Cross-posted from Bessie O'Dell - Blog.

 

Executive Summary

  • Effective Altruism is a movement centred around facilitating people doing the most amount of good.
  • A number of organisations and groups are dedicated to offering careers advice guided by EA principles. This includes 80,000 Hours and Giving What We Can.
  • Women* are often not explicitly considered when EA-focused organisations provide life & careers advice. The default for earning potential (and contributing work hours) appears centred on male life.
  • Women are also ignored in research-focused & philosophical discussions, including on the EA Forum.
  • The EA community lacks diversity generally, including female representation. There are however, women (and non-binary people) in the EA community doing important work.
  • Reliable evidence shows that women and men differ in their career progression and earning potential, particularly when parenthood is factored in.
  • More work needs to be done to shift the focus of EA away from a male default.

 

Does EA Cater to Women?

 

This post looks to explore the following 3 questions:

 

a) Does EA cater to women, as both a research field and a practical community?

b) If not, what (if any) female-specific considerations ought to be taken into

account by EA?

c) What (if any) practical steps can be taken to ensure that EA is more inclusive

of women, and considerate of women's lives?

 

In seeking to answer these questions, this article does the following:

  1. Sets out what EA is.
  2. Assesses the demographics of EAs (members of the EA community) using available data and examines whether current EA career guidance accounts for women.
  3. Outlines my personal experiences of EA.
  4. Looks at taking women into account - particularly the impact of having children upon their earning potential. This includes an applied analysis of the Giving What We Can Pledge.
  5. Issues preliminary recommendations for how the EA community can cater to women.

 

How much of the article should you read?

 

I would recommend reading the entire post in order to gain a big-picture understanding. However, each section can be read in stand-alone form. If you are pressed for time, I would particularly urge you to peruse (the more data-heavy, but digestible) section 4. Key takeaway messages are highlighted in bold.
 

A quick note to acknowledge my own potential bias. I have aimed to answer the above 3 questions as objectively as possible (and for that reason, this article will largely come across as an academic-style paper). However, it is important to note that I do identify as a woman, and (aside from my gender, and as I will discuss) I also fit the current demographic profile of most EAs.

 

1. Effective Altruism in a Nutshell

For the uninitiated, effective altruism (or EA) is both a research field and practical community that aims to find the best ways to help others, and put them into practice. In short, it aims to help people to do the most good possible during their lifetime. There is no central EA organisation (hence, 'community'), but there are a number of stand-out groups, centres and organisations dedicated to EA work. This includes the Global Priorities Institute (GPI) based at the University of Oxford, the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), also based at the University of Oxford (and housemates with the GPI and the closely affiliated Future of Humanity Institute in Trajan House), 80,000 hours (dedicated to careers advice), Giving What We Can, GiveWell, and Open Philanthropy. You can read more about EA here.

2. EA Guidance & Women in EA

2. 1. Female Representation

There have been a couple of past critiques (or in the least, recognitions) of the lack of female representation in the EA community. Consider for example, Julia Wise's 2012 post 'Where are the Women?, ' in which she questions why, when women are more likely to donate than men, that 'the smart giving/effective philanthropy/whatever-you-want-to-call-it movement [is] so skewed male?' She also provides some personal experience, highlighting how 'at any kind of discussion on efficient giving, [she is] usually either the only woman or one of two women there'.

One of Wise's theories is that a lot of the EA movement has come out of university philosophy departments, and these are historically male-dominated. For example, in the US only one third of PhD students are female. This is verifiable too, and seems to have held true for the 10 years since Wise wrote her article, and for comparable countries. For example, I found a 2021 report from Helen Beebee & Jennifer Saul of the British Philosophical Association and the Society for Women in Philosophy UK. This in itself was a follow-up report from the BPA/SWIP report in 2011 - which was the first ever report on women in philosophy in the UK. In their latter report, Beebee & Saul gathered data by means of a questionnaire distributed to 41 heads of department at UK universities. This covered 4,369 students, 531 casual and temporary teaching staff and 564 permanent staff (p.7). They concluded that:

'Women continue to enrol on philosophy courses in numbers very close to men (48%, up from 44% in 2011), but they continue to leave the field starting at MA level and then yet more at PhD level' (p.7).

'There is a drop of 15 percentage points (from 48% to 33%) in the representation of women between undergraduate and PhD study in the UK— with an 8-percentage-point drop from undergraduate to Masters—it is clear that there remains a great deal of potential for useful research to be done on the early stages of the ‘leaky pipeline’ in philosophy' (p.13).

 

In fact, the percentage of female UK PhD students completing (versus starting) their programme in 2021 is slightly lower still - at 32% (see Figure 1 and Figure 2, below):

Figure 1. The percentage difference in enrolment of UK PhD in Philosophy students in 2021 (men v women) compared to 2011.

Figure 2. The percentage difference in completion of UK PhD in Philosophy students in 2021 (men v women) compared to 2011.


However, philosophy is actually no longer the primary degree background of EA community members. In 2019, Effective Altruism (EA) conducted a survey to provide an annual snapshot of the EA community (or as they refer to them, 'EAs'), collecting 2,513 valid responses from 2,987 people in total. They found that of the 1,916 respondents who provided what subject they studied, philosophy just about made the top 5 (at 13.4% of respondents). In fact, philosophy was pipped to the top posts by computer science (24.4%), math (17.5%), economics (16.4%), and social science (14.2%). I'll refrain from producing a detailed gender breakdown for each of these subjects in this post, but needless to say that the first 3 at least (and STEM in general) are pretty renowned for being skewed towards male representation.


