More from that Washington Post article about the overlooking of female scholars of the Middle East when events are being organized. I ran out of time before.)
The problem isn’t going to fix itself, even though women are the majority at some graduate schools of international affairs now.
The paucity of women’s voices in public discussion comes not just from thoughtless conveners, but also from long-standing problems in the professional “pipeline” that carries individuals to the top levels of the field. Inequities in hiring and promotion often reflect, and help perpetuate, the unconscious bias of a male-dominated field.
Women are systematically cited less than their male peers, for example. Even when women are active scholars, as they are in international relations and Middle East politics, such lack of professional recognition means they lose visibility. Less visibility means they are less likely to be considered by transition teams vetting government appointees, recruiters for executive jobs, media bookers or organizers trying to put together public programs. But these structural issues should not lead to paralysis. Instead, they underscore that individual and collective efforts to advance women’s inclusion in events and the media must be understood as part of a larger agenda of promoting women’s professional development.
I can hear the denunciations from Sommers and her fans now. There are no structural issues, they claim, only preferences, only biology, only women’s yearning to stay home to cuddle the baby. It’s their story and they’re sticking to it.
First, we can commit to consistently drawing attention to the issue – all of us, whatever our level or role in the policy and academic community. Male scholars who are troubled by the ongoing imbalance in our field can take one concrete step that would have faster and more notable impact than any other: They can join colleagues, like the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder and Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf, in a pledge not to appear on programs that do not include any women, at least not without a clear, satisfying and publicly articulated explanation from the organizers.
And “it’s more of a guy thing” doesn’t qualify as a clear, satisfying and publicly articulated explanation from the organizers.
The more men who make a public pledge to avoid all-male panels, and communicate it in their responses to event invitations, the more organizers will know that diversity at their podiums is asine qua non to get ALL the speakers they desire. As development expert Scott Gilmore noted last year in announcing his own pledge, “if you are invited to join a panel with no women, you must conclude it is being organized by fools. I do not perform for fools.”
Why is it necessary to ask men to take this pledge? Why can’t we all just pledge to do better at inviting women to join our events? Because it’s extremely difficult to surmount the unconscious biases of a field in which men still dominate. Women cannot themselves overcome their colleagues’ longstanding, unnervingly persistent failure to consider them – the gender imbalance within which we all work and the invisibility it creates are mutually reinforcing.
It’s heads we win, tails you lose, you see. Women can’t overcome their colleagues’ longstanding, unnervingly persistent failure to consider them, because they’re not there to do the overcoming. Failure to consider breeds yet more failure to consider.
Already, events and institutions that fail to demonstrate gender inclusivity are earning public censure through Web sites like GenderAvenger.com. Increasingly, those who demonstrate disregard for the goal of events that reflect the real diversity of our field’s leading voices will be seen as embarrassing outliers. The more well-established gender balance becomes as a norm, the more all-male panels will demand an explanation, and an apology.
Well…unless that’s not what happens. Unless what happens instead is that men who are urged to do better pitch giant temper-tantrums and call their critics witch-hunters and inquisitors and McCarthyites – as Michael Shermer called me. The authors make it sound as if it’s a smooth and friendly process, as long as it gets started in the first place. That hasn’t been my experience. My experience has been the opposite – it’s been that men bellow with rage, and then attack. It’s been that powerful men do their best to silence women who talk back to them, by using their power to bluster and threaten them and call them names.
But hey, maybe that’s something special about the skepto-atheist movement. Maybe foreign policy attracts people who do better at acting like adults; that seems quite likely, given the relevance of diplomacy to foreign policy.
Another way we can all help to increase women’s participation in policy discussions and public panels is to highlight women experts, easing the path for busy organizers building media programs or events. Foreign Policy Interrupted, the brainchild of the journalists Lauren Bohn and Elmira Bayrasli, puts out a weekly newsletter of foreign policy writing by women (sign up here or follow them on Twitter @fpinterrupted). Women in International Security, founded by a group of women pioneers in national security in 1987, boasts a network of some 7,000 members and a robust Washington chapter including luminaries like Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. After Foreign Policy’s 2012 Twitterati list was trashed for ignoring women, Twitter users crowdsourced a list of women Twitterati on a wide array of foreign policy topics (100 “FPwomerati;” a larger list is available on request). Tamara Cofman Wittes is building a searchable database of female foreign policy experts that will be publicly available, so that “I couldn’t think of any women to invite” becomes a practical impossibility.
Keep on working away.