One of the most common questions I’m asked now, and in the years when I was active as an academic, is how women in academia can manage to combine children and career. I did it, having two babies as an assistant professor and still getting tenure and moving forward in my career. But in the end, of course, it was my kids who were the catalyst for my leaving academia, in the sense that the pressures of coping with an awful and frightening custody battle, combined with the distractions of a stint in administration, caused me to cease research and writing, and indeed lose interest in the whole enterprise as a satisfying life goal (this is described in this post, Death of a Soul on Campus)
In my webinar, How To Manage Your Career Once You Have a Job, I begin and end with a single point—work-life balance is possible, but it takes vigilance and absolute commitment, it requires that you defy the expectations of your colleagues in the department and in the field at large, and that you be prepared to suffer a price for it, in terms of speed of promotions, raises, and career advancement. You *can* have work-life balance, but it will be in resistance to, and defiance of, the norms that govern academic careers, and you will suffer consequences, and you need to be prepared for them. And consequences that you don’t experience in terms of career advancement you might well see in terms of your physical health and mental well-being.
Now, today, there are two articles out, “Family Friendly Comes at a Price,” from the Chronicle of Higher Education and “The Mom Penalty” from Insider Higher Ed, that both provide evidence of the truth of this claim. Please read them.
The irony of course, as one of the writers points out, is that only when more people, especially more men, demand adequate maternity/paternity leave, will the penalties and resentments directed at those who take it begin to diminish.
I close with this long quote from “The Mom Penalty.”
‘For women in academe, said Mason, “At every stage, there’s a ‘baby penalty.’ In the earlier stages, graduate students have children and drop out or grad students get turned away from the academic profession, in terms of the [lack of family-friendliness] they see around them.” Concerns about time demands in relation to caretaking, and worries that advisers, future employers and peers would take their work less seriously were all reasons female Ph.D. students, more than male, cited for not having a child or being uncertain about having a child in one survey of graduate students in the University of California system. In another survey of postdoctoral fellows in the system, more than 40 percent of women who had children during their fellowships were considering changing their career plans to those outside academic research, compared to 20 percent of childless women with no plans for children.
‘Young female professors with children leave the profession in greater numbers than their cohorts, too. The retention gap between female professors with children and those without, as well as men with and without children, narrows at mid-career – presumably when children are older and require less care – but women are still underrepresented at the higher rungs of the academic ladder. Tenure-track female professors also are likelier to be unmarried, divorced and childless than their male counterparts (12 years after receiving their Ph.D.s, 44 percent of female tenured faculty were married with children, versus 70 percent of male tenured faculty, according to the National Science Foundation’s landmark Survey of Doctorate Recipients, which has tracked 160,000 Ph.D.s in the sciences, social sciences and humanities since the effort began in the 1970s) – what Mason called a “double equity problem.”’