Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gen X women at work in the academy

There has been plenty of research on women in academia, but there should still be MORE in this humble blogger's mind. Today I was reflecting on the role of women in academia after reading the following section of an article: 

[From Huffignton Post article, "Gen X women succeed at work, have fewer kids" on 9-13-11]
"The women of Generation X are a hard-working bunch. They're so hard working, in fact, that many of them are opting to not have children, according to new research from the Center for Work Life Policy. The study, titled "The X Factor: Tapping into the Strengths of the 33 to 46-year-old Generation," concluded that Gen Xers, who you might think of as the "Reality Bites" generation, have gradually shed their slacker reputation to become more ambitious and educated.But they are also more likely to be childless than members of their parents' generation -- over 40 percent of women between the ages of 41 to 45 surveyed didn't have children. It's also true that whether it's extreme jobs, or the financial pressure on this generation, many individuals decide they want to do two things well, and not three things badly. Those two things are their relationship and their career."

 Though the Center for Work Life study above notes this is a generational trend, it is also a trend long-seen in certain careers, such as higher education. Women in academia have struggled with the decision about if and when to have children while balancing their work life and the tenure track, which coincides with peak/traditional childbearing years. This dilemma showed up in my dissertation research back in 2007 and seems as prominent today. Here is a brief excerpt from my dissertation titled "A phenomenological examination of tenure-track female faculty members' socialization into the culture of higher education" which looked at the lives of 8 pre-tenure, tenure-track women at R1 universities in a variety of disciplines.

"She perceived the males around her as being pushed to move up more than the females, “I often see male colleagues being more groomed for leadership positions.” Sandy remarked that females were equally represented in her field, that her experiences have been gender-neutral, but that, “I do feel like they [women] have to do more to be equal.” This showed her concern for gender beyond equal representation in her field of education technology, but also for equal acceptance.  Dianna felt that sex was an over-played issue in academia. She did not see any concern about females in her field. She believed in the truth of hard work, commenting “And I think that you can do whatever you want as long as you put in the work and set your boundaries” and added, “You can do it. It just takes perseverance and hard work.” She had a staunch faith in the fairness of the system and that good work could not be denied. At the same time, she also believed that females may face more obstacles than males, but stated with conviction that sex would not prohibit a hard working assistant professor of either sex from achieving tenure, “What are they going to say if you have 15 publications? ‘No, you’re not going to get tenure because you’re female?’ No, they can’t say that. So if you do the work, you take away the excuses.”

"balance" (free use photo from Flickr)
           Others were not as sure as Dianna, after hearing stories of women who had done everything ‘right’ but who were denied tenure. Simply working and succeeding within higher education, Olivia felt, was more difficult for women, because of priorities in their home, social roles, and the necessary element of relocation for merit pay and advancement in higher education. This was true for Joyce. After three years in her position, she felt that her marketability was difficult to enhance because she was uncomfortable moving her family,

But I have kids. I don’t have that freedom. Like okay honey, let’s just pull up if you have just a partner and even then it’s tricky. I have kids; it’s like I’m not pulling them after a couple of years so that we’re going to move.

Family roles bled over to concerns about sex and how the women were seen. Taking time off from tenure for children concerned the women. As Olivia noted,

You have to take time off to actually have a kid and I think even though some schools, including this school they’ll give you an extra year on your tenure clock if you have a kid. It’s still like looked down upon. 
 Such policies shaped the way Molly saw herself in her work. The senior women she interacted with had not been supportive and did not offer empathy when child care issues arose: If I can do it, so can you, without help or excuses, was the message she received. Even the tenured female faculty members with children sent that message as Molly noted, “She  . . . told a new assistant professor, your children should never be an excuse for why you’re missing a meeting.” This was felt by several of the pre-tenure faculty members as warnings about the time and place for children. Though most did not hear this as bluntly as Martha did, whose mentor told her, “One should wait until one gets tenure before having children.”"

I included this excerpt along with Huffington Post's report as a way for us in academia, male and female, to analyze how we talk with others about family and tenure. Words like "mommy-track" and "daddy-track" are often times used without thought for the impression they may send those new to academia. This HP article was a great reminder for all of us to be cognizant of the way we interact with our peers AND for us to realize that our professions aren't the only determinant on our decisions. As noted, the generation we come from may also contribute to how we view ourselves, what we value, and the choices we make. Perhaps just as important, we should consider the impact we make on our work culture -- consider what type of culture you are shaping...

  • August, L. & Waltman, J. (2004). Culture, climate and contribution: Career satisfaction among female faculty. Research in Higher Education, 45(2), 177-192. 
  • Banerji, S. (2006). AAUP: Women professors lag in tenure, salary. Diverse: Issues inHigher Education, 23(20), 27.
  •  Robst, J., VanGilder, J., & Polacheck, S. (2003). Perceptions of female faculty treatment inhigher education: Which institutions treat women more fairly? Economics of Education Review, 22(1), 59-68.
  • Takiff, H. A., Sanchez, D. T., & Stewart, T. L. (2001). What’s in a name? The status implications of students’ terms of address for male and female professors. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 134-144.
  • Umbach, P. D. (2007). Gender equity in the academic labor market: An analysis of academic disciplines. Research in Higher Education, 48(2), 169-192.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi there anyone!

    Lora, you are pointing us to a whole important topic here!! It sounds a bit awkward that even in the EDUCATION system, women still have to endure painfully the SYSTEM. Specially since one may trace this issue back to centuries; times when thousands of women were more than ever into the information age already. They were the very people who demonstrated/shared knowledge and respect for all what has been given to us (e.g., plants, animals, etc.); they strove to find ways to improve human quality (e.g., healers). For that matter, today still, women professors who commonly are the very humans who research how to improve human quality have to endure pressure and criticism for their dedication (e.g., the work/theories of women scholars are often found within MINORITY literature or have been disguarded).

    To gain a solid non-fictional perspective on this old, but still current issue, let me suggest you the following book "Drawing Down the Moon" from Margot Adler who is also correspondent for NPR in New-York.