer hemmed and hawed and said various things. My former colleagues proceeded to grill her, asking for definitions and principles, which were then refuted by counterexamples, leading to further attempts by the EO officer to clarify, and still more refutations and counterexamples. The EO officer kept trying to get across the message that although it is illegal to prefer a candidate merely on account of race or gender, there were nevertheless many nuanced ways the department could attempt to address its extreme lack of diversity. But my former colleagues were having none of it. Their sole takeaway from the meeting was that it is illegal to prefer a candidate based on gender or race.

After that a very curious thing happened. During search committee meetings, A would say, about every 20 minutes (or so it seemed), “It’s illegal to prefer a candidate just because she is female!” And this would be met with enthusiastic murmurs of agreement by all of my other former colleagues. Soon all of my former colleagues took up A’s call, and would repeatedly blurt out, à propos of nothing, “It’s illegal to prefer a candidate on account of race or gender!”

Meanwhile, I noticed a second, very odd phenomenon. Every time I said something positive about a female candidate (even casually, in the hallway or in someone’s office), the immediate response by my former colleagues was to make a case against that candidate. If I said of some female candidate, “I really liked x’s writing sample,” the response would be, “But there was a line in one of her letters that made me wonder if she is the strongest candidate from her department,” or “But she went to college at an Ivy League school, so she might not be the best fit for us.” Meanwhile, if I said anything positive about a male candidate, the response was always just to agree, and perhaps to add a further positive comment about that candidate. (This was such a striking and uncanny phenomenon that I went out of my way to test it, thinking that I was imagining the effect. And sure enough, it was really happening.)

I became worried that female and minority candidates were not getting a fair shake in our search process. So I began to pay closer attention to how candidates from different demographic groups were being evaluated. What I found was that writing samples by women and minorities were deemed “murky” and “unclear”, while similar writing samples by white men were judged to be “deep” or “provocative”. Similarly, white men who said something in their cover letters about being committed to increasing diversity in philosophy were given major points for that, while women and minorities who had actually done things – organized special events, created programs to improve the climate for women and minorities in their departments, etc. – were given no credit for their work along that dimension. At one point, A even said of such a white man (one who had mentioned his commitment to increasing diversity in his cover letter, but had not yet actually done anything about it), “I think he would be better on our preferred criterion [attracting female and minority students] than any of these women or minorities!”

Then something nearly inexplicable occurred. I got a call from the department chair, informing me that I was being formally accused, by B, of illegally discriminating on the basis of race or gender, and that he (Department Chair) was backing up the accusation. In accordance with the official procedure, I was to meet in the chair’s office with B and Department Chair to determine whether the matter could be resolved informally, or would instead have to proceed through the official steps that could result in my being disciplined.

My initial thought was that I was being pranked. But at the meeting with Department Chair and B, the latter claimed, in an oddly triumphant way, that I had said in a recent meeting that I thought Candidate X would be good at attracting female students because she is a woman. I replied that I distinctly remembered saying that Candidate X would be good at attracting female students because she is a woman who is a particularly charismatic teacher with a proven track record of attracting female students to the major, and who would serve as an excellent role model for women in our program. “No,” Department Chair told me, “It’s like B here claims. You said Candidate X would be good just because she is a woman.”

I had been choosing my words very carefully since the beginning of the search, given my former colleagues’ bizarre behavior, so I knew exactly what I had said in the meeting. But Department Chair told me that he was not interested in my recollection of what I had said. He made it very clear that although he was going to let me off the hook this time, any future behavior by me regarding the search that could be interpreted as discriminating against white men would be dealt with severely, as illegal discrimination on the basis of race or gender.

It seemed clear that the whole exercise had been designed to have a chilling effect on me, so as to keep me quiet during the remainder of the search. I didn’t actually believe that Department Chair would take the matter to anyone outside the department, nor did I believe that I was in any danger of being disciplined if he did. But the episode did have a chilling effect on me, insofar as it showed me how determined my former colleagues were not to hire a woman or a minority candidate.

