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Making academia more family-friendly
Faculty straddling the demands of work and family are losing out in a variety of ways. A campus research team is developing a UC policy package to change that picture

| 30 April 2003

 

piechart

Data from the UC Berkeley Work and Family Survey, completed in January, show that women assistant professors are less likely than men to have children in the household.


A Berkeley research team has received a two-year, $420,000 grant to help improve the career options and family lives of faculty throughout the ten-campus UC system. The award from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to the campus’s Work/Family Initiative is earmarked for work to assess, revise, and implement a package of “family-friendly” policies designed to make flexible career paths and part-time work status viable options for ladder-rank faculty with caregiving responsibilities.
Graduate Division Dean Mary Ann Mason and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Equity Angelica Stacy, the principal investigators for the Work/Family Initiative, say new policies are necessary because the structure and culture of academia make it difficult for faculty, women in particular, to balance work and family commitments.

“Universities should be a model for advanced policies relating to how society handles work/family issues,” says Mason. “But in fact we’ve been one of the more conservative employers, in terms of how we actually treat women in the workplace.”

The tenure system is the leading example of a setup that handicaps women faculty, as the six or seven years when a junior faculty member works toward tenure are also, typically, the optimal years for having children. Conferences and fieldwork away from home are other staples of academic life that put strain on faculty with caregiving responsibilities for young children or dependent adults.

Policies that could make a difference

The Work/ Family Initiative’s proposed package of family-friendly policies for UC’s ladder-rank faculty includes the following elements:

• A guaranteed right to a one-semester relief from teaching duty (known as active service – modified duties, or ASMD), for new parents with substantial childcare responsibility for children under five, with a right to petition for a second semester of ASMD.
• A guaranteed right to a one-year tenure-clock stoppage for assistant professors who are new parents with substantial childcare responsibility for children under five (1 year per child), or for assistant professors with substantial adult-dependent- care responsibility or for family emergency.
• A provision to request unpaid leave of up to one year to care for a sick family member.
• A centralized fund, administered by university-level staff, that reimburses departments for the expenses of hiring replacement faculty when regular faculty take ASMD because of child-care responsibilities, or take leave because of childcare or adult-dependent-care responsibilities.
• An institutional commitment to part-time options for ladder-rank faculty with substantial familial caregiving responsibilities.
• An institutional commitment to make high-quality childcare and infant-care slots available to all ladder-rank faculty.
• An institutional commitment to assist new faculty with spousal employment and other familial-related relocation or location issues.
• University-level work and family offices and advisory committees that monitor and support the departmental use of family-friendly programs.
• An annual “school for chairs,” tailored for department heads and deans, that focuses on work and family issues and policies.
• A UC-wide work and life website for faculty, staff, and students that compiles up-to-date information about childcare and eldercare resources, family leave, work-family benefits, children’s schooling, etc.
• A UC-wide website for faculty, staff, and students to post their experiences and advice in achieving a successful balance between work and family life.
• An outreach brochure, for all job candidates and current faculty, describing the family-friendly package.

A package of remedies
One remedy, the Berkeley researchers say, is for the university to offer better options and conditions to faculty who have or want to have children. The package of measures they believe would help includes about a dozen elements — among them a guaranteed right to one-semester relief from teaching duty for new parents; a centralized fund to allow departments to hire substitutes for faculty who take leaves or teaching-relief options; access to high-quality childcare for all ladder-rank faculty (assistant, associate, and full professors); and a “school for chairs” to verse top academic administrators in UC’s family-friendly options. As Mason notes, “It’s not enough simply to change policies on the books; it’s crucial to build consensus to make changes in the lived culture and practice of academic life.”

Research findings
The current work of the Work/Family Initiative builds on Mason’s research on the effects of family on the careers of academic women and men nationally; on analyses from the campus Office of Faculty Equity Assistance, which Stacy heads, on faculty hiring, retention, and promotion patterns at Berkeley; and on the results of the Initiative’s recent online survey of campus faculty, assessing the effectiveness of existing family-friendly UC policies.

In their recent study “Do Babies Matter?” Professor Mason, an expert in law and social welfare, and research analyst Marc Goulden followed the career trajectories of 34,000 Ph.D.s nationwide. They found that men who receive tenure are much more likely than women who receive tenure to be married and have children. Their research also revealed a series of “leaks” in the academic pipeline, where women tend to drop out of academia or fall behind their male peers — the largest leak being between the receipt of the Ph.D. and the start of a tenure-track position. Women with babies, for example, are 24 percent less likely than women without babies to assume a tenure-track position, and married women, with or without children, are 18 percent less likely to do so than are unmarried women.

“We hear this anecdotally from our women graduate students,” says Mason. “They say they do not want to take on an academic career that they believe will deny them the possibility of a family life.”

These national trends are mirrored at Berkeley, where women constitute about half of the incoming graduate-student class, yet represent only 24 percent of the ladder-rank faculty. One reason for this gap, Stacy says, is that women do not apply for faculty jobs at Berkeley in proportion to their representation within the Ph.D. pool.

Berkeley survey results
Despite this trend, representation of women on the faculty, "is improving slowly," Stacy notes. But many of the women hired "feel they have had to choose between work and family. This is not true for men to the same degree. Since women are a growing portion of the Ph.D. pool, we have to find better ways of attracting and retaining talented women in order to maintain our excellence."

The Initiative’s Work and Family Survey was the first comprehensive attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of existing UC family-friendly policies — which allow all faculty parents to opt for temporary relief from teaching duties, paid and unpaid family leaves, tenure-clock stoppage, and a part-time schedule. With more than 55 percent of the Berkeley faculty responding, the survey reveals problems faculty parents face and the limitations of the system meant to address them — from fear of retribution should one exercise family-friendly options to lack of awareness that these policies exist. (Fifty-eight percent did not know about the unpaid-child-leave policy, for instance).

A large proportion of both women and men faculty parents agreed with the statement “I slowed down or made sacrifices in my career in order to be a good parent” (69 percent of women and 49 percent of men). Asked to estimate the number of hours per week they devote to professional duties, housework, and family caregiving, men and women without children reported an average of 76.3 and 78.8 hours respectively; men withhildren averaged 81. Women with children spent the fewest hours on their profession (53.7), yet worked the most total hours: 95.

“That’s a snapshot of how hard it is to be a woman faculty member and raise children,” says Mason. “No one else is working anywhere near that much.”

She notes that when UC adopted its first family-friendly policies for faculty 15 years ago, they were hailed as among the most progressive in the country. “This survey shows,” she says, “that the policies are not well understood or well implemented and, most of all, they are not sufficient. We need to take the next steps to truly change the culture.”

Looking ahead
Over the next three months, the Initiative plans to use the Work and Family Survey developed at Berkeley to poll faculty throughout the UC system on work and family issues. It will also conduct a series of focus-group discussions on how individuals use current options, and to trial-test possible policy solutions. Based on its findings, the research team will fine-tune a policy-package proposal in collaboration with UC Office of the President and the systemwide Academic Senate. Cooperation from top administrators, as well as faculty of all ranks, will be necessary to implement new policies, says Mason.
Adoption of new and improved family-friendly options, Mason and Stacy predict, will make UC a more competitive recruiter. (On this campus, for instance, family issues are among the reasons most commonly cited by faculty candidates who choose another institution over Berkeley.) There’s a huge faculty hiring wave already in motion, Mason notes, so “this is a time in history when we can really change what the faculty looks like in the UC system, and make it both more diverse and more fair in terms of gender equity. We can also offer a model that could change the face of universities throughout the nation.”