Confidence and self-belief are two issues perennially a problem for young women in the workplace. From an early age we are socialized to hold back before pushing forward and to please others before promoting ourselves. When journalist and philosophy graduate Carol Hunt made the decision to run for General Election in March 2015, she described in her campaign blog how this socialization had translated in her case to a “niggling voice” at the back of her head. This voice announced that she was “ridiculous” to even contemplate such an ambitious step, that she was “pushy” and “power-mad”, that she was, of all cardinal sins, “getting completely carried away with herself”.  

Part of the problem faced by Hunt and others, of course, is the lack of female role models in the contemporary political space. Without a clear picture of successful women in our chosen professional fields – versions of ourselves in five, ten and twenty years from now – it can be difficult to maintain the kind of vision and momentum that is needed for progression in any career.

In academic philosophy this problem is particularly acute. In what is referred to in the discourse as “the leaky pipe problem”, more and more women leave philosophy at graduate and early career stages. Fewer and fewer teach philosophy at undergraduate and graduate levels; fewer and fewer act as visible role models for younger women coming up. In Ireland, particularly, the number of female academics holding permanent academic posts in departments of philosophy is shockingly low (it was eleven at last count). Positive change is definitely in motion but it will take a while.

This is why mentoring is so important for young women in philosophy. Our young women need mentoring for at least the following reasons:

  1. 1.They need advice on all the practical things. Feedback on the intellectual content of M.A. or Ph.D. research is one thing but there are a host of little questions that nobody answers unless you ask. Should I teach in the first or the final year of my Ph.D.? What’s the value exactly of giving a conference paper? Which journals should I target for publication?
  2. 2.They need you to make connections for them. Linking graduate students with others pursuing similar research projects, or early career academics with important figures in their field, can be hugely heartening for all involved. In the best case scenarios these links become the foundation for life-long working relationships.
  3. 3.They need inspiration. Again, the importance of visible role models cannot be underestimated. It is imperative that young women see older women in positions of power.
  4. 4.They need affirmation and encouragement. Any graduate student or early career academic will tell you that the most challenging aspect of individual research is motivation and self-belief. Again the niggling voices return (“your work is derivative” / “your students hate you” / “your hair is a state”). In these scenarios we all need somebody to take an interest in ourselves as well as our work, to make us stand a bit taller and remind us that it can all definitely be done.
  5. 5.And finally, they need to hear stories of failure. That we are made aware of success is of course important but it’s even more important that we are reminded of fallibility. Professional people doubt themselves, professional people make mistakes, professional people deal with rejection after rejection – and they still survive and flourish.

So how might this work?

Mentoring is usually thought of as an association between two people, a relationship between an established mentor and her younger protégé. These one-on-one encounters work particularly well given the requirements of sensitivity, of intimacy and of trust. Of course, resources of the more established figure are at issue here. There is surely a limit to what full-time female academics can and should be expected to do for their younger colleagues. While the best mentor-mentee relationships see the abilities of both parties energized and renewed, this can only be achieved against a background of shared expectation and mutual respect.

A professional network, in which different needs are met by different people, is another form for academic mentoring to take. Young women in philosophy should be encouraged to build networks of this kind, to develop their own grab-bag collective of advisors and personal support. This particular mentoring model has the added advantage of being more democratic. The more people involved in the mentoring process the less likely it is for relationships of unequal power to take hold.

And finally, there is the possibility of peer mentoring. While it is crucial to have senior female academics to look up to it is just as important to have figures at your own career stage – graduate, early-career or mid-career – to relate to and model yourself on. In my own experience these peer mentor relationships are an absolute lifeline.

Taking all this into account, SWIP-Ireland takes very seriously its commitment to the care and the support of our young women in philosophy. Our first mentoring workshop in February 2015 had panels on “Gender Action”, “Community Engagement” and “Careers outside Philosophy”, and we’re really looking forward to our next workshop on September 18th. We’re delighted to welcome Professor Jennifer Saul from Sheffield University who will speak about Implicit Bias in academia. Our other contributors will speak on a range of interesting topics, from publishing to prisons. We’d love to have you with us on the day.

Áine Mahon is co-secretary of SWIP-Ireland. She lectures in the School of Philosophy and the School of Education at UCD.

The Summer Institute in American Philosophy brought me to Dublin. At the conference (June 8-13), hosted by University College Dublin, I enjoyed meeting colleagues from across Europe, the USA, and beyond. Using the theme “Transforming the Emotions,” our four-member panel on Feminist Pragmatism ranged wide. Our papers intersected philosophy with the fields of science, literature, art, and psychology.