This percentage difference (70/30 split) between men and women undertaking philosophy degrees in the USA and UK is also eerily similar to the split between men and women who identify as being involved in the EA community - if anything, it is actually comparatively diverse in terms of gender representation. For example, only about a quarter of the members of Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours are women. Further, in their survey, EA found that 'EAs [...] continue to be most often male, white, agnostic/atheist, left-leaning, well-educated, and between the ages of 25-34'. Strikingly, 'as in previous surveys, a clear majority of people who took the survey reported being male (70.9%) , while around a quarter (26.9%) of respondents reported that they were female, and 2.2.% selected 'other' (see Figure 3, below).

 

This male/ female ratio is reflected in other areas of the EA community too. For example, the Centre for Effective Altruism reported that in their most recent event at the time (EAGxVirtual 2020), registrants (n = 1,858) identified as 62.2% male, 32.8% female, and 4.9% other gender identities.


That is not to say that there are very few women working in or affiliated with EA. For example, CEA notes that from 2017-2020, their staff gender balance has been roughly equal between women and men. It is also not to say that strong female EA role models - there are people like Habiba Islam who provides career talks and who works as an advisor for 80,000 Hours, and Hilary Greaves, who works on EA research at the University of Oxford & Global Priorities Institute. However, most role models are male. Consider for example that most of the key books written on effective altruism (and in fact, on its sister-topic longtermism - but we won't go into that here), were written by men: Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better, Peter Singer's The Most Good You Can Do, Benjamin Todd's 80,000 Hours.


Even female EAs do not appear to acknowledge (or try to address) that women are so under-represented in the field. In fact, it is that which inspired me to put this blog post together - because I had begun to question whether it was just me who was missing something. My internal monologue went something like this: I'm noticing that the events I go to are mainly attended by (white) men. The EA/ longtermism books I'm reading are also all written by (white) men. The EA organisations that I follow or am involved in are all run by (white) men. But I do a fair amount of research, and I speak to a lot of people. Surely if a lack of female representation exists, then I would have heard about it? And surely if it exists, then people would be pushing for something to be done about it, and I would hear about that too? Because I've heard about neither, it can't be a problem. As it turns out, this appears to be flawed logic on my part.

 

Figure 3. Distribution of gender (male/ female/ other) in the EA community, based on a self-reported survey.

 

So in all, we have evidence to show that female representation in the EA community is not anywhere near as strong as male representation.

 

2.2. EA Guidance for Women


Next, we turn advice provided by the EA community that it either tailored towards, or which specifically considers women (either alongside men, or separately) - I more deeply discuss why this is important in Section 4, below.


In her 2012 article, Julia Wise reaches a similar conclusion to my own regarding careers advice in the EA community and its relation to women. She explains that:

 

'Lately, there’s also an increased emphasis in this movement on careers and choosing a career that will let you do the most good (usually through high pay). I think boys get the message early on that they should optimize for high pay because this is what will impress other men, attract mates, and support their families. As a girl, I never got the message that I needed money to do these things. The emphasis was more on personality, beauty, and accommodating other people. Unfortunately, these things are not especially helpful to me now in reducing child mortality.'


Actually, it seems like not much has changed in the past 10 years. Certainly, there is no consideration that women likely receive different messaging regarding their career choices than men do - and from a young age. What does exist in terms of careers advice, then? The most readily available (and actionable) resources come from 80,000 Hours, including an 8-week course, podcasts, a career plan template and advice summaries. Their advice comes from 'what has seemed helpful in [their] experience advising over 1,000 people one-on-one.' That is impressive, however despite this breadth of experience and access to information, there appears to be little- to-no female-specific career or EA decision-making advice. Similarly, Holden Karnofsky's detailed (32 minute read) post on the EA Forum regarding his impressions on career choice for longtermists does not once mention women. Likewise, CEA's 35-page (!) Introduction to Effective Altruism Program Syllabus contains no mention of women.


The same holds true for more research-based/ philosophical discussions in EA. Frustratingly, EA Forum posts always (and I do mean always - I'm yet to be disproved) talk of 'effective altruists' as if they are all the same. That includes a post on 'should effective altruists have children?' by Jeffray Behr, which yet again fails to mention women (we do know where children come from, right?). Instead, it chooses to discuss the moral impacts of having/ not having children for parents/ non-parents generally, without pausing to consider that different genders do not bear the financial, physical and mental undertakings of childbearing in the same way (despite trying to remain impartial, I can't help but feel a little insulted by this). I discuss in the next few sections why these types of oversight are an issue.

 

3. Personal Experience


3.1 Demographics and involvement in the EA community


I think it is important to explicitly outline my personal experience of EA both 1. as a research field and, 2. as a practical community. Firstly, I don't feel excluded from the EA community or research field. Quite the opposite - I've always been made to feel very welcome, to participate in events, share my ideas, and to spearhead discussions. But then again, I fit into most of EAs other demographic leanings. Consider for example, the race/ ethnicity distribution of EA community members: 86.9% White (Figure 4, below). So, I'm in the (disappointingly) huge majority there. Then, theres the question of where EAs went to university. The top 3 universities attended by EAs at the time of the 2019 survey were: 1. the University of Oxford (4.5%), 2. the University of Cambridge (3.15%), and 3. Yale University (1.8%) (see Figure 5, below). I went to... all of those. So, it really doesn't feel like I have much of a claim to being unrepresented, even as a woman.
 

Figure 4. Race/ ethnicity distribution of EAs, taken from a 2019 EA self-reported survey.