Which, of course, we didn’t. And although my former colleagues stubbornly (and absurdly) insist that they are as pro-diversity as anyone else in philosophy, and always simply hire the best philosopher, regardless of race or gender, it’s clear in retrospect that women and minorities never had much of a chance in that search. (Or any of the many searches that took place over the 17 years I was with that department, none of which resulted in an offer being made to a woman or a person of color.) The amount of implicit bias displayed in my old department’s searches over the years was embarrassing, and the amount of explicit bias in the most recent search was shameful.

Maybe my old department is unusual in its reactionary attitudes. And my sense is that at least some philosophy departments are genuinely concerned about the discipline’s historic lack of diversity. But my fear is that among undergraduate-only philosophy departments, at state universities and liberal arts colleges, that attitude is actually quite common. In any case, because of what I have seen of searches firsthand, from the inside, you cannot convince me that women or minorities have some kind of advantage on the job market. In fact it seems obvious to me that just the opposite is still true.

Several things I heard from senior male professors during my degrees that made me seriously doubt I have any hope in the profession.

After expressing fascination with a course a new (female) member of staff was offering, on feminist philosophy of science, my advisor tells me not to waste time on ‘rubbish philosophy’ and do ‘serious subjects’. He also condescendingly described the really established female professor offering this subject as not ‘too poor given the pointless field in which she works’. I took the subject anyway and to this day consider it one of the most rewarding experiences. Going against the advice of my advisor, however, was not to my benefit.

I was told that I have to watch out not to get pregnant because that would be the end of my career.

I was told I cannot expect to peruse an academic career if I am in a serious relationship and that if one wants to succeed in academia one needs to forget about their personal life (this came from an academic who, of course, was married with children).

I was told that publishing in the most prestigious journals in my field before I even submit my thesis is not an accomplishment and I should not feel confident that I will make it in the profession, that one needs to ‘do a lot more to prove themselves’. My male colleagues who did not have such accomplishments were told they are great and will surely have a career (and they now do).

One of my referees describes me in his reference letter as ‘hardworking’, ‘reliable’, ‘organised’, ‘diligent’ and a ‘great tutor’, despite the fact I overachieved during my degree and outperformed most of my colleagues in the department in terms of research output. I never received the same support and recognition as the male students and was never made to think I have a future in academia.

As one of only 3 Assoc. or Full at my institutions, I was asked to serve on a hiring committee. We found 3 top, top female candidates– this is the first for any previous hiring committee on which I served. The first turned us down, as did the second to take positions at top, top universities. Perhaps this is a first good sign for women in philosophy, not only that the top three were women, but that they had choices and multiple offers.

After this, it was announced we would move to the third candidate, also a woman, and her name released to the department. Two of the men in the department ( I was the only woman at the time) decided to google her and found she had written a an article on abortion in additional to other publications in high ranking journals –all published in top journals, much higher-ranked journals than any of the men’s publications. They objected to the arguments, found them distasteful, then recruited a 3rd man to the cause, thought it would cause an unnecessary controversy on campus. Most of the dissenting arguments to the hire were based on complete ignorance of philosophical arguments about abortion, and from those not in fields in any way connected to applied ethics. The majority of department was still in favor of hiring her. A meeting was called. In initial discussion, the question of our department’s commitment to academic freedom was raised, and points raised about the high rankings of the journal publications. To the question of academic freedom, the main dissenting voice to hire said openly, “let her practice her academic freedom somewhere else.”

Despite knowing that the majority was in favor of this the candidate, the department chair refused to bring the question to a vote and moved the question to which other candidate were next in line to be interviewed (all men) in the interest of “departmental harmony”.