Charlene Haddock Seigfried and I presented papers on Jane Addams’s use of sympathy, which lay at the heart of her ethics. I discussed how Addams (1860-1935) drew her conception of sympathy from the science of the day. Like many scientists, Addams regarded sympathy as a primitive instinct and a primary factor in human social evolution. Unlike those who segmented the civilized from the primitive and denigrated the latter, Addams used the sympathetic instinct to bridge such divisions. Seigfried explored George Eliot’s Middlemarch to uncover the many patterns of thought that Addams shared with Eliot. Both writers were keenly attuned to how everyone’s perspective is limited, shaped by their own experiences and contexts. For both writers, sympathy provides a pathway toward deeper understanding.

Ryan Musgrave gave a three-stop tour that demonstrated pragmatist aesthetics in action, showing how art could be placed in the service of social justice. The tour included Hull-House, the settlement house founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in Chicago in 1889; the Barnes factory and foundation in Philadelphia, dedicated to making art available to working-class people; and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where the arts were central to learning. Musgrave called these “collaboratories” with art and aesthetics used democratically as resources for ethical and social renewal. Clara Fischer examined literature on the contemporary turn in recent feminist philosophy to affect and the body. Her question was how to mobilize affect for ethical-political ends. Concerned by tendencies toward dualisms in some recent feminist theories, Fischer mined John Dewey’s theory of the emotions for its potential use in liberatory politics.

Pragmatists take context seriously; geographical and temporal locations matter. With my scanty knowledge of Irish history and contemporary Irish politics, two experiences outside the conference impressed me deeply. Clara invited Charlene and me to participate in a protest by SPARK (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Our Kids) in front of the Dáil (Irish parliament). Many women and some men spoke eloquently of how devastating the most recent cuts to lone parent households would be for their own particular families, each with its own configuration and challenges. I was struck by the resonance between these women’s stories and stories I hear frequently in the U.S. I was also struck by how politicians in both countries refuse to see how their proposed policies will play out in the lived experience of their citizens.

Clara suggested Charlene and I visit Kilmainham Gaol. It was sobering, standing at the spot where the men of the 1916 Easter Rebellion were executed, seeing the plaque with their names. Again, I was reminded that in struggle and in war, women’s service and suffering are often omitted in textbook accounts. The young tour leader was quite knowledgeable about women’s roles in the movement for independence from Great Britain, as he had taken a college course on Irish women’s history (yes, feminist scholarship and teaching make a difference!). It was moving to learn about Constance Markievicz, Mary McSwiney, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and others. The visit reminded me that context matters. While Irish and American suffragists participated together in the international suffrage movement, their stories are not parallel. Irish suffragists needed to ask themselves whether to advocate for the right to vote for Irish members of the British Parliament, the very government that oppressed them, and whether they should give priority to the struggle for Irish independence. At the same time that African-Americans were being systematically denied the right to vote, American suffragists had to ask themselves whether to expand their efforts to include black men as well as black women, or to turn their movement in essence into a fight for white women only. These stories intersect and they differ, and they all need to be told.


Marilyn Fischer, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, USA


On Saturday, 28th February 2015, the Society for Women in Philosophy Ireland (SWIP-I) hosted their second Mentoring Workshop in the Newman Centre, University College Dublin, on St. Stephen’s Green. This workshop was funded with generous support from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, which recognises SWIP-I as a disciplinary network doing significant work in mentoring.

The SWIP-I Mentoring Workshop had panels addressing the topics ‘philosophy and gender action’, ‘philosophy and community engagement’, and ‘philosophy and career pathways’. As part of this workshop, SWIP-I invited Dr. Ian James Kidd of Durham University to speak on the topic of ‘gender action and philosophy’, exploring both the theory and praxis behind gender activism within philosophy departments.

As an early career philosopher working in the Department of Philosophy at Durham University, a founding member of their Diversity and Inclusion Group (DDIG), and a former Equality and Inclusion Officer for the School of Philosophy, Religion, and History of Science at Leeds, Dr Kidd is outspoken about the cause of improving the representation of women and other under-represented groups in academic philosophy, and is an active Friend of the Society for Women in Philosophy UK.

Since the issue of gender equality in higher education settings has become particularly relevant in the context of Irish universities, Dr. Kidd’s visit to Dublin was timely. Recent figures show that while 53 per cent of undergraduates are female, only 19 per cent of professors are women. The figure is significantly worse within the discipline of philosophy, especially in Ireland, where there are only about 10 full time permanent female staff members in philosophy departments. The ‘problem of women in philosophy’, as it is known, has recently attracted a huge amount of attention globally, as the articles on this blog and elsewhere attest to.