 

Figure 5. Most attended universities by EAs, taken from a 2019 EA self-reported survey.


 

3.2. Searching for female-specific EA advice

 

However, in searching for careers advice (and attending EA careers talks), I've been struck by the lack of female-specific advice. I've spent most of my 20's in education, building (what I hope to be) a solid foundation to choose a successful and/ or lucrative career (whatever that looks like to me). However, if I were to follow most of the published EA advice on choosing a career path, it wouldn't be well-aligned with my being in my early 30's.


What if I wanted to spend the next few years having children, before I'm no longer physiologically able to? How could I find out what effect this would have on my earning potential, and by extension how effective my altruism would be? What if I wanted to consider how choosing the number of children to have would impact my ability to do the most good possible during my lifetime? What if I had wanted to be strategic even earlier in my career, and consider when I would be best placed to have children in order to avoid the biggest hit to my earning potential (damage limitation, if you will). What if I didn't want children, but I wanted to consider how different/difficult it might be for me to pursue some high-impact careers versus other career choices? The answer is, that I couldn't really. Or at least, I'd need to take it upon myself to a) recognise that EA career projections are based on men by default, and b) undertake research and produce my own rough calculations (and I'm not really the *best* at math).

 


What is even more startling to me is that EA caters mostly to 20-40ish year olds (as we have seen, a majority of EA members are between the ages of 25-34), both implicitly and explicitly as a target audience, across a number of groups and organisations. I fall firmly in that age range at 31. So, I can't help but feel that the advice being provided is catered to men - because it certainly doesn't feel catered to me.


The sense I get is not that women are being purposely excluded, but that (as seems to be the case so often in life), male is taken to be the default position. The fact that women might have different life trajectories, or that they have different needs (e.g., that careers advice might look a little different for them) just doesn't seem to have been considered at all.

 

3.3. (Non)quantification and (non)personalisation


That is not to say that this information (or these calculations) exist for men or non-binary people either - it is not the case that people who do not identify as female are able to calculate the impact of decisions such as having or not having children.


As a matter of fact, 80,000 Hours urges caution in using a formula to find the perfect job, for example. They also state that most of [their] work at 80,000 Hours is not about making explicit or quantitative estimates of the impact of different careers, but rather finding good proxies for expected value. However, they also go on to say that in practice, we don't - and can't - know for sure what the effects of our actions will be. Rather, the best we can do is to consider all of the good and bad things that could result from an action, and weight them by how likely we think they are to actually happen. That is fair enough. However, it is hard to consider the result of an action/ actions and to weight them, when you don't have sufficient information available in order to do so. Or rather, the information that you do have available is not tailored towards your needs or publicised through the EA community. By contrast to EA, there is evidence-based information readily available in peer-reviewed publications, which, for example, demonstrate estimates of the effects of motherhood on female career path. In one well-cited paper (717 citations on Google Scholar), Miller (2011) found that motherhood delay leads to a substantial increase in earnings of 9% per year of delay, an increase in wages of 3%, and an increase in work hours of 6%, for example. This leads me to question why such information is not 1. considered by the EA community - both from a practical and a research perspective, and 2. actually used to tailor advice and guidance to women.


Is any of this surprising? No, not really, considering both that ~70.9% of EAs are male, and that cultural bias such as 'masculine defaults' exist. Does the male default/ lack of female representation and consideration in EA need to be addressed, though? Yes.


As I will now go on to discuss, the impact of decisions such as having or not having children (and if you are so inclined to consider them, related decisions around altruistic behaviour) are very female-specific concerns. That is because (as we will see from the data below), these decisions disproportionately affect women.

 

4. Taking Women into Account

 

4.1.Do women work more or less during their lifetime than men?

 

To highlight exactly how 'women are not small men', I am going to start with (and test) one of the EA community's most basic assumptions: You have 80,000 hours in your career: 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, for 40 years. It is not clear to me exactly where this figure it taken from, but it is broadly in line with other estimates of how much time spend on their careers across a lifetime (although some estimates range to 90,000+ hours). Therefore, I don't actually know what 80,000 Hours (the organisation) are basing this average off. It could well be an average of both men and women combined (if someone can enlighten me on this, then please do).


So all I can really do to test this assumption is assess whether (broadly speaking) women and men work the same amount during their lifetime. That is because, if it holds true that women and men do work the same (or very similar) amounts across their lifetime, then it would be fair to assume that the 80,000 hours average would apply equally to both genders (and by extension, people who don't identify as either gender). Therefore, I had a look at these figures provided by Statistica. I focused on the UK, due to my own familiarity with the country, and in order to expand on this example a little later (e.g., I felt that I needed to have a firm understanding of the law of England and Wales for detailed analysis of my questions, and you'll come to see why):
 

Figure 6. Overall weekly hours worked for all employees in the United Kingdom from March 1971 to July 2022, by gender.

 

The latest figures from Statistica show that in July 2022, the overall number of hours worked by males was 606.3 million, and 434.8 million for females. As you can see from Figure 6, the trends followed by male and female workers is broadly similar - i.e., when accounting for all employees in the United Kingdom, men work on average (substantially) more weekly hours than women. The main difference is that since 1971, weekly average in working hours for all women across the UK has mostly increased (apart from in 2020 - thank you, COVID-19), whereas for men it has fluctuated between increasing and decreasing.

 

The above statistics do not appear to account for people who do not participate in the labour-force at all (I'm basing that off the use of the word 'employees', but there is no detailed information around how the statistics were arrived at), and we know that women tend to be more likely to be homemakers across many countries. I also found it difficult to locate data which shows how much time women individually spend working across their lifetime (again, if someone knows of such data, then please send it my way).

