To begin by stating the obvious: philosophy is one of the least diverse humanities fields, and indeed one of the least diverse fields in all of academia, in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. Philosophy has a reputation for not only a lack of diversity but also an often hostile climate for women and minorities. There have been, in recent years, a number of efforts to bring awareness to and address this lack of diversity, including the well-known blogs Feminist Philosophers, What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?, and What We’re Doing About What It’s Like. These efforts have drawn attention to important issues that have often gone unacknowledged, but they alone cannot suffice to transform the discipline of philosophy into the diverse and inclusive field it should be. And of course, these efforts focus on gender, and while efforts to improve the climate for women in philosophy may help the situation for other underrepresented populations, there must be more focus on how to improve the climate specifically for people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and other minority groups.
Increased diversity is needed throughout all levels of philosophy: undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and professional leaders. Increased diversity is needed in publication in philosophy: a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated that philosophy is one of the five fields with the largest gender gaps in publishing, and though publication of women in philosophy is rising, these numbers are increasing at a slower rate than other fields, so philosophy is still losing ground. And more inclusive representation at philosophy conferences is also needed (see the Gendered Conference Campaign).
Now is the time for philosophy to put in the hard work necessary to improve the climate for underrepresented populations and increase the number of women and minority philosophers. There is no one right answer as to how to do so, but there are at least a few key strategies we at the APA see as promising.
Mentoring programs can help people of color, women, and other minorities who are already in philosophy to feel comfortable and supported, to respond to incidents of discrimination and fight bias (including internalized prejudices), and to overcome the often challenging climate with which they are faced. A pilot program for mentoring junior female faculty in philosophy—one that the APA has been proud to support this year and last—is, I hope, just one of many such efforts to come aimed at supporting philosophers from underrepresented communities.
It is also essential that students in philosophy courses see themselves in the discipline—in the instructors and in the authors of the materials taught. Building more inclusive curricula and increasing diversity among teachers of philosophy can go a long way toward helping young minority students continue their study in philosophy.
Improving the climate for women and LGBT people in philosophy also means addressing the very serious problem of sexual harassment. The APA board of officers has recently charged an ad hoc committee on sexual harassment to focus specifically on this issue, and we strongly encourage individual departments to investigate and address sexual harassment as it affects them. One excellent resource for departments will be the APA Committee on the Status of Women’s forthcoming site visit program (loosely modeled on a similar program by the American Physical Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Physics), which will be piloted in 2013.
And perhaps the most powerful tool we have to increase diversity in philosophy is data collection: there are many good ideas about how to make philosophy a more welcoming place for minorities and women, but we have no way of knowing whether our efforts are effective if we cannot measure their impact. And there are minorities about which we have little or no data: the prevalence of LGBT philosophers and disabled philosophers, for example, has rarely been tracked, so it’s very difficult to know how philosophy compares to other fields on inclusiveness in these areas. The APA has already begun collecting data on our members and on philosophy programs (see the just-relaunched Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy) and additional data collection efforts are in the works as well.
We have a long road ahead of us as we work to increase philosophy’s diversity, and we need the full cooperation of philosophy programs and our members to make these efforts as comprehensive as possible, so I hope that you will join with us in these efforts and contribute to their success.