My first post on this blog carries a confession: I think I may be a number-nerd. It's not my specialty, but it must at least be a hobby of mine, because I get jazzed just talking about things like the U.S. Census. (To sample, or not to sample? That's an exciting question!) In philosophy, I am one of those phoning kind people at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (just the name makes me happy), trying to pin down the payroll data on women in philosophy professorships. (A pdf of semi-recent results is posted on the APA's Committee on the Status of Women site, here.)
So it completely threw me when a participant in SWIP's email listserve asked, of efforts to determine our numbers, "What exactly will collecting these figures, these numbers, do? To whom do you need to prove [attrition, etc.]?" I forget that we don't all get warm fuzzies from pursuing numeric answers, I really do. And a response to the question 'Why' ought to be more than just that it makes me happy to do so. What answers might my fellow data collection fans have?
I was ready with a short answer of my own, at least: It's a matter of justice. If we are as underrepresented as it seems, then it is morally incumbent upon philosophers (and the public and private sources that support us) to provide material and monetary support to the underrepresented. But it's hard to show that moral injustices persist in the absence of data.
You know who's great at showing such data? Almost every STEM discipline. Their professional organizations actually conduct polls, collect demographic information, and present it to public and private funding sources with ease. Try a quick Google search on "women travel conference grant," and see what disciplines pop up. They're engineering, math, and health sciences. Indeed, women in such disciplines are underrepresented, as well, but when you can prove it, you can do something quite tangible about it! In the case of women in philosophy, knowledge is power.