 

4.2. Is career progression the same for men and women, and does EA account for any disparities?

 

The above statistics tell us that there is some disparity in the combined number of hours that women spend in employment across their lifetime, although it doesn't present a picture of individual working women. It also doesn't tell us anything about the financial impact that lifestyle factors have upon women's earning potential. Arguably, organisations such as 80,000 hours treat people's career trajectories roughly the same - that is, there is an assumption that there are certain steps and stages that you can take in order to progress your career (and ideally, a career that is both fulfilling and altruistic). Or at least, if they don't consider people's career trajectories to be the same (and in this instance, I'm referring to people of different genders) then they've not publicised that fact. Consider for example, this framework that they provide under the category of '3 career stages':

 

Using this framework as an example, it is easy to see that women* can often be overlooked. Herein, I am going to consider one of the biggest lifestyle factors that can be chosen by a woman (and people with a uterus) - and that is, having children**. It is all well and good to advise that people aged 25-35 invest in building career capital, but this is the exact age range where women, on average, choose to have children.

 

Again using the UK as an example, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the standardised mean age of a mother in the UK in 2019-20 was 30.7 years of age. By contrast, the average age of fathers in the UK during these dates was 33.6 - at the very upper end of 80,000 hours' 'invest' period. In theory, this allows men (on average) a maximal investment period in building their career capital before moving on to 'deploy' their strengths and implement their EA strategy. A further implication of this might be that women are not only delayed in their investment period in comparison to men, but that they are delayed in their own personal career trajectories. That is, it would likely take them longer to reach the 'deploy' stage, if they are to focus on building sufficient career capital. Further, once/ if they do get there (presumably later than at the suggested 36 years), they are likely to have substantially more barriers to deploying their strengths than men do. These barriers can be both societal, personal and financial - and I will discuss these below.

 

4.3. What is the short-term impact of having children upon women's earning potential?

 

First, some facts and figures, again based on the UK:

According to the ONS - Births in England and Waleso, the total fertility rate (TFR) for England was 1.62 children per woman in 2021. This was an increase of 1.9% from 1.59 in 2020. Wales had a lower TFR, with 1.49 children per woman in 2021, the first annual increase in TFR in three years.

Currently the Statutory Maternity Leave for women in England and Wales is 52 weeks. Further, by law employees must take at least 2 weeks after the birth (or 4 weeks if they’re a factory worker).

If a woman were to take the full Statutory Maternity Leave available to them, then that would equate to 2,080 hours per child (number of weeks x number of hours a week, or 52 x 40).

Obviously, a woman would not have half of a child, but if we were to calculate an average, then at 1.62 children per woman, the number of hours spent on Statutory Maternity Leave per woman during a lifetime would be 3,369.6 hours. This equates to 3,369.6 hours where the woman is not actively participating in the labour market.

Ok, so women who choose to have children (and I recognise that that is far from being every woman) actively work on average 3,369.6 hours less than men across their lifetime. Does this make any financial difference to them?

The answer is that it depends on the employer, but on the short-term (i.e. directly following a birth), it is relatively minimal*** - in the UK at least. That's due to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). Under the law of England and Wales, SMP for eligible employees can be paid for up to 39 weeks, usually as follows:

  • The first 6 weeks: 90% of their average weekly earnings (AWE) before tax.
  • The remaining 33 weeks: £156.66 or 90% of their AWE (whichever is lower).

Often, companies will choose to issue a higher rate of maternity pay - up to 100% of the person's salary.

For the sake of comparison, let's look at the same figures for men.

When men take time off because their partner is having a baby, adopting a child or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement they might be eligible for:

  • 1 or 2 weeks’ paid Paternity Leave
  • Paternity Pay
  • Shared Parental Leave and Pay

The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay is £156.66, or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

 

Clearly, this is not equal, and it is not without criticism. For example, a 2018 briefing from the UK Women's Budget Group on the state of maternity, paternity and parental leave in the UK argued that the UK's current approach (like many other nations) is out-of-date model that does not encourage sharing of care between parents. They found that the low rate of replacement pay for paternity leave interacts with the gender pay gap, providing significant barriers to fathers using more leave. Further, ‘default policy option’ models that provide both partners with an equal share of leave, some of which is transferable, have been shown to be more effective at promoting more gender equal caring. And that is just the shorter-term picture. What this model also does, is encourage time away from the workplace for women - something which ought to be accounted for when considering women's longer-term career progression. That is what we are going to consider next.

 

4.4. What is the impact of having children upon women's career progression and earning potential?


That childbearing and parenthood has a substantial impact on women's career progression and earning potential is well documented. It is also a disproportionately large impact, when compared to the impact of parenthood on men. In terms of career progression, researchers have found for example that even after many years of equal opportunities legislation, motherhood still limits women's career progress - even in a feminised occupation such as nursing. This is also (and especially) the case for a number of high-impact/ high-salary careers, which EA characteristically emphasises. Take for example, that women are far less likely than men to work as law firm partners, even if they have strong aspirations to do so. The weight of this male/ female disparity is large, even before considering further important factors, such as racial variation in the effect of motherhood on women's employment. As we have already seen, temporality is also an important consideration - with motherhood delay leading to a substantial increase in earnings.


Giving What We Can (or Can't): An EA Example

 

In one study examining women's career aspirations and perceptions of their opportunities for promotion among a large sample of lawyers (N = 384) Walsh (2012) found that the 'nature of a law firm's work–family/life culture, as well as the availability of flexible working, that exerted the most important influences on female lawyers' perceptions of their ability to progress in their careers'. In fact, researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research have estimated that 'having a child costs the average high skilled woman $230,000 in lost lifetime wages relative to similar women who never gave birth'. By comparison, low skilled women experience a lifetime wage loss of only $49,000'.

