Reality Check: New policies needed to support academic women with children

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If one were to follow the career track of female and male graduate students, to what degree do individuals in each category end up in the higher echelons of the academy, and why? These are questions that have been addressed in a new book, Do Babies Matter? Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower by Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas H. Wolfinger and Marc Goulden of the University of California (UC) Berkeley. The key finding of their research*, is that academic women’s careers are negatively affected as a result of having children, disproportionate to men, and more so in the sciences.
Specifically, the UC research reveals that in general, it takes women in California longer to reach the rank of full professor and they are less likely to be awarded tenure than men. Furthermore, the salaries of women at the end of their academic careers are on average 29 per cent lower than their male counterparts. The impact of taking childcare-related leaves within the existing models of career development in the academy both lengthens time for tenure and promotion and results in a cumulative decrease of salary over time. Meanwhile, for men, having children does not have this kind of effect on their salary.
While the majority of Canadian female and male faculty have access to paid parental leave, with some form of top-up, the situation in Ontario suggests that there are similar trends to those in California. In the province, there are close to 2,700 male faculty at the rank of full professor, and approximately 1,600 women. The median salary at that rank for men is $148,375 and for women it is $143,050**. According to available data, at ranks below Assistant Professor, women outnumber men – with 378 women, and 348 men. The UC research indicates that the part-time adjunct faculty category is disproportionately made up of women who are married with children, and there is reason to believe this is also the case in Ontario.
In addition to paid parental leave for both parents, the UC Berkeley research team recommends greater flexibility in the workplace and in tenure and promotion processes, and improved child care assistance. At Berkeley, which recently introduced paid leaves for fathers as well as other new policies that benefited parents, job satisfaction increased.
*The research is based on surveys of faculty and graduate students at UC, and U.S. national Survey of Doctorate Recipients.
**Based on Statistics Canada’s 2010-11 University and College Academic Staff System Survey.

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