The good people at Feminist Philosophers have lately been keeping track of "men's conferences"--philosophy conferences that happen to feature an all-male line up of featured speakers. This public shaming, in combination with email to conference organizers, is intended to increase female representation at these events. All of which gets me thinking...
The pool of possible speakers for conferences varies by topic. An ethics conference without any women would be disgraceful, because there are plenty of women to choose from. One of the all-male conferences recently shamed at FP is called "The New Ontology of the Mental Causation Debate." The pool of possible speakers consists of philosophers who work in philosophy of mind, on mental causation, with a focus on ontology. And there might be some geographical requirements as well, depending on the way the event is being funded. It's not so obvious there are lots of women to choose from.
If there aren't, it may be just a tiny, tiny, tiny bit the fault of people like me. Which means--people who used to work in that area, but switched to an area of philosophy that already had good female representation. I see this all the time. Women start in fields that are more abstract, technical, and male-dominated, and later move into fields with more "human" content, and more women.
That's the pattern when women stop concentrating entirely on...whatever they were doing, and start doing feminist philosophy. Or they get out of metaphysics and into ethics. I see this also in other academic fields. A relative of mine started out in a male-dominated hard science, and later moved into female-dominated science-ed. Every time a woman makes this sort of move, somewhere down the line someone's going to have a harder time putting together a conference with gender parity.
Why don't women choose to be "where the boys are"? That's ultimately what really needs to be asked, not (for the most part) why specific conferences today feature a lot of men. Does it have anything to do with inhospitability to women in the more abstract areas of research? In the cases I know best (my own and my relative's), I think not. But that's two people. I'd love to know more about the thought and emotion behind these shifts.