 

Let us consider then, applying EAs Giving What We Can Pledge, in which EAs undertake a public pledge to give a meaningful portion of their income to effective charities. Under their 'most popular' pledge, members commit at least 10% of their lifetime income to effective charities (although members can also take a Trial Pledge for at least 1% of income for any period they choose). Let's assume that an average high skilled woman (and there's quite a few of them) committed to a pledge of donating at least 10% of their lifetime income to effective charities, and they also chose to have a child/children. It would seem that they would donate $23,000 less to effective charities across their lifetime when compared to a high skilled woman choosing not to be a child-bearer (10% of £230,000 lost lifetime wages). What impact (or lack of impact) might this have on the world? Well, we can use Giving What We Can's own 'How Rich am I?' calculator to find out:
 

Figure 6. Giving What We Can's estimate of the impact of giving £23,000 to high-impact charities.

 

It would appear that £23,000 would be the equivalent to saving around 6.8 healthy lives. It could fund the distribution of 4,646 insecticide-treated bednets, and more than 24,211 treatments for schistosomiasis. Saving 6.8 healthy lives. That is very substantial.

 

In evaluating this, it of course feels deeply uncomfortable suggesting that women contribute less to solving the world's problems. It is also disagreeable to consider that women choosing to have children (and donate a percentage of their lifetime income to charity) could be saving 6.8 fewer lives across their own lifetime, when compared to women with the same income who choose not to have children (and who also donate a a percentage of their lifetime income to charity). Perhaps that is why EAs have shied away from considering any level of detailed philosophical and/ or economic analysis to date - because it leads down a darkened, morally uncertain alleyway. However, I would argue that if we don't acknowledge disparities, then we can't address them or make informed decisions.


Career progression and earning potential


Sandra Florian, a post-doctoral fellow in Penn’s Department of Sociology and Population Studies Center, studies how motherhood affects a woman’s role in the workforce. She explains why it is that motherhood can impact women's careers:

 

'For women, having children decreases their labor-market attachment because women are usually expected to be primary-care providers. Mothers experience reduced employment and spend less time at work. They’re also seen as having competing devotions. Employers want an employee who is fully committed to her work; once they know a woman has had a child, they might assume that she will prioritize her child over her work, even if she puts forth as much or more effort than a male colleague.'


Further, motherhood can lead to a substantial impact on women's earning potential:

'When women have children, it results in what sociologists call a ‘motherhood penalty.’ Having children reduces a woman’s wages by 5 to 10 percent on average compared to women without children. And that’s 5 to 10 percent per child. This penalty is in great part a result of less time spent in the labor market. Having children reduces women’s work hours and work experience. This is really problematic because employers often use work experience to gauge potential productivity.'


In terms of temporality, the following has been observed (and which helps to explain why 'motherhood delay' is correlated with an increase in earnings):

'The highest penalties that scholars found in terms of wages, occupational status, and labor-force participation all surround the first few years after a birth. Over time, women return to the labor market, but some measures such as cumulative years of experience are still affected as women approach retirement age. It turns out that breaks in employment due to childrearing result in a permanent loss in full-time work experience, having long-term consequences.'

 

5. How should EA Cater to Women?

A brief summary

 

In the above sections (particularly section 4), I sought to answer the following questions:

 

a) Does EA cater to women, as both a research field and a practical community? and

b) If not, what (if any) female-specific considerations ought to be taken into account by EA?


Based on the available evidence, it would appear that EA as both a research field and as a practical community does not sufficiently account for, or cater to, women. Rather, it appears that EA research and practical advice is largely based on male-as-default. There is therefore a need for female-specific considerations ought to be taken into account by EA. In the preceding paragraphs I have chosen to focus on one of the biggest lifestyle factors that can be chosen by a woman - and that is, having children. However, that is a) of course, not applicable to all women, or b) by any means the only factor that ought to be taken into account.


I will now to turn to answer the following question:

c) What (if any) practical steps can be taken to ensure that EA is more inclusive of women's lives?


Of this entire article (with the exception of section 3 on my personal experience), this is the most subjective section. And that is because 1. there is very little/ no evidence to guide the best course of action in this area, and because 2. what follows are therefore my own personal recommendations. I suggest that the following steps should be followed to begin to ensure that EA is more inclusive of women.


Recommendations

 

1. Acknowledgement & Recognition


The first step is for members of both the EA research community and the practical EA community to recognise the following:

That a male default position is overwhelmingly (albeit implicitly) used by EAs - from individuals posting on the EA Forum, through to companies and organisations conducting research and offering advice.

That the differences in societal treatment of, and opportunities available to, men and women (and even better, other groups too) ought to be taken into account. This should be done whilst always striving for equality, and

that it is important to recognise both of those things.

 

2. Seek advice from women, and tailor it to them


EAs should go out of their way to cater to women, as well as other diverse groups - including seeking their advice. And I don't mean just on broad EA-related discussions (e.g., 'is it moral to pursue a career in finance?' or 'should we care about the longterm future?' or 'do you think aliens exist?'), but conversations about whether outputs from the EA community sufficiently consider women. Possible topics of conversation might include for example, 'do you feel that this careers advice is applicable to you, or do we need to adapt it?, or '(how) do you think we ought to account for women's perspectives when considering the morality of choosing to have children vs not having children, from an EA perspective?'

