Higher Ed Tenured Women Find Facetime Failing

Posted: Jul 26 2015, 1:30pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Political News


Higher Ed Tenured Women Find Facetime Failing
Credit: Jens Schlueter/Getty
  • Maternal wall meets glass ceiling.
  • Limited tenure for many STEM professors.
  • Lack of diversity in academe positions.

A two-part series focusing on the role of women facing tenure in higher education shows the difference in pay gap, administrative support, and the flexibility of position. Part two discusses the failing effort of the maternal wall in obtaining tenure, flextime's detriment, and lower wages due to families.

Part one of the series discussed the pay wall and impact of degree choice over salary and promotion in higher education for women. In part two, women find flexibility of family life to be a deterrent when searching for tenure in the gendered pay gap and expectations of motherhood.

Family commitments frequently cost women jobs due to the maternal wall, a systematic refusal see a woman's value outside of reproduction once she's given birth.But why does it exist and how can it change?


Flexing families

Susan Alberts, a biology professor at Duke University, spoke to The Duke Chronicle on how difficult it is to find female STEM professors. Surprisingly, women making up 41% of Ph.D.’s in the field, but no one reports the sheer number versus placement.

One of the biggest questions that women face concerns the family. After all, as mothers are expected to be at home for the first two years or so. Alberts remembers at the beginning of her faculty tenure, a lot of female graduate student would ask, “'Is it possible to have a top academic position at a top research institution, and have a family?'”

And it’s not an uncommon question. According to Times Higher Education in the UK, a report on the usefulness of work flexibility in academics cast a shadow on the idea of work share. Some faculty and heads of department believe the flexibility puts the responsibility entirely on the mother. Snidely referred to as "the mommy track", flextime often erects a barrier in academic teaching progression. Parental leave is a no-no in fully dedicating effort and time into a position for women.

Trade union leader Donna Rowe-Merriman maintains that society needs “to challenge the perception that someone on flexible hours is getting a ‘perk’ – they are just as employable and worthy of promotion.” In other words, it’s not just women who benefit, but the primary flexibility allows for a personal and professional life for the gender.

“In fact, greater use of flexible working leads to greater productivity and a more motivated workforce.”

Meanwhile some argue that positions may not always be flexible, like a professor going part-time and a lack of qualified candidates to take over her role. But at a Pre-1992 institution, one faculty member was forced to take a two-year break just to retain any full-time capabilities.

“One person’s flexible working can be another person’s job opportunity,” said Rowe-Merriman.

Conversely, Alberts feels “there is just isn't enough flexibility in academia to be a stay-home parent for a couple of years” in the American higher education system.

A refocusing on maternity leave and research returns afterwards helps secure what University of Northhampton Vice-Chancellor Nick Petford calls “good practice from across the university sector” with the intent to effect positive change.

At Duke, those on maternity leave find a tenure clock relief to allow a pause in research. While this effects men and women alike, the likelihood of retaining the smaller percentage of women in the STEM disciplines remains a priority. Comparing the two education systems, it looks like a close examination in priority and social context remain important for women looking to have a family and reach tenure track level.


Parental penalty

But the baby penalty is very real for women looking to secure long-term jobs in academia, says The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Mary Ann Mason points out that “family formation negatively affects women's—but not men's—academic careers” by turning away from academe life as new parents during graduate school due to a sudden lack of faith in the abilities of an otherwise capable woman. Pregnancy seems to create a background of resentment, of split time, which may be why many tenured women are often single or childless and gain jobs as quickly as married fathers.

In fact, 70 percent of married men with families are offered tenure versus the women's 44 percent illustrates a discrepancy of unconscious bias and stereotypical beliefs about commitment to jobs versus family. The maternal wall, like the glass ceiling, is difficult to overcome when obstacles and double standards become standard. That's why the University of California Berkeley researchers push for flexibility in scheduling, to counteract and invigorate innovation for women faculty.

Professor Joan Williams, a research expert on the academic penalties towards mothers, posits a theory in article on The Daily Beast. When the flexibility stigma manages to affect people's career path, it's "a potential violation of federal anti-discrimination law" due to a bias towards feminine attributes over practicality.

Williams' work on the stigma over the past decade not only makes an expert on women, but the role of feminine aspects in the STEM field and how women are forced to redefine in order to fit in. Academics aren't really that different from the private business world, either.


Ignoring innovation

Google's lack of diversity has been a tech business topic for years: only 30 percent are women and women engineers stop at 17 percent. Employees speak out on the lack of inclusion in repeatedly. It's not just Google, but Silicon Valley itself. Google's looking for solutions, but is it enough? And if women aren't moving into tenure and face a maternal wall outside academics, how do they find a successful career?

The Harvard Business Review's suggestion that flextime only manages to cut women off from office politics and networking, leaving men to thrive in the meantime. Instead of blaming the women, what about forcing a change of culture instead? What if in the digital age teleconferences and video chatting became just as integral as any other job option? Limiting ideas to traditional ideology means a lack of options for flextime. Focusing on face time means a standard male practice instead of a deeper look.

Colleges and universities typically implement online classes. It would be easy to turn the idea of tenure and job security to tenured professors who work exclusively online for several years if wanting flextime. The women would thrive and would be valuable as a resource for the next generation, continuing a learning field as globalization changes how students learn.

At four to seven years of possible acceptance of tenure, the time frame leaves a lot room for dismissal. Perhaps the flexibility does not work for the UK system on a whole, but if adjustability attracts more women to desert areas in higher education then maybe the American system has a solution. All that’s needed is administrations and boards willing to stop promoting men over women based on a biological function that affects career trajectory in both genders yet only bars promotion in one.

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