Despite flexible hours and extended vacation periods, academia “may be a difficult place to combine career and motherhood,” researchers from Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts institution affiliated with Columbia University in New York, reported June 11 to the American Association of University Professors.
In findings presented last month at an AAUP conference Washington, DC, the Barnard researchers described the stress that women in academia experience while trying to balance the needs of their careers with those of their families, and they recommended systematic changes aimed at capping off the “leak” of women from the academic work-force pipeline.
While academic schedules are flexible — faculty members can come and go as they please so long as they teach classes and fulfill other requirements — expectations remain high, the researchers said.
Some of the 20 women interviewed for the study described their jobs as never-ending and said they felt they could never do enough, the researchers said. Facing constant pressure to research and to write, others said they felt they needed to make up for time they spent parenting. Working nights and weekends was reality for most mothers.
The researchers said the participants characterized “the idea of balancing work and motherhood as a myth.”
“If we believe that women who are mothers are a valuable part of the academic system, then we need to rethink the structure of the tenure system in profound ways,” the research team recommended. It suggested that universities allow longer periods of time to obtain tenure or allow for “peaks and valleys” throughout an individual’s career.
Without significant changes in both tenure policy and workplace culture, they said, “being a mother will continue to pose the risk of derailing active and promising careers.”
The study augments the findings and recommendations of numerous other reports on the advancement of women in science and academia. The ASBMB Policy Blotter previously summarized many of those reports and commented on an alternative viewpoint.
A recent Washington Post article also highlights the study’s findings.