4 thoughts on “Gender equality at academic conferences

  1. The Q & A is very informative for those who may not have thought about such issues before and it’s good to see this conversation being opened in the research community. The following critical thoughts are intended as a continuation of the dialogue on equity at conferences.

    While the sentiment of this petition/’commitment’ is definitely commendable, I find myself wondering about its efficacy. There is little to compel anyone signing this to actually make good on conditional conference participation, particularly since the bias is, as noted in the Q & A, unintended and unconscious even among those who personally endeavour to act against it. The consequences of public accountability are at best unclear, unless the signatories are also committing themselves to monitor the conduct of their fellow signatories.

    I believe an improvement would be something at an explicitly organisational level. For example, (off the top of my head), petitioning for a requirement that established conferences (especially those with a poor track record) declare their level of complicity with a set of fairness provisions. This allows others to judge fairness more transparently while simultaneously giving high visibility to this issue as a matter of course, and strikes me as a somewhat more hopeful approach in making this a standard consideration of conference organisers now and in the future.

    Related to the problems inherent in grassroots strategies of action, I also find myself wondering why it would benefit female scholars (individually but also at large), to make such a commitment. Surely the point here is that their representation is already under par. The reason this is a problem is not only that there exist fewer opportunities for high-profile female speakers, but a resultant academic environment that is hostile to other female academics – particularly junior attendees who, realistically, do not have as much luxury in limiting their participation. For female academics to consign themselves to only “fair” conferences seems to work somewhat against the intended positive action.

    1. Just a further note on changing the institutional representation of women. At least part of my cynicism is based on the fact that female representation in political parties and government positions is notoriously difficult to improve with non-binding good intentions alone.

      At Edinburgh’s inaugural Chrystal Macmillan lecture last year (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygYmUBNap34) Prof Pippa Norris showed that quotas for a minimum number of female representatives were not enough to improve equity in political parties. The only measure that proves effective is an additional penalty of non-registration for those parties that do not meet requirements. This is the case worldwide.

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