Dr. Kidd’s presentation to the SWIP-I Mentoring Session was entitled “Philosophy, Sexism and Activism” and in this talk he tackled the question of how to approach gender activism within philosophy departments, especially in light of the recent British Philosophical Association (BPA) Report about Women in Philosophy in the UK. As part of this report, the BPA released a series of Good Practice Guidelines that departments in the UK and Ireland are encouraged to adopt in order to address the gender inequalities that continue to persist within academic philosophy. Although these guidelines sensibly outline concrete measures that philosophy departments can put into place to redress sexism and gender inequality, there is a surprising amount of resistance to this sort of basic gender activism. In his talk Dr. Kidd in part explored the reasons for this resistance, looking at the dynamics of gender activism and the question of sexism. In particular, he explored four sources of sexism and resistance to anti-sexist activism: ignorance, conservatism, implicit bias and overt sexism.

Of particular interest is the question of implicit bias, where unconscious prejudices invisibly colour one’s actions, beliefs and decisions. Implicit bias within academia is particularly dangerous, as it impairs our personal and collective capacity to recognise inequalities and injustices as one believes that one (or one’s institution or organisation) has overcome or does not hold racist, sexist, homophobic or other prejudiced views. In fact, almost all of us hold implicit biases which concretely affect the way we treat and view others.

Dr. Kidd discussed at length the ‘nice bloke trap’ that arises because of implicit biases. Kidd argued that some male academic philosophers fall into this trap when they resist gender activism because they argue that ‘things here seem fine to me’. The point that Dr Kidd made is that the ‘chilly climate’ that women and other minorities experience within the context of the male-dominated realm of academic philosophy, remains invisible or unnoticed by the white men for whom the climate is warm and inviting. Constantly struggling against the micro-aggressions of sexism means that women are disempowered and disadvantaged both personally and professionally. Overall, Dr. Kidd’s talk was very informative and inspiring, especially for the members of SWIP-I who have been tackling the issue of gender inequality within philosophy in Ireland since its inception in 2010.

For further information on implicit bias and the ‘nice boke trap’, see also this Irish Times interview with Dr. Kidd on the question of ‘Why men should care about gender inequality?’ SWIP-I will continue to hold mentoring workshops and similar events over the coming months to address gender inequality in academia, particularly in philosophy.


Luna Dolezal is co-secretary of SWIP-I. She is an Irish Research Council / Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow between the Department of Philosophy, Durham University and the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin.


During my early beginnings as a graduate student, I did not realise that the kinds of treatment I received had a name: sexism. I began to learn that much of what was happening to me was about me as a woman (not as a person or a philosopher) and that it was caused by overt and covert sexism at both personal and institutional levels. I also began to understand that what was happening to me was not my fault, that I was not merely an overachiever, and that my interests in philosophical aspects of environmental issues and philosophy for children were legitimate philosophical concerns. But … like many professional women of my generation, I continued to internalise the exclusion, marginalisation, and put-downs with such self-talk as “I just am not smart enough”, “I only get good grades because I work so hard, not because I am any good at philosophy”, and “People don’t like me because there is something wrong with me.”

This anguished testimony of setting out toward a career in philosophy by feminist thinker Karen Warren is sadly not at all unusual, as other essays also collected in Singing in the Fire: Stories of Women in Philosophy demonstrate. The book is a series of personal reflections on the obstacles women philosophers have faced by virtue of their gender, obstacles that were often also complicated by class or race. Written in the early 2000s, and focusing on events as far back as the 1960s or 70s when most of these now well-established philosophers would have been PhD students or early career academics, one is likely to ask: how are such accounts still relevant today? Has women’s place in philosophy, and their treatment by philosophy departments, universities, and peers changed? What progress, if any, have women and other historically marginalised philosophers made within the profession, and what challenges remain? In what follows, I will explore these questions, making the case for a tentatively optimistic reading of women’s contemporary place in philosophy. On the one hand, structural inequalities, such as women’s representation and inclusion, seem utterly entrenched, sometimes even insurmountable, while on the other, awareness of the need to overcome such inequalities is growing, with societies, academic fora and blogs drawing attention to the danger a mono-gendered, raced, and classed discipline poses not just for underrepresented philosophers but also for philosophy itself. There are thus signs of changes afoot that could seriously undermine the intransigence of gender inequality in philosophy.

