Friday, May 16, 2014

Gender Balance and the Association for Political Theory (Submitted by Lisa Ellis, Andrew Murphy, and Melissa Schwartzberg)

The Association for Political Theory has, since its inception, focused on the aim of improving the representation of women both at the conference and in leadership positions. A woman and a man have always jointly held the positions both of co-president (previously executive co-directors), and, in recent years, of conference co-chairs; nominations for all leadership positions have aimed at achieving gender balance. So from a leadership perspective, APT has done exceptionally well.  The APT promotes diversity among presenters at its annual conference through concrete steps such as attention to the composition of panels (in terms of gender, in the first instance, but also in terms of method, rank, institution type, discipline, and so forth); see our statement of values.

In recent years the APT leadership has focused especially on achieving gender parity at the conferences. The plenary sessions and other special events have regularly featured women, but paper authors in particular have been disproportionately male. Historically, the problem has resided in unequal rates of submission. In 2011, a particularly unbalanced conference, the Governance Committee spent a great deal of time discussing how APT might increase the number of women who submit proposals. At their annual dinner meeting, each member agreed to encourage 10 women to submit proposals for the following year. Though it’s not clear if that happened or if it tipped the balance, 48% of the presenters at the 2012 conference were women. But APT continues to struggle each year with an imbalance in paper submissions, and APT leadership has long suspected that the main issue is the underrepresentation of women in political theory and especially in philosophy, the other discipline from which APT draws most of its membership. But we haven't had the data to back up that claim.
As APT co-president, inspired by the “Gendered Conference Campaign,” Melissa launched an initiative to offer to help facilitate childcare at the conference.  Neither the GC nor Melissa was confident that it would make a difference – we all agreed that offering childcare was an important symbolic gesture and certainly worth trying, and a survey indicated support for the initiative among APT members. But ultimately no participant chose to take advantage of the offer of assistance. Part of the explanation may be that APT conferences are unusually demanding, since participants are expected to attend panels most sessions, and to share communal meals. Whereas part-time childcare at APSA may help parents who want to attend a few panels, part-time childcare at APT wouldn’t help parents who would want to be fully engaged in the conference. Our informal sense is that participants are increasingly choosing to bring their entire families to the conference, which may bode well for the future. 
Using the same categories Ms. Perestroika applies to this year's WPSA, then, the 2013 APT looks like this.  Of course this kind of measure is quite limited, since we are not taking account of gender balance in submissions or anything else.  We present this chart for comparison, with the main take-home message being that APT's relative success at promoting gender balance means that a sustained commitment can in fact pay off.
Lisa Ellis, APT Co-President
Andrew Murphy, APT Co-President
Melissa Schwartzberg, immediate past president, APT

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