Not 'news' to anyone here, I know, but scary article about motherhood and academia

(242 Posts)
MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Mon 17-Jun-13 15:53:30

I thought this was interesting, though hardly surprising. I find it quite a big concern given how much research we're constantly being shown, that 'proves' women are all [insert stereotype here]. This article looking at why so many women don't progress in academia - and in particular why mothers don't - perhaps gives a good reason why we might take some research with a pinch of salt: it's largely done by men and childless women.

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 11:28:37

Also it's not all about having babies. Shows bias against women - not quite the same thing but makes you think.

PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 11:54:43

I think its a shame that Athena SWAN is only for STEM. As a social scientist who can see the same trends of reducing proportions of female leaders as one moves up the ladder (though our PVC is female and very inspiring) it seems unfair. Waaaaa! Though I do remember hearing that a general academic gender equality initiative will be launched soon. Yaaaaay!

I had my kids relatively young and came to academia when they were little (career change) so I feel as though I am just starting to be able to ramp up a little, now that they're both at school and that little bit older (nearly 7 and nearly 10).

It's the publications thing that entrenches inequality, I think. My experiences before being an academic mean that I've got plenty to offer in terms of securing funding (which I have a good track record in), management and <whispers> Impacty type public engagement stuff. But, as far as promotion goes, that stuff has very little value compared to a long list of publications in good journals.

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 12:01:36

PromQueen Things are beginning to change. They are inventing different tracks to promotion. And the publication game - some groups are beginning to talk about measuring against "opportunity" rather than absolutely. But I guess culture change will take a long time. Still, better than not talking at all...

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 12:13:23

Yes it is moving slowly. Personally the biggest change Inwould like to see is male academics (and men in general) taking far more leave, but that is perhaps outside the scope of Athena Swan

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 12:20:27

bigkids I saw one organisation's good practice document saying to ensure that male academics' managers are in line with these practices. Also one that says to monitor male academics attendance on equality training courses. Other departments who did all these things a few years ago concluded that life is much better for all now. So there is hope. My personal crusade is to replace "maternity" anything with "parental" or "carer", though I have not succeeded in making men do the giving birth or breastfeeding bits. Only joking, before anyone jumps on me... grin

scallopsrgreat Tue 18-Jun-13 12:25:36

"I think its a shame that Athena SWAN is only for STEM" I agree.

The system is set up by men and for men without childcare responsibilities. That is what needs to change. And it is good to hear that there are some changes albeit slowly.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 12:25:47

bad - no, true, I wouldn't want to equate 'mother' with that kind of identity either, obviously.

WoT - I think it would depend when you did it. I know people who say you want to get to junior lecturer level, have babies, and come back, but I don't see much evidence it works. I've seen people who are incredibly hard-working manage to have babies before the PhD, do the PhD with little ones, and go on from there - so the gap is before the PhD. But I think it is really tricky.

I think bigkids is right, the biggest issue is male academics not taking much leave, which ends up with a culture of presenteeism.

They only recently tried to make any sort of proper allowance for maternity leave in the big assessment that rates all universities' research outputs.

AutumnMadness Tue 18-Jun-13 12:53:53

I think that compared to a lot of industry, academia is relatively child- and parent-friendly, especially because of flexible working hours. At the same time, it is becoming more and more part of the global rat race that is the global patriarchy. It's all about competition, money, rationalisation, and who can keep their arse in front of the computer doing calculations for longer and mark coursework faster. All this is so twisted that communism is starting to appeal to me. angry

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 12:59:09

I suppose bits of it are. I don't know how flexible lab work is?

AutumnMadness Tue 18-Jun-13 13:07:19

Agreed. Parts of it are not flexible at all. I am also always asked by friends and family "So what are you doing on your summer off?" Bwa-ga-ga-ga-ga.

rubyanddiamond Tue 18-Jun-13 13:21:05

I think the article focuses more on the US where PhDs are longer and maternity leave is non-existent, which means that the conclusions might not necessarily be the same for the UK.

Having said that, I'm an academic about to take my 2nd lot of maternity leave, and I can see myself leaving academia in the not-too-distant future. I think I'm perfectly capable of being an academic, I have lots of ideas and the skills needed for the job. But what I don't have is a great quantity of sparkling publications (although I think the quality is good) due to both motherhood and other career choices I made when younger.

On the plus side, the flexible hours that you get in some parts of academia are brilliant with a small child, if you find yourself in one of those areas.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 14:46:40

I'm wet lab science and it's he most flexible job I can think of! When I go back I'm working 7-3.30ish so I can pick DS up from school. DH does mornings already and works 9.30-6. Occasionally I stay late for meetings but we have a Cm too and it is never last minute. Also the benefit of sciences is I think we teach less - I certainly don't have any teaching responsibilities at all.

As part of Athena Swan we have banned meetings starting before 10 or ending after 4 so that people picking up children aren't disadvantaged.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 14:49:19

Oh, that's good to hear! smile

I just didn't know and could imagine it might be more difficult to organize times.

PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 14:54:43

Huh. I'm sometimes having to make myself unpopular with my colleagues by sending my apologies for meetings that start at 3:30 and run until 5.

I do say that I will try and make it, but that special childcare arrangements will need to be made. They just ignore this, mostly, and I miss the meeting.

It makes me feel less valued and sometimes I worry that I will get into trouble, but the flexibility and independence are the flip side.

PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 14:55:27

I work reduced hours, until 3, so they are planning meetings for a time when I am not contracted to work. Just to clarify!

kalidasa Tue 18-Jun-13 15:40:30

Yes it is depressing. I am a lecturer in a humanities subject at an RG university - fortunately just past probation so a fairly stable permanent job - and my baby is six months old. I returned from maternity leave quite early (when he was four months), partly for career reasons, but mostly because I had had a terrible pregnancy so had basically been off for a year at that point and it was driving me mad. I am the first woman to have a baby in my department for many years and I do feel quite isolated. (Though I reckon a couple of female colleagues are quite likely to follow suit fairly soon.) So far I don't feel that having a baby has made much difference to my productivity/work rate but it's very early days obviously. And also I made a big work-life balance effort a few years ago so wasn't in the habit of working a lot in the evenings/weekends as many academics are (including DH). When I am at work I find I am mostly v. efficient.

I definitely feel though that there is no realistic option to go part-time if I want to preserve the possibility of progressing to senior lecturer, professor etc. This is quite different from the experience of, e.g., my best friend who is a high-flying doctor (hospital) and has done several part-time stints, as has her husband; or of my sister who is also an academic but a psychologist in Australia and seems to feel pretty relaxed about the prospect of returning on reduced hours after her first baby. (Though perhaps she is just being naive!) I don't know any serious academics in my field or related fields who work less than full time. The handful of women who do are considered research inactive and are basically consigned to teaching/admin stuff.

AutumnMadness Tue 18-Jun-13 15:56:02

kalidasa, I agree that having a child made me very focused at work and I don't tend to work in the evenings and weekends (I've got too many hobbies for that anyway). But as you, I never saw part-time work as a realistic option, especially if I want to be research-active and get promoted. I have great admiration for one of the posters above who said she is working part-time and publishing. I feel that if I was trying to be research active in a part-time job, the job would just expand to being full-time anyway, and I would simply get less money.

bigkidsdidit Tue 18-Jun-13 17:20:27

I'm the same as both of