First, then, an overview of said entrenched inequalities: philosophy remains one of the least diverse disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. While great strides have been made, for instance, by English, history and sociology departments in recent decades, philosophy, certainly in the European and North American context under discussion here, includes woefully few women. On average, only about twenty-one per cent of scholars working in philosophy departments are women, and there appear to be serious attrition rates from undergraduate to PhD levels, with women making up just thirty-one per cent of recipients of philosophy PhDs in the US in 2011, and twenty-nine per cent in the UK. Although formal numbers are not recorded in the Irish context, staffing levels at Irish philosophy departments reinforce this picture.

It must be said as well that women working in philosophy are subject to the systemic discrimination women academics more generally face. The recent landmark case won by Micheline Sheehy Skeffington is thus instructive, as it highlights serious flaws and gender inequality in hiring and promotions at at least one Irish university. This is further borne out by figures subsequently released by the Higher Education Authority on foot of a Freedom of Information request detailing a significant gender gap in senior academic posts, as just fourteen to twenty per cent of professorships are held by women in Ireland. Notably, unlike other jurisdictions, Ireland does not have a dedicated body or office in charge of tracking and disseminating statistics and research on gender and other equality concerns in third level education. A Higher Education Equality Unit was closed down in 2003, despite the obvious need for such a unit given recent revelations. And while the adoption of the UK’s Athena Swan model to advance women within the STEM subjects is to be welcomed, there is still a strong case to be made for significant intervention in humanities subjects, such as philosophy, which have lower levels of PhD graduates than most sciences.

Notably, although women in philosophy encounter wider systemic gender inequalities at universities, there appear to be unique aspects to the discipline as such that result in lower levels of women’s representation (when compared to other disciplines), and in lower retention rates from undergraduate to PhD levels. These are informed by questions concerning presence and processes of inclusion, what counts as philosophy, and what makes a philosopher. Many philosophers have pointed to the linkages between an absence of women philosophers and the reinforcement of the legitimacy of their absence. In other words, if women’s work is not included in course syllabi, and does not appear in anthologies, or is not cited by other philosophers, such work will continue to be marginalised and viewed as irrelevant to the philosophical canon. Similarly, women’s exclusion from academic conferences – sadly not an unusual occurrence – sustains the impression that women have nothing of value to add to the discipline. The same is true of women teachers of philosophy, as the low representation of women in philosophy departments feeds into the stereotypical conception of the quintessential philosopher as male. There is a strong sense here, then, that a politics of presence is required to make women visible as philosophers, thereby transforming the discipline into a more hospitable place for women students and academics.

Related to whether women’s work makes it onto syllabi and into philosophical texts is the question of the validity of certain philosophical pursuits. As Warren notes in the quote above, having her work on children and the environment deemed philosophically unworthy is a problem specifically related to women’s place in philosophy. Precisely because it is seen as in some way more “feminine” and not on a par with the “serious” questions of philosophy, is such work dismissed as outwith the remit of philosophy. Most topics in feminist philosophy have met this charge, as themes related more closely to women’s experiences come under fire for being too specific (read: feminine) or ideological (read: politically explicit). Moreover, the exclusion of women and women’s work in philosophy can be traced to the now growing research on implicit bias and assumptions around what makes an accomplished philosopher.

Last month, for instance, Science published a study establishing a direct correlation between numbers of women in a discipline and dominant norms within that discipline concerning success. Specifically, respondents from a discipline prizing innate knowledge or talent above other features or strategies for success within the discipline (such as hard work), experienced higher levels of women’s underrepresentation. Citing philosophy’s strong correlation between underrepresentation and the prizing of genius, the study thus underlines the already informally acknowledged boy wonder syndrome, where assumptions about who is a genius – who possesses innate knowledge or talent – are often gendered, and informed by race and class. Importantly, such assumptions need not be explicitly held by members of the profession, but may be held despite individuals’ contrary formal views. Note, also, Warren’s internalisation of biases concerning knowledge and genius, when she laments her lack of smarts, and attributes her good grades to hard work, rather than to aptitude. Research on implicit bias shows that our socialisation in sexist societies results in biases we may not be aware of, a phenomenon that is amply captured in research on discrimination in hiring processes (where CVs with a woman’s name generally score more poorly, despite being identical or better than a man’s) and student evaluations.

So much for the structural inequalities facing women in philosophy. What, then, of the tentatively optimistic appraisal I’d planned to offer? Although the inequalities detailed above may be stark, there are signs of reappraisal and a growing acceptance of the need for change. Societies for Women in Philosophy now constitute a network of organisations drawing attention to said inequalities, and are introducing measures to redress same. For instance, although the Irish Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP-I) was only established in 2010, it has already held over twenty events, many of which dealt specifically with gender inequality in the profession, or supported women philosophers in others ways (for example by providing opportunity to present work, networking, and mentoring).

