Care work of all kinds (self care, elder care, child care) is often not valued by academic institutions –at least in terms of letting students, staff, and faculty use time, money, energy for those tasks while having the resources to continue excelling at their jobs). And that’s unfortunate, because care work (+ other kinds of unpaid labor – emotional, organizational, and physical) is still highly gendered and stigmatized. Recognizing the common threads between these kinds of care work that women do can help workers better organize together and institutions create policies that recognize all the forms of care demanded of women, not just childcare of babies + infants and not just for tenure track faculty.
[And having no kids (or elders or pets) to care for can still be held against women in the workplace, as managers can expect them to be workaholics (“put their career first”) or potentially even cover for folks who have care responsibilities. The 1-body problem is real, in multiple ways.]
But today I want to specifically talk about the penalties women in the academy occur for having multiple children.
It’s like the patriarchy up and decided “fine, ladies, you can have a kid and still be considered a working professional – but just this once” — as if choosing to have a kid again is abusing the supposed privileges that come with it.
I am a postdoc researcher in neuroscience at UC Berkeley, which is widely regarded as the most forward-thinking university in the country. Berkeley’s progressive reputation and more broadly the reputation of the University of California as a whole would suggest an academic institution on the leading edge of promoting gender equity in science. Indeed, UC administrators consistently emphasize the importance of keeping women in academia.
However, the solutions suggested are often superficial and fail to address the real structural issues for women in their careers. For example, a recent “Postdoc Newsletter” produced by University of California administrators offers the trite advice that female postdocs “accept the challenge” and not be “discouraged or waylaid by hurdles.” Wow, that never occurred to me!
UC’s lack of commitment to improving gender equity in the academy is evident not just in the superficial nature of its rhetoric, but also in its failure to act on its stated goals. In the past several years, University practices have led to our union filing discrimination grievances after postdocs were fired or laid off following pregnancy leave. There is no defense for this practice, and yet at all turns UC has resisted efforts to remedy these injustices. Continue reading
I am incredibly proud to be a woman in science, to be a role model for other women and girls, and to hopefully push some of the barriers that still exist for women advancing in academia. But sometimes this can feel like an incredible amount of pressure to succeed, to show the world that I, one woman, can be great, somehow demonstrating that all women can be too. Let’s be honest – I’m not always great.
When I was interviewing for postdoc positions I had a particular experience where I really discovered this feeling. This interview was two days long and on the first day I gave my research talk. I dressed in a skirt suit and tried to be very professional. I am generally a good speaker and was confident about my talk. But part way through, a young man about my age asked a question that threw me off my game. It was a really simple question that I should have been able to answer easily. But I didn’t know. I gave a bunch of related information that led to an indirect answer, but it was clear that I should have had a direct answer to the question. The question-asker and other attendees talked a little more about this issue without pushing too hard. But I felt stupid. It made me hyper-aware of everything else in the rest of my talk, from the words that I said to the way I was presenting myself. Continue reading
Faculty at my institution are upset over the family unfriendliness of the academic schedule. A particular sticking point is that numerous events at the University begin after 5 p.m. – these are lectures, beginning of the year events, graduate recruitment events, and even job talks (leaving aside the necessity to go out to dinner with seminar speakers one hosts and job candidates if one is on the search committee). For many faculty, an early evening event is on their schedule at least once a week. This is particularly frustrating to dual-academic partners and faculty with young children.
A survey was sent out to the faculty, and various potential solutions were brought forward. Many faculty would like the University to provide sitters at evening events or set up a drop-in sitting facility. Multiple requests were made for a more lenient Travel Fund for Dependent Care: each faculty member can apply for up to $500 once a year to bring a non-family sitter on a trip, but many argued it would be preferable to have this fund to applicable to non-travel situations (i.e., paying for a sitter when both partners are on search committees and need to spend evenings away from home). But far and away the greatest request was for an end to programming after 5 p.m. As one colleague put it, “In my ideal world, no one would expect faculty to be available after 5 p.m. for professional events.” Continue reading