 

3. Spend money on it


There are some great and very well-funded initiatives currently stemming from (and financed by) the EA community - such as EA Funds. This is especially the case for research and activities which focus on the long term future, where backing is available from the Long-Term Future Fund for both individuals and groups. Consider for example, that the Future Fund is currently offering prizes of up to $1.5 million for work that informs the Future Fund’s fundamental assumptions about the future of AI.

In order to encourage EA to be more inclusive of women, funding should be directed towards both research and practical efforts for equality - whether that be offering prizes to EAs for the best (male or female) blog posts discussing how to include more women in EA, or by funding more women (or tangentially, female PhD students) to be involved in the EA community.

6. Notes and Caveats


Caveats


In a sort of tangential version of the Fermi Paradox, concerned only with the existence of female-specific EA content: firstly, I would like to acknowledge that there may be resources out there for women which I have not come across yet. There is a likelihood that some exists (although I can't quantify that likelihood). However, I feel that I have been thorough in my research. Therefore, even if such content were to exist - I would argue that it would need to be better publicised. At the very least, such information should be readily available when searched for (as I have done). Optimally, such information should be obvious, and well-advertised.

I think it is also important to acknowledge the UK/ USA-centric account I have provided here. As an explanation, I approached it from a perspective that I am most familiar with, and comfortable discussing (as a UK citizen). However, I would wholeheartedly suggest that further analyses should be carried out from other national perspectives.

Notes

 

* I have used the term 'woman' throughout this article, to reflect the wording used by primary sources. I acknowledge that more inclusive language (e.g., to include people with a uterus) ought to be used, especially in relation to parenthood. I have sought to do that here, reverting to 'woman' only for the sake of brevity.

** 'I am going to consider one of the biggest lifestyle factors that can be chosen by a woman - and that is, having children': I recognise that this will not be a factor for many women, and I absolutely do not wish to reduce discussions relating to women down to decisions around childbearing. However, I did want to use it as an illustrative example, as it demonstrates exactly how stark the contrast between men and women's career progression and earning potential can be (and how well evidenced it is).

*** 'relatively minimal': this is to say, relatively minimal in comparison to long-term salary loss following childbearing. I recognise that this subjective, and depends upon (1) what percentage of their salary the individual is receiving (from 90% to 100%), and (2) what any percentage less than 100% means to that individual (either quantitatively, or in relation to their personal circumstances).


Feedback

I hope that this article will be the starting point for many future discussions. I welcome feedback, as well as your own thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly.


About Me

 

 

I am currently a DPhil student in Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. If so inclined, you can read a little more about me here, here and here. In summary though, I am relatively new to the (also relatively new) fields of EA and longtermism - having taken an interest in them a year or so ago following a summer fellowship in legal longtermism. I am now slowly working my way through the corpus of existing literature, and figuring out where is best to direct my attention & efforts going forwards.

27

New Comment
21 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:23 PM

(writing personally here, not for any organization)

Some good questions raised here!

I know that EA organizations have thought about this, for example when Giving What We Can was working on the dashboard that would show projected lifetime earnings and donations. I think it’s really hard to provide a broad overview of differences that doesn’t sound insulting or over-generalizing.

So much of the wage gap by gender reflects time away from work after having children, and individuals have significant choice over that. For example, I took a lot more leave (from a non-EA job I disliked) with my first child than I did with my second two from my EA job. In the US it’s common to take more like 10 weeks of leave, so the post’s use of a year of maternity leave as the default is pretty different from my experience.

(But I recognize that a lot of choices about how much time to take depends on income, childcare options, the children’s needs, and how flexible the parents’ work is. I don’t want to frame it all as completely up to personal preference. For example, my partner and I found ourselves unexpectedly without childcare when our eight-month-old refused to eat at daycare.)

On the informal side, there are groups for women and nonbinary people in EA and parents (and people considering parenting) in EA. 

Some non-EA resources that I’ve found at least somewhat helpful:

I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam - based on working mothers’ time logs, showing how they actually use their time. Both the book and her podcast are definitely aimed at high earners / high spenders, which I found frustrating at times. But they’re useful for taking your time seriously. I often find time management advice by non-parents irrelevant, but Vanderkam is a parent of five.

ParentData blog and books by Emily Oster - less about career, but an economist-y take on a bunch of parenting questions.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids - maybe will help you worry less about things you can’t change, but I find there’s still plenty to worry about.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is in this genre, but honestly I don’t remember any takeaways.

And some pieces by EAs about parenting:

Parenting: things I wish I could tell my past self, Michelle Hutchinson

How to be productive before your baby turns one, Ruth Grace

My experience returning to work after having a baby, Rose Hadshar

Equal parenting advice for dads, Jeff Kaufman (plus lots of his other parenting posts)

Parenting and effective altruism, Bernadette Young

How much will pregnancy affect your health and work? me

What startup founders should think about before having kids me

How much do kids cost? The first 5 years me

More posts by EAs
 

Thanks for sharing, Julia_Wise.  I can definitely imagine how hard it is to for provide a broad overview of differences that doesn’t sound insulting or over-generalizing, and its good to know that EA organizations have thought about this. It's really helpful to think about the non-EA resources too - I'll take a look!

Thanks for writing this post! I think promoting diversity in EA is incredibly important and I appreciate your contribution to it.

However, I get a feeling here that you've started with an underlying assumption that "EA should cater to women", which I don't see the argument for. Certainly, if there's a stark lack of women throughout EA, I'd feel that there's a problem that needs to be specifically addressed - but I don't think this is the case. 

