December 15, 2008

Case Western Reserve Improves Campus Climate for Women; Many Academic Environments Not as Supportive of Wives, Mothers

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Studies show women working in academia are less likely to marry. They generally will have only one child, delay having a second child and rarely—less than 1 in 10 women faculty members compared to 1 out of every 3 men—have as many as three children.

When women did have babies, some returned to the classroom to teach as early as three days after giving birth instead of taking leave. On average, American men take two weeks off from work after becoming fathers.

While academia in general applauds what's been coined as "daddy privilege," Robert Drago, lead researcher of a study on the work-life issues faced by female faculty members, said he found that women report removing wedding rings and covering up other evidence of their marital status during job interviews at universities. They also hide that they are mothers, he said.

Drago, the author of Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life and three related books, gave the keynote lecture at Case Western Reserve University's 5th Annual Provost's Leadership Retreat hosted by President Barbara Snyder and Provost W. A. "Bud" Baeslack. The event for deans, department chairs and other administrators focused on "Consolidating our Gains, Shaping our Future."

During his presentation, Drago provided data from his study of 5,000 English and chemistry faculty members at more than 500 schools to set the stage for discussion on improving the work-life climate for the Case Western Reserve community.

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University leaders at the retreat also heard positive reports on advancement for women in the sciences, salary equity and climate surveys already taking place at Case Western Reserve. Deputy Provost and Vice President for Academic Programs Lynn Singer and members of the university's National Science Foundation Advance ACES (Academic Careers in Engineering and Science) program [http://blog.case.edu/case-news/2008/11/03/womeninscience] steering committee also noted that several ACES programs, including coaching and opportunity grants, will continue to receive support.

Retreat presentations and full reports of the surveys are available online.

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While Drago noted that Case Western Reserve has some good policies in place to support women faculty members and is working toward additional options, many universities are not improving inclusion on campus. In his recent study, the professor of labor studies and industrial relations and women's studies at Penn State University found women in academia face a harsher climate than female lawyers and doctors.

Drago said women across the country must make difficult choices, especially between career and family, if they want to enter academia and begin the tenure track.

Some male candidates for faculty positions, however, tell hiring committees not only of their research and other academic credentials but also boast about their roles as husbands and fathers. They want the committees to know they have lives beyond academia, according to Drago.

In addition to concealing their roles as wives and mothers during interviews, Drago said women also tend to teach and attend meetings at their universities rather than experience important events in their children's lives, like birthday parties and appearances in school plays.

Drago noted a personal instance where he left his campus to attend his child's soccer practice–and was praised. Yet a female faculty member who planned to attend the same event felt the need to provide an excuse for leaving, giving co-workers the impression she was working from home.

While the climate for women may be gloomy on many campuses, Drago offered three specific ways to counter bias in academia, and Case Western Reserve is looking into all three: Offering part-time tenure options; adopting new university policies, including parental leave guidelines, that are all-encompassing; and working with supervisors and department chairs to better recognize issues women may be facing.

Drago also encouraged hiring committees to be up front and open about childcare and family-related policies during interviews, noting that most candidates, especially women, will not ask because they are unsure of the campus climate.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, December 15, 2008 11:43 AM | News Topics: Alumni, Campus Life, Conferences/Symposia, Faculty, Provost Initiatives, Research, news

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