Yet it has created more disharmony – the trust among the department members is gone. Further, this placing of the happiness of one gender at the academic and employment rights has been repeated: At the request of ass’t male professors, I was told by the chair that I “had” to do major work for the department during the summer holiday. It was a major department project, all of the men claimed “I have plans, sorry, catch me in the fall.” I was told the project was due before the fall. I too had plans, but that didn’t matter. My equal rights to time to do my own research, to have personal time, was set aside. Bullying followed when I later objected to this: “you don’t care about the students or the department, you are so selfish.” I was aghast, and still am, even not straight out of grad school, that such ad hominem abusives were thrown at me for trying to protect my equal right to have a holiday. Followed by, “it was the only way for the department to get the work done and to have harmony, which is only disrupted because you can’t accept that you needed to do work.” This was on top of teaching a triple overload the previous semester and a double overload the previous semester. (and still getting an article out, thank you.) Harmony, interpreted as the happiness of the males) is priority, even when it comes at the employment rights, the careers and the academic freedom of women in the profession. I refuse to do any departmental service this semester, and will do so the next. And just like the men, I won’t do it openly, just a “huh? didn’t see that email”

I am writing this to tell any potentially discouraged readers to hang in there. I have experienced sexual harassment, dismissiveness, discrimination on the job, and other offensive behavior throughout my time as a grad student and professor in philosophy. Yet I love doing philosophy and teaching so much that none of this can dissuade me from my purpose. I feel lucky to have this rare opportunity to be a philosopher, and nobody’s sexist crap is going to stop me. Don’t let it stop you either if you love philosophy.

As an undergrad philosophy major, I cannot count the number of times I made a point that was dismissed or ignored by the professor, only to have a male student make the same point and receive praise. All of my male undergraduate professors actively discouraged me from applying to grad school on the grounds that my abilities were not up to par. Nevertheless, I was accepted by four top-20 programs.

My grad school mentors were wonderful, supportive, and egalitarian. Unfortunately, from other faculty I witnessed several instances of both physical and verbal sexual harassment of female grad students. For three years, I was the only romantically unattached, heterosexual female grad student in my program. I was pestered and harassed almost daily by the male students, including everything from offensive sexual comments made in the middle of class to relentless efforts to hook up. The specific physical attributes of female students who took philosophy grad courses were enthusiastically discussed in our dept. lounge. Every time the department sought student input into a hiring process, my preference for a candidate was attributed by the other students, in front of the faculty, to my supposed romantic attraction to him. I was frequently quizzed by fellow students about which faculty member(s) or student(s) I would be willing to have sex with, hypothetically, despite my refusal to respond.

When I began attending conferences and APA events, my trusted mentors had to tell me which male professors I should avoid being alone with. Sometimes they accompanied me to parties so that I wouldn’t be harassed. While this may seem like a negative story about the prevalance of sexism, it’s just as much a positive account of the other guys who had my back and wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. Eventually I received many interviews and a few job offers, and all of my success on the job market was directly attributed by my fellow male students to the fact that I am female.

Once I became a professor, I learned what it is like to work closely with men who cannot seem to visually acknowledge your head up there above the breasts. I learned to deal with male students who tried to intimidate me about grades or come on to me. (Specifically, I learned to keep my office door open, and to inform someone else as soon as a student started behaving strangely toward me.) I do not work in feminist philosophy myself, and apparently that has encouraged several male professors to share with me their view that feminist philosophy is junk and not really philosophy. For a while another single female worked in my department. Some male professors hoped that I might be able to report on her sex life, about which they knew nothing but suspected everything. I have had to listen, in the department office, to my colleagues’ descriptions of escapades at strip clubs.