You present information about the academic fields that correlate with participation in EA, and note that there's a gender disparity that matches the one we seem to observe in EA. To me, this seems like evidence that there isn't a problem within EA, but a result of broader, more complicated dynamics elsewhere. On the other hand, the other demographic data you present on other minorities seems like a more significant issue.

For instance, the rest of the 80k article you cite is clear about the fact that the framework isn't applicable to everyone, and I think the choice of whether to have children is just one of many possible reasons the framework might not strictly apply to a person. And while demographic data shows that the work of having children affects women disproportionately, non-women who intend to parent would also need to consider the same unanswered questions.

Because of these dynamics, I don't think that the claim you've made here, that more resources should be directed in a way that addresses the gender disparity, is substantiated. 

I'm curious to hear from where you've gotten the sense that the EA community uses a 'male-default position' - I've never felt this.

(As a side note, if you haven't heard of them, there's magnifymentoring - previously WANBAM)

Hi smallsilo

Thank you for your feedback, it is appreciated. 

It is fair to say that a key assumption of the article is EA should cater to everyone, and therefore it should also cater to women. 

My central argument is not that there is stark lack of women throughout EA (conversely, I recognise for example that CEA notes that from 2017-2020, their staff gender balance has been roughly equal between women and men). However, there do appear to be a stark lack of women at the front and centre of EA who e.g., write key books. It is also clear that EAs are still disproportionately male. 

The main point that I'm hoping to convey is that there are women in EA, but that they are not necessarily being catered for. That is to say, that in theory you could have an EA community comprised 100% of women, but if the content is not cognisant of their needs (i.e., advice is not tailored to them, or research does not consider them, when it ought to), then that in itself is not a good thing. If you do not agree with the assumption that women (and other groups) have specific needs/ considerations, then perhaps that is where our values & assumptions differ. 

I agree that the 80k framework isn't suitable for everyone, but in which case I argue that this should be made explicit.  I also agree that some of the issues presented are partially the result of broader, more complicated dynamics elsewhere - but I don't think that is an excuse not to consider or address them. Finally, I fully concur that the demographic data I present on other minorities seems like significant issue (although I would not argue that is it more so). It would be great to see some further writing on those issues. 

Thank you for letting me know about magnifymentoring, I hadn't come across them in my searches but I'll take a look and edit if required. 

When I poke my brain for prominent 'centrally EA' effective altruists I know or know of, the first four that come to mind (Kelsey Piper, Miranda Dixon-Luinenberg, Julia Galef, Ajeya Cotra) are women who write things.

This is doubtless more a function of what I read and which specific circles I walk in than something that holds universally, but it wouldn't surprise me if most of the EA people in my particular corner of the scene gave overlapping names. That combined with the negative association I have with the word "cater" that you seem to lack (maybe it's an American English thing? to me, 'to cater to' means 'to put before others, to treat obsequiously'), made my initial reaction very much in line with smallsilo's.

Ah interesting, I hadn't considered that 'cater' might be construed differently elsewhere! In British English, it just means 'to provide what is wanted or needed by someone or something'  (or alternatively, to provide food -which isn't the meaning I was using here).  So, the title would literally mean 'does EA provide what is wanted or needed by women?'

Good point re: Kelsey Piper, Miranda Dixon-Luinenberg, Julia Galef, Ajeya Cotra. I hadn't considered e.g., The Scout Mindset  because in my mind it isn't EA-specific as a book (even thought its used by the EA community),  but that might be an oversight on my part - perhaps I was thinking too narrowly about EA literature with that particular example. 

I think "does EA provide what is wanted or needed by women?" is a pretty serviceable title; two nations divided by a common language and such.

As a woman who's been involved in EA for a long time, I agree with parts of this post, but I also find parts of it make frustrating assumptions. For example, I know several men in the EA community taking time off work or planning to take time off work in order to raise their children. If your hypothesis is correct and EA is focused on the male experience, why wouldn't it include them?

I think a more likely explanation is that these topics are hard to think and write about and no one's managed to do it yet. Up until a couple years ago, there were only a couple thousand EAs globally - so when I see an article that should exist but doesn't, my first reaction is there's a gap because no one's had time to do the topic justice, not that the community doesn't care.

Strong upvoted. This got me to ponder the thought experiment of imagining an EA community that assumed members and interested people were female by default. I do think that EA content would look somewhat different in that world, primarily in addressing questions about kids. I'd expect that advice and discussion about whether, when, and how to have and raise kids would be a very prominent topic. I might expect talent-contained EA orgs to try and differentiate themselves through perks like on-site childcare. I might also expect more weird and out there stuff that's targeted at related questions, like maybe in that world, you'd see posts arguing that the most impactful career you can have is being a  competent and value-aligned nanny for another EA. 

Imagining that world gives me a sense of how the current world looks somewhat male by default, and where we might look to change that. 

Upvoted. 

This has a lot of good thinking and good research, and more people should see it. 


I almost didn't read this because of the title; I imagine that twelve people bounced off right there for every person who clicked the link, and if asked for advice I'd recommend changing the title to something more indicative of the post itself such as: "Common Advice For EAs Doesn't Account For or Analyze the Costs Incurred by Women in Childrearing" (or something pithier to the same general effect). 

In particular I'd avoid the word cater, it comes across as value-laden and negative. I initially expected this post to be written by an angry man.


It would also greatly benefit from a concise Key Takeaways at the top, as One-time pad and Guy Raveh have already said. That would also signal to the reader what they're going to read, which is important because people need to make a snap judgement about whether it's worth their time to continue.