Moreover, such activities have been matched by mainstream philosophical bodies, such as the British Philosophical Association (BPA), which, in conjunction with SWIP UK, designed and implemented a Best Practice Scheme for philosophy departments that includes specific regard for the promotion of gender equality. The American Philosophical Association, similarly, is currently inviting submissions to its planned Code of Conduct for Professional Philosophers, and already has a very active Committee on the Status of Women, which includes on-site visits for departments seeking to improve their climates for women philosophers. In Ireland, too, there are now significant opportunities for structural intervention in philosophy, but also in academia more generally. For instance, the BPA/SWIP UK Best Practice Scheme calls on philosophy departments in the UK and Ireland to meet to adopt the scheme, hence, Irish philosophy departments have a ready-made tool-kit for redressing some of the historical disadvantages women in philosophy face. Moreover, the Equality Tribunal’s ruling in favour of Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington sets a precedent for subsequent cases, and seems to have prompted at least nominal concern for gender by the university administration, while galvanising activism by students and staff.

Of course much more remains to be done, including, I think, the setting up of a body dedicated to promoting and tracking equality at third level in Ireland, and interventions aimed specifically at those subjects with poor track-records on gender equality, such as philosophy. However, there is cause to be tentatively optimistic: at least recognition of the problem generally no longer needs to be argued for. Thanks to researchers working on implicit bias, to personal accounts by women philosophers shared on blogs such as What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?, to official reports by societies and representative bodies, and to cases taken by individual academics, we at least now know and can substantially support the conclusion Karen Warren came to some time ago: “that much of what was happening to me was about me as a woman … and that it was caused by overt and covert sexism at both personal and institutional levels.” The task for the present age is to move beyond that conclusion toward substantial amelioration.

Dr Clara Fischer is a Newton International Fellow at LSE and communications officer of SWIP-I.  This article was first published in the Dublin Review of Books on 1st March 2015 - see

It’s a drizzly December afternoon and, after arriving too early for my first SWIP-I Committee meeting, I await the arrival of the other members. Although I have been looking forward to this gathering, when I glance at my watch at 15:51, my chief pre-philosophy event emotion, anxiety, washes over me. One by one, the other recently elected members arrive – all of whom are much more senior than me (excepting my soon-to-be fellow Student Representative). “Everyone that’s meant to be here is here?” Affirmative. Once it is decided which members shall fill each committee role, the next item on the agenda is forthcoming SWIP-I events.

Committee member, Áine Mahon, is taking the lead on arranging two mentoring workshops – one in February, one in June, to provide support, encouragement and direction to female graduate students in philosophy, who are probably (read: definitely) wondering what on earth they will do after they submit their theses. These workshops address an issue most female philosophy graduate students are acutely aware of: if you are a woman hoping for a career in philosophy, the odds are not in your favour. The statistics are there: only 19% of Philosophy Professors in the UK are women for example, and, as Clara Fischer has already mentioned on this blog, there is nothing to suggest that they fare any better on this side of the water. A senior female philosopher once told me: “One has to work hard in academia and a little bit harder too, just for being a girl.” Part of this work inevitably must involve overcoming “stereotype threat”: the (conscious or sub-conscious) awareness of one’s minority status that can predispose one to “fluff it” at crucial career-defining moments (interviews, conferences and the like). We need to get a hold on stereotype threat, or else all the rest of the hard work females do just for being girls might not pay-off. Mentoring workshops, which will nurture the skills and confidence of early-career female researchers, aim to do exactly this.

There is another concern, also related to confidence, that SWIP-I hopes to address: all of those forgotten or half-formed philosophical ideas that self-doubting, potential stereotype threat victims aren’t brave enough to put “out there”. Without proper discussion, it can be hard to discern fertile/original thoughts from those that are derivative. One only has to look at Plato’s Socrates to see that philosophy is not a solo venture – even the best thinkers benefit from dialogue. In recognition of this, SWIP-I are hosting bi-weekly “Work In Progress” sessions in 2015. If any SWIP-I members are working on an idea they suspect might be good, but could do with some feedback, they can get in touch with the committee and arrange to present it in a supportive setting.

There’s more in the pipeline, to be announced in due course but, to conclude this instalment, I recall my pre-meeting angst and realise how silly it was to have felt that way before meeting with a society committed to helping people not to feel this way. So, if I have any wisdom to impart to other SWIP-I members after my first committee meeting, it’s this: don’t be shy, get involved. 2015 looks good for women in philosophy!

Mary Edwards is a student representative on the SWIP-I committee.

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