Wednesday, April 23, 2014
I’m following up on my previous post, to address this question left by an anonymous commenter:
‘How to square the (thoroughly justified) criticism of a mostly male workshop with the evident pride taken in the production of an "all-woman edited, largely woman-authored" book?’
This is a really good question and I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my comments about Building Babies, the book I co-edited with Kate Clancy and Katie Hinde. To begin, we have to have a reasonable estimate of what we’re shooting for. Fifty/fifty isn’t always representative for a given discipline. In the case of Building Babies, it is a challenge to estimate what the gender composition “should” have been given that we approached scholars from several disciplines, as our primary goal was to be interdisciplinary. That said, the explicit themes of the book were mothers, pregnancy, infants, breastfeeding, and parent-offspring behavior, subject matter that historically draws female scholars. Further, we drew predominantly from anthropology and psychology, disciplines that in recent years have awarded more PhDs to women than men, approximately 60-70%. Drawing an even finer point on it, from within two already female-dominant fields, many of our scholars self-identified as primatologists, a subdiscipline that historically is female-rich. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that there “should” have been a large female skew to Building Babies. Another way to get at this is through the analysis of Lynne Isbell, Truman Young, and Alexander Harcourt, who reported that by 2012 women contributed 67% (as first authors) of all primatology-themed presentations at the American Association of Physical Anthropology conference. This is not an exact science, but given the history of the disciplines we tapped, coupled with the fact that many of our authors were recent PhDs or even still ABD and thus hewed closely to the recent statistics indicated above, we should expect that the female:male breakdown in Building Babies is somewhere around 2:1 (perhaps 67-70% vs. 30-33%)
I crunched the numbers for Building Babies, and am pleased to report that the gender breakdown of our total roster of 34 authors across 22 chapters was 68% female, 32% male. When it comes to just the first authors (which is maybe – but see below - more comparable to being an individual invited to participate in a special workshop), I considered 20 of the 22 chapters because two were equally co-authored by male-female pairs. Of those 20 chapters, the breakdown of first authors was 75% women, 25% men. For at least one of those female-first-authored chapters, the scholar we initially approached was a man, and he invited two of his female trainees to be co-authors, one of whom took on the role of first author. If he had remained first author as invited, the numbers would have been 70% women to 30% men. BOOM!
How does this compare to the Evolutionary Aspects of Child Development and Health Workshop? We have the same challenges we faced estimating the gender breakdown “should” have been. Again, fifty/fifty isn’t necessarily an appropriate measure of accurate representation. While none of the speakers at the workshop are primatologists, they are anthropologists, physiologists, and evolutionary biologists, fields that in recent years have awarded at least 50% of their PhDs to women. With those numbers (and with an assumption that organizers pay attention to gender equity), it would be reasonable to expect at least a fifty/fifty breakdown of speakers. Instead, there are only 2 women out of a slate of 14 speakers, or 14% women, 86% men. That’s six times as many men as women from fields in which the distribution is likely at least equivalent.
Similarly, Isbell et al. found that when primatological symposia were organized by men, women were underrepresented. Remember that in the context of primatology, a representative sample of women would be about 67%, and when women organized symposia, that’s exactly what Isbell and colleagues saw. In stark contrast, when men organized symposia, only 29% of the first-author presenters were women. Not even fifty/fifty. But at least it’s 29%, not 14%. How does that happen? I don’t believe it is a conscious campaign of omission. Rather it is a very unfortunate oversight, brought to you by the power of implicit bias.
But here’s another thing: It is difficult to equate a publication with an invitation to be a featured speaker. The former is generally highly collaborative, and the first author position is often determined alphabetically because the team deems the contributions to be equally valuable. Indeed, that is how the order of the names of the editors of Building Babies was established. Even when there is a very clear division of labor, everybody still gets some credit. Every author gets to put it on a CV. Everybody gets to claim a little piece toward tenure and promotion, toward a scholarly profile. To be a featured speaker means that ONE person is being recognized in an important – and individual – way. Certainly that speaker may mention his or her mentors, students, and collaborators in their presentation, but it is solely that person who received the invitation, who was paid the honorarium, who was compensated for their travel and lodging, who gets to include that speaking engagement on their CV, who benefits from networking at the event, and who gains recognition from those contacts and any press that may be there. And collectively, that builds into the kind of profile that can lead to grants, publications, endowed chairs, and major awards. These are the collateral benefits of featured speaking engagements, making the continued benign negligence on the part of conference/ symposia/ plenary/ keynote/ competition organizers so problematic and stifling. It is a kind of gatekeeping, and it’s not all that subtle.
My Building Babies co-editors and I have had many career opportunities. We all have tenure-track jobs at well-respected research universities, and have benefited from speaking engagements, collaborations, and funding. However, our individual successes remain embedded in general patterns of restricted access. As successful academics with a fair amount of professional privilege, it’s our responsibility to say something when we see something. And it’s important not to pull the ladder up with us. My intention in this follow-up post is to address specifically the explicit and implicit questions posed in the comment. Some of us saw something and we said something about it, we got a response, we are moving forward. But it is important to point out that there is a systemic problem of implicit bias in academia (and pretty much everywhere else) that hits non-male, non-white, non-straight (and more!) people pretty hard.
So yes, anonymous commenter, we are extremely proud that Building Babies was largely woman-authored, and we embrace the fact that it was edited completely by women because that may not so coincidentally be why it is so well balanced along gender lines for the disciplines we targeted. (Of course, one could argue that we shouldn’t be so chuffed up over doing plain old due diligence.)