Philosophy gender gap not tied to hiring

Women are under-represented in philosophy careers, but it has nothing to do with finding jobs at colleges or universities, according to a new study. Hiring mirrors the number of women in the field.

Many academics in the field have long believed sexist attitudes, whether conscious or unconscious, put women at a disadvantage as they enter philosophy careers. But FIU Associate Professor of Philosophy Sean Hermanson found men and women are actually hired for full-time faculty positions in proportion to the number earning doctorate degrees.

“This is good news,” Hermanson said. “In this one respect, women can be reassured they’ll be treated fairly.”

Hermanson examined philosophy department hires in public and private universities throughout the United States and Canada since 2004. He found universities, regardless of status or name recognition, do not have a gender bias problem when hiring philosophy professors. He also found men and women receive special publishing invitations in equal measure. This is reassuring, he said, because there are no policies and procedures in place that might disguise bias when early-career philosophers are invited by faculty to publish.

Although the findings are promising, this study addresses a narrow aspect of diversity in the profession. The study was published in Frontiers in Psychology.

“There is an under-representation of women in the field,” Hermanson said. “To understand under-representation, we need to understand where the leaks are in the pipeline so we can devote attention and resources to where they will be most productive.”

Hermanson said the percentage of men and women taking introductory philosophy courses is even, but when it comes to students actually majoring in philosophy, about 30 to 35 percent are women. The causes of this trend are unknown, though pre-university influences appear to drive gendered differences in preferences.

With national attention focused on diversifying the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) work force, more studies are needed to account for the diversity gap in philosophy, Hermanson said. In fact, philosophy has a lower number of women in the work force compared to the humanities and social sciences. Hermanson is expanding his research to explore other stages of a philosophy career, hoping to identify challenges faced by under-represented groups.

“Philosophy is universal. It helps address fundamental problems, and it offers transferable skills you can use in different settings,” Hermanson said. “It would be weird if it’s dominated by one demographic slice. This is everyone’s concern.”