 

(I'm always awkward around giving advice; if any of this seems brusque or rude please know that it wasn't intended that way and I appreciated the article. 

This opening

According to a flagship Effective Altruism (EA) organisation, you have 80,000 hours in your career over a lifetime: 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, for 40 years. But does this hold true for women? And if not, what are the implications of this (and related assumptions) for the EA research community and the practical EA community?

is almost perfectly designed to not be read. When I first read the post, my eyes skimmed through this without my brain processing it. I would have read it, if it had been written in normal font and if it were not above what looks like a stock photo. 

Upon rereading it, I agree with my brain's initial learned heuristic of not parsing things written in heading text above what look like stock photos. Don't waste people's time beating around the bush or burying the lede, people want to know what they're reading as soon as possible so that they know if they should read it through and pick over the particulars. 

If I'd written it, the opening would read: 

A key assumption in 80,000 hours' advice is that you have 80,000 hours in your career over a lifetime: 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 40 years. But this doesn't hold for women, who swallow the larger half of the opportunity cost inherent to raising children. 

take whatever from that you find helpful, and disregard whatever sounds to you clunky.

Moving on:

This post looks to explore the following 3 questions:

a) Does EA cater to women, as both a research field and a practical community?

b) If not, what (if any) female-specific considerations ought to be taken into

account by EA?

c) What (if any) practical steps can be taken to ensure that EA is more inclusive

of women, and considerate of women's lives?

This is another point where as I reader I might have jumped off. You aren't being paid by how long we stay on this webpage before clicking away! There's no reason to imitate the style of websites which are paid by how long people have to stay on the webpage afore they can tell what they're reading. This is safe to cut.

In seeking to answer these questions, this article does the following:

  1. Sets out what EA is.
  2. Assesses the demographics of EAs (members of the EA community) using available data and examines whether current EA career guidance accounts for women.
  3. Outlines my personal experiences of EA.
  4. Looks at taking women into account - particularly the impact of having children upon their earning potential. This includes an applied analysis of the Giving What We Can Pledge.
  5. Issues preliminary recommendations for how the EA community can cater to women.

I'd make this clearer and more concise, for example: 

Table of Contents:

  1. What is effective altruism?
  2. Demographics of effective altruism
  3. My personal experience with effective altruism
  4. Taking women into account (includes analysis of the Giving What We Can Pledge)
  5. Preliminary recommendations 

I really like this whole part: 

How much of the article should you read?

And in fact I like the rest of it as well. Once the article hits its stride, it wears its use to the reader on its sleeve. 

Thanks for writing it!

Thank you for spending the time writing such detailed feedback Lumpyproletariat! This is the first ever blog-style post I'd written (and first contribution to the EA Forum), so it's incredibly helpful that you've pointed out specific examples and provided alternatives - it's helped me to see exactly what I can adjust in future. I can see for example how much more digestible the 'Table of Contents' is the way that you've drafted it (and how much more cognitive load it requires to read the 'In seeking to answer these questions [...] part as it is currently). Appreciate it a lot!

I'm very glad to have been of help. :D

(If I had more time, I'd look into the claim about delaying children leading to more successful careers to see if it's something I need to quibble about; it feels like the sort of claim that might have correlation and causation confused. But I do not have the time to get into the weeds on this or any other point and for all I know it could be a perfectly good study. I hope more people see this article so that non-busy people can look into that!)

The "Career progression and earning potential" section was so difficult to read; I know the point is to raise awareness about expectation-setting and not viewing men as default, but the point that sticks in my mind is the old "having kids is a career killer." 

As a woman on the fence about having kids, the thought of literally making the world worse (not saving 6.8 lives) for something that would also damage my career is...so awful. Calling this information to others' attention needs to be done with care to avoid the sort of "women are less valuable EAs according to math" conclusion. I know this isn't the conclusion, and I know we care about the same problem (women doing well in EA). But I found this post profoundly discouraging.

Perhaps you've seen these things already if you're thinking about having kids, but Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman have written about their decision to be parents and their experiences parenting extensively. The stuff I could find that addresses the question of making the decision:

I can't figure out why this didn't get more traction. This post seems extremely relevant and brought up well considered points that I'm surprised I've never encountered before. This subject seems fundamental to life changing career decisions, and highly relevant to both EA earning to give and EA career impacts. I also can't spot any surface level presentation reasons it might have gotten overlooked or prematurely dismissed.

Edit: Ah, I think what happened is it was evaluated by the suggested actions when scrolling to see the outcomes/results. I am also much less positive these are good approaches to addressing the problem. They are offered without much evidence, and transparently acknowledged as such, but it's potentially the posts biggest most obvious fault.

Excellent post.

Thanks for bringing these issues out. I think your case that EA participation is not very diverse is strong.

I think you're right that spending money has to be part of the solution.

My own suggestion would be some kind of survey or study of underrepresented groups to gather more information about why they participate, barriers they see or experience etc.

This could be a good first step if it doesn't exist already?

Edited to add - if it turns out a survey is a good idea, I'm happy to help.

I think this post would do a better job of furthering your (laudable) aims if it was written more concisely.

I'd really like a TL;DR that includes the conclusions, if someone were kind enough to write one.

Thanks for the feedback One-time pad. I was aiming to be as comprehensive as possible, as I hadn't found comparable articles before. My hope was that the links/ signposting to different sections and the exec summary would help - but its helpful to know that wasn't the case for you (and presumably others). Unless it was the writing itself that was not concise (rather than the length of the piece), in which case I'd welcome suggestions on what might work better!

[+][comment deleted]2mo -20