Though all of the aforementioned events were annoying, they did not intimidate me. The sexism that nearly shook my resolve came later, in the form of having my research devalued because I was female, being judged according to different standards from men in pre-tenure reviews, being pressured to take on more teaching and advising duties than others, and eventually being treated unfairly with respect to family/medical leave. Luckily, my resolve is fairly stout. In the hiring process, I have seen numerous female candidates ignored either because their cvs mention the word feminism, or because they are perceived to do “soft” work in ethics. In awarding scholarship funds to our own students, my colleagues consistently downplay females who have stronger records on paper in favor of males with whom they are friendly. My teaching evaluations are good, but male faculty have often commented (in direct contradiction to the facts) that this is probably because I am not a rigorous teacher or strict grader. I am treated like a secretary whenever menial tasks like note-taking must be done, and one of my colleagues (who happened to vote unsuccessfully against tenuring me) told me in all sincerity that I would make a good secretary.

I’m now past worrying about what my colleagues say to or about me. However, I want to create a terrific climate for our students, insofar as it is in my power. I have had to choose my battles for the sake of preserving both job and sanity, but in the long run I’m winning the war. To all the women and men who want to change things: don’t lose heart!

This happened within the last three years. I had to be on a search committee outside my area because I’m the only woman in the department (our affirmative action office doesn’t like male-only search committees). It was clear from the beginning that half the committee already had their guy chosen and the other half had their guy (both guys already having been met on the conference circuit). But to please affirmative action, a woman also had to be offered a campus visit. There was an excellent female candidate from a top-5 program, with glowing letters of rec (the other two candidates were from much lower-ranked programs). But for one of the committee members, what finally swayed him to vote for her to get a campus visit was that he happened to know she was married to a top-notch person in a cognate field, and “I’m sure her husband checks over her work, so that gives me more confidence that her work is good.” So we had the campus visits and the female candidate did very well. Nearly everyone agreed she was the smartest of the three. She was also described as “charming” and “delightful.” Now there was a danger she might actually be hired. Suddenly new concerns were raised. Her website was checked to see how far along her papers were. Her dissertation summary was read to see if it was really that promising. And then a search committee member contacted a buddy of his, someone who just graduated from a second-tier program and who happens to know the candidate. The buddy said those glowing letters of rec from top people didn’t really mean anything because the people in her (top-5) program were just trying to get her out. So on the basis of that one junior person’s word, all the letters were discounted. That, added to the vague worries about her potential, torpedoed her case, and we hired one of the guys who had been wanted all along. I think a good case could have been made for hiring any of the three candidates, so it’s not that the outcome was unjust, but the process itself was completely unfair. Unfortunately, I have no way to prove that — it would be my word against everyone else’s — so I’ve just kept my mouth shut.

What I’m angry about today

I’ve seen a number of posts on this blog and elsewhere from women worrying that some of their advancement has come “because they are women.” And I get that. Especially when so many of our experiences already seem designed to make us wonder whether we belong here.

But for god’s sake, given the overwhelming evidence that women (among others) are systematically: dissuaded from pursuing philosophy; excluded from the kinds of (often informal) discussions where much serious training occurs; dismissed or ignored when they formulate arguments without bombast, and derided or censured when they formulate arguments sharply… given all this, why on Earth aren’t male philosophers worrying that some of their own professional advancement has come because they are male?

If the women’s concern is any legitimate reason for worrying about having affirmative action, it seems to me that the state of the discipline is a much stronger reason for worrying about *not* having affirmative action. And “affirmative action” here has to mean far more than a token effort to consider women in hiring before dismissing them. It has to mean really engaging, at all levels of training and hiring, with the full set of forces that push women out of philosophy, and thinking hard about the role our “meritocratic” judgments play in that process. Personally, I care much more about the thoughtfulness and openness with which people approach those questions than about whether I agree with the particular institutional solution they settle on.

I was blessed with a supportive male advisor who is very well liked. One of the things that people like about him is his ability to ask questions in a very gentle way — seeming as though he is just asking for information, but really providing devastating objections. I tried my best to emulate his style, but found that my points were consistently missed and/or dismissed. I find that I have to be extremely direct and forceful in order to be heard at all. Then, of course, I am cast as “aggressive”; people have even asked me why I am not more like my advisor.

I guess this is an old story, but what’s sad is that it is still happening.