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Brainstorming with the President's Advisory
Committee for Work-Family Issues

March 17, 2006

One in a series of discussions about Rethinking Parenting
Co-sponsored by the Center for Science in Society and the
Program in Gender and Sexuality at Bryn Mawr College

Summary Prepared by Anne Dalke
Additions, revisions, extensions are encouraged in the Forum

Participants: Alexis Bennett (Psychology), Laura Blankenship (Information Services), Kim Cassidy (Psychology), Vanessa Christman (Intercultural Affairs), Linda Caruso-Haviland (Arts), Anne Dalke (English, Gender & Sexuality), Marissa Golden (Political Science), Imke Meyer (German), Janet Scannel (Computing Services), Laura Sockol ('07), Julie Wise ('07).

Marissa began the discussion by describing the events which led to the creation of the president's advisory committee, including both her becoming a parent in 2000, and the current research being done on women, work and family. She described the data: although women have reached parity in receiving Ph.D's, they continue to be under-represented among tenured faculty. There are 3 "leaks in the pipeline," 3 places where they succeed differentially from men. They are 29% less likely to enter the tenure track; 23% less likely to receive tenure (married men w/ children are the most likely to); and 25% less likely to get full professorships. The problem for academics seems distinct from that in many other professions, due to the relation of the biological clock and the tenure clock, which coincides with the childbearing years. This results in a gender imbalance in university and college faculty, which means a number of costs: when women drop out of academia, there is a loss of human capital; students lack role models of women who succeed in work and family; and the academy loses the "different voice" in scholarship, teaching, and governance when this group is not represented.

A second problem occurs with the women who "do stick it out": the cost we pay, the toll it takes on women professors involves both career and personal sacrifices. One study shows that 40% of the female faculty in the University of California system had fewer children than they wanted, and that 71% slowed down their career; these women are "paying a price on both ends." Those who "stick it out" pay a human cost in family and career that is disproportionate to women. Some think this not a public problem, that we are "lucky to have flexible jobs," and that time allocation a personal matter. But this discussion was convened under the assumption that institutions of higher education do have a role to play in attempting to address the loss of human capital, as well as the issues of gender equity, and cost to family life.

Marissa described 3 waves or "generations" of policy initiatives:

  1. increasing the number of women who are able to receive tenure (through active service-modified duties, tenure-clock stoppage, paid and unpaid leaves)
  2. enabling all working parents to succeed @ work and home (these are more costly measures, for the most part proposed, but not adopted, at Berkeley, which has been the pioneer in this area: offering flexible part-time work, high quality child care, re-entry post-doc fellowships, discounting family-related resume gaps, establishing school break and emergency back-up child care; educating administrators to reduce the stigma of providing such services)
  3. addressing the implementation of policy (these are "even more patchwork": allowing 10 years to get tenure, enabling more part-time options, multi-year leaves, paid leaves, automatic tenure stoppages, re-scheduling events at noon, rather than @ the end of the day, coordinating course coverage for illness).
Even when such policies are in place, they have encountered obstacles:
  • high level of lack of awareness of the policies (only 1/2 of the Berkeley faculty knew about active-service-modified options)
  • reluctance to use them, due to fear of stigma, or possibly hurting chances for promotion and tenure
  • reluctance to use them because of a sense that one is "superwoman," that to do so would injure one's sense of self-worth or identity.
The challenges, then, are several: first, to get the appropriate policies in place; then, to address the issues of stigma and gender imbalance in the second shift (by offering incentives for more men use the policies, for instance). There is some reason for optimism. It is possible to implement changes and make a difference, as demonstrated by the childcare arrangements at St. Joseph's University, nearby, where high quality, affordable, convenient childcare is offered offsite.

Discussion then turned to Bryn Mawr, where women can request tenure-clock stoppage (from their department, the provost and the Appointments Committee) for any two years during the first six years of their tenure-track appointment. Under the family medical leave act, they are also eligible for twelve weeks of unpaid leave. They can also accrue sick leave, and draw on short-term disability (for care of children, parents, or self). Marty Mastascusa, the Benefits Manager at the College, is very proactive in his work, and offers excellent assistance in planning for such events. However, many people do not know what their options are. There is a problem with disseminating information; it needs to be better institutionalized. And there is no day care offered on campus; the Thorne School, for instance, does not coordinate its schedules with faculty needs (indeed, it would go against the philosophy of the school to offer full-day day care services).

Marissa and Kim then asked for feedback: what policies would we like to see on campus? What issues do we face?

  • longer sustained events are easier to plan for
  • the last minute problems are the hard ones
  • how to deal w/ sick kids?
  • isn't this just a lose-lose situation? how does one choose what to do?
  • we need a baby sitting co-op on campus
  • the health center could provide sick care (there may be legal issues, but surely they're not insurmountable?)
  • high schools adapt to these problems; surely we can?
  • administrators have more flexibility; their office "doesn't need to personally see your physical body" every day
  • we could develop a network of substitutes
  • work-life issues are not limited to child care
  • what about elder-case issues, or a mentally-ill sibling?
  • "family" should be an expansive category here
  • we need to think about how everyone can work out their work life to attend to the needs of partners, parents, children, etc.
  • the issues of are those of balancing work and life (not "family")
  • the institution needs to give particular support to committed relationships
  • people who don't take advantage of such policies don't have an easier path
  • the institution just needs to make sure that the evaluation of academic work is independent of whatever "care work" someone might be providing
  • policies of support need to be "semi-automatic," that is, available on request
  • distinctions need to be made between unpaid leave and work stoppage
  • all of us--including those without kids--pay taxes for education; similarly, all of us need to support the bringing up of all children
  • there are different ways to do this; some are more fair than others
  • how to design policies that are fair to all?
  • with menu options, you can choose more expensive coverage for yourself, or more extensive coverage for your family
  • some benefits policies have fewer choices
  • very few women on campus have more than two children
  • look @ the climate here: how is it perceived?
  • is it family-friendly?
  • everyone is well-meaning
  • there is a lack of awareness of what problems exist
  • many searches fail because of the "dual-body problem"
  • what faculty spousal accomodations could be put in place for dual-career couples?
  • @ Harvard, "after the fire-storm," there was a report about creating a network among area schools, a mechanism for identifying available jobs in the region
  • Bryn Mawr says we are too small to do this, that there are economies of scale
  • rather: we are so small, we can't afford not to do this; how else will we recruit?
  • we could offer consortial agreements
  • the more benefits offered, the more loyal employees will be
  • during discussion of the work-family balance, in the mentoring program for new faculty, worry seemed equally divided between meeting the needs of kids and those of spouses
  • another issue is that of commuting relationships
  • we could offer an endowed travel fund!
  • there are many non-faculty positions opening up continually on campus
  • is Bryn Mawr "family"? or is it a business? which model do we prefer?
  • we want to create policies that enable our families to be cared for
  • the argument is economic: we will survive by attracting the best faculty
  • we will do that by offering the same or better policies than our peers
  • a woman's college should be @ the forefront on these issues
  • but we should beware "just trading one model for another"
  • it would be a mistake to replace the "autonomy model" with "the relationship model"
  • individuals should take responsibility for their own choices
  • we don't want to "baby" our faculty and staff
  • but we do want to reciprocate for loyal service
  • is a "maternalistic" model really preferable to that of a "business"?
  • we also need to address the issue of gender equity: it is a problem if men w/ children are advantaged
  • where is the gender revolution?
  • how would men be viewed, who took advantage of family-friendly policies?
  • we need to compensate for the disadvantage of women choosing to have children
  • how can we create any policy that is objectively fair?
  • are we sure that those policies will fix the problem?
  • are more extensive changes to the system needed?
  • what would be the relevance of such policies for undergraduates here?
  • what about offering support for undergraduate mothers on campus?
  • the president's committee is charged specifically with faculty issues; those of faculty and students will be addressed in sequence
  • what we do shapes what you think you can do
  • could there be scholarship positions for student daycare providers?
  • could the Thorne school, or another local day care, be subsidized by the College?
  • there are no child-friendly spaces on campus
  • it is a shame that a woman's college has no on-site child-care arrangements.
The conversation is invited to continue in the on-line forum

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Last Modified: March 7, 2006