I know little about formal positions in fields of philosophy, or even what such people do at work. I know even less about positions in the UK. But I do know a thing or two about how life, humanity, and cultures work. And I've spent a great deal of time doing my own studies of philosophical issues and coming to my own conclusions based on a vast array of real-life challenges to various traditional, and new, philosophies.
In that time, I've run across many men and women who fancy themselves good at philosophy. Most of them aren't, even when they have advanced degrees in the subject. They're not, generally, stupid, but they aren't pushing the boundaries of the human experience either.
I have never noticed any particular trends in men versus women being good at philosophy. Men tend to be louder and more opinionated, but that doesn't make them more right or more wrong; just more heard.
So this isn't an answer to whether "philosophy" in general or in the UK particularly is "male dominated". I don't know. And really don't care.
This is a very partial answer to "why?", presuming the premise is true to begin with.
I mostly got tired of staring at Linux hypervisor partitions and ran across this question, so I just pounded out an answer without a lot of double-checking. Hopefully it's reasonably coherent, but don't expect a lot of feedback from me right now.
Men tend to be more represented in positions like philosophy because they represent power and authority, and traditional philosophies are based on these concepts.
Many of the traditions we have are based in genetic differences between the sexes that are important, if not critical, to our survival as a species, but haven't caught up to modern technology and sensibilities.
It's possible there are genetic reasons why women, as a whole, are worse at, or less interested in, philosophy than men. And it's very likely there are cultural factors negatively influencing women even if the genetic factors are minimal or non-existent.
It's largely impossible at this point to say with any certainty how much of these types of differences are at all related to male/female dimorphism except indirectly through aspects of society and psychology affected by strength, or traditional understanding of strength.
Since we're not really sure why women are less represented than men in this field, it's difficult to say whether there's anything to remedy, let alone what the remedy is.
But the general solution here is simply time: the more technology bridges the gap between male and female capacity to work, the closer we'll get to any genetic differences dominating the cultural issues, and career fields simply stabilizing around natural tendencies.
Similarly, the more time passes with hiring practices being based on merit, rather than stereotyping presumptions of merit, the more the stereotypes will be dispelled and representation will reflect actual differences in merit, if any.
Of course, this does depend on our current culture cooling down from the ultra-"feminist" standard permeating media and politics, so it's not driving a giant wedge down the aisle between ultra traditionalists who want all women back in the kitchen and the ultra "progressive" crowd who seems to think men should be relegated to non-existence out of some sense that modern women are owed something by modern men because other women were sometimes oppressed by other men in the past.
There will never be anything that resembles equality as long as everyone one has "half the human race is undeserving trash" shoved down our throats, trying to pit us against each other, instead of working sanely together.
Why Groups are Different
There are naturally going to be three reasons why group X is more or less prevalent than group Y in a given context.
- Group X is better or worse at the task.
- Group X is more or less motivated to do the task.
- Society presumes (1) or (2) is true and pressures group X to put more or less effort into doing the task.
For some things, men are clearly better, because those tasks are largely based in physical strength, and men are something like 50-100% stronger than women, depending on the task and what particular dataset you want to pull from. So standards will based around what men can do, and relatively few women will be able to keep up. Naturally, that industry will be "male-dominated".
The place women clearly excel, being energy efficient, isn't particularly useful in modern society where food isn't all that scarce, so you're not likely to see a huge difference here.
So then you're left with all the places where smaller differences might matter. But there's a problem: we really don't know what those differences are.
The Curse of Dimensionality, Part 1
Yes, we can do studies of a particular group of people. Say, English college students, or Malaysian low-income families. We can confidently say that men or women or tall people or short people are better at A and worse at B and about the same at C.
But what we can't do is clearly determine whether those differences come from nature or culture.
Back in the day, when we were all hunter-gatherers, men were big, fast and strong. So men did manly things: hunt, fight, and scout. Women did whatever was left: cook, tend the village, etc. Nature was fine with this arrangement because the weaker women also burned far less fuel, so the hunters needed to do less work to feed the group and the warriors needed to spend less time defending the hunters. The populations with this dimorphism succeeded better than those without because division of tasks led to better efficiency.
Then agrarian society came along. Men were still stronger, and still did manly things: build, harvest, and fight. Women still did whatever was left. Nature was still fine with this arrangement. It made sense.
Then came the industrial revolution. We built machines that amplify power. So now, it doesn't matter how many muscles you have when you type on a keyboard, activate forklift control levers, or run equations through Mathematica. Obviously, many career fields to this day rely on strength and stamina, but many do not, or at least don't to the degree they used to.
But the old ways, where strong men did strong things, also encapsulated the idea that men were leaders. Not because men are better leaders, necessarily, but because men were stronger, and the old ways were born out of the "right of might". The strong ruled the weak, because physics.
And society doesn't just turn itself on its head overnight. Tradition works. If it didn't, we wouldn't be here to complain about it. Something else might work too, and might work better, but we don't have any data to go on, because that's not what we traditionally did.
In this case, the tradition is for men to do the kinds of work that put food on the table, to lead companies and countries, and to do the large-scale thinking. Positions of philosophy at a university or high-end company would traditionally fall into all three of these categories, thereby preferring men and tending to ignoring women.
Potential Mental Differences
Because men are genetically engineered by nature to be stronger, faster, and better for fighting and hunting, it stands to reason men would also have been programmed to be more prone to engage in these tasks. Hunters need to switch between watching and chasing in a moment, and warriors need to switch between peace and slaughter in a heartbeat. So it seems natural that men would be more aggressive and more prone to physical conflict.
Similarly, because hunters need to stray far from the village to find prey, and warriors need to scout far from the village to ensure enemy forces aren't preparing to attack, it makes sense for men to be likely to wander and explore.
The weaker people should sensibly stay hidden, away from the fighting, and not spend a lot of time wandering in the wilderness away from safety. So it makes sense that women would be more passive, more timid, and more likely to stay near the safety of home.
Known Similarities Masquerading as Sex Differences
While some mental characteristics are likely related to sex, some traits we might associate with manliness or femininity aren't really programmed into us that way.
It's been shown that weaker men in the presence of stronger men (or at least what is perceived as stronger men) will tend to behave more deviously, attempting to win games through cunning and trickery. While stronger men will tend to be more direct, attempting to win through brute force. This happens even when playing games were strength is irrelevant, such as the board game Stratego, which suggests these tendencies are innate programming rather than rational decision-making.
This mentality of cunning and trickery has long been associated with feminine behavior, but might well be innate to all humans, and simply shows up more with women because women are more likely to be the weaker player in a given game. Sadly, the study I read didn't test women at all, so there wasn't an indication for or against women having the same traits.
Similarly, it's been shown that men who spend a lot of time cuddling babies are more likely to have "feminine" tendencies, like showing a great deal of empathy or spending a great deal of effort trying to nurture positively rather than teaching through negative reinforcement. Some men even start lactating, so I've heard, due to hormone changes.
So, again, we have a case where behavior is a product of context rather than genetics to at least some degree.
The Curse of Dimensionality, Part 2
Okay, so we know that men are strong and women are not, in general. So we should see a male-favoring disparity in strength-based fields. But we should see less disparity in other fields where strength is less relevant, or not relevant at all.
And it stands to reason that men would tend to have certain mental traits that women are less likely to have, and vice versa, because nature has clearly engineered us for two very different purposes. But it's also clearly the case that many differences traditionally associated with the sexes are at least partially caused by cultural norms.
So how do we test this? With great difficulty. Proper science requires repeatable tests with consistent results so we can change one variable at a time and see what effect it has. Then, we have to change another variable a little, then run through all the states of the first variable. Then another and another.
With things like gravity, this isn't terribly difficult. There are only a few variables to consider, so we don't really need to take that many measurements to confirm or refute a theory's validity to reasonable precision. (In the real world, it's tricky to weigh entire planets, so this might not be the best example, but it's still relatively straightforward.)
But human psychology is a cross-section of hundreds, if not millions, of independent variables. And our neural structures are constantly changing, so every single test alters the nature of the test subject, so we can't be terribly sure if different results from test to test are the result of programming differences or the effects from previous tests.
So even basic data about human behavior requires inordinate amounts of data collected across huge numbers of dimensions, just to have reasonable confidence we have a clue what we're talking about. The amount of data points required to understand humans at the same level as elementary school understanding of gravity are literally unobtainable.
The Lack of a Clean Room
The lack of data points, relative to the complexity of the topic, is compounded by the fact that there's no way to control the test subjects in a consistent way. Due to those pesky rules of ethics and morality, we can't steal a bunch of babies and raise them with robots in carefully controlled labs to see how they turn out. We certainly can't do this with millions of babies at a time.
Even if we weren't concerned with morality, the logistics of setting up such an experiment would be nightmarishly difficult, and we'd need to run the experiment many times to iron out all the wrinkles. Clearly, this isn't a realistically attainable goal.
So we're left with guessing at shadows on a wall, cast by the myriad personalities interacting in a complex morass of ancient social duties and modern sensibilities, and nearly everything we do to broach this subject is dubious, at best.
It's possible there are more men than women in philosophy because men are just better at it, and more likely to succeed.
It's possible the issue is that women just don't care, and are therefore less likely to pursue advanced standing or long-term careers in the field.
It's possible the people hiring for positions of philosophy believe women aren't very good at it, so preferentially hire men. It's likewise possible existing philosophers believe this, and tend not to help female coworkers succeed or actively pressure them (directly or indirectly) to quit.
And it's possible some combination of the above is true.
It's almost certain the third option is at least partially true, due to historical bias. And the people who believe women aren't good at "men's jobs" are often the women themselves, meaning traditional values are likely to cause the second option as an accidental side-effect.
And because women tend to doubt themselves, women will tend to do worse at the job. And because others doubt them, women will tend to get less training and feedback. So women will, in practice, tend to be worse at the job, making the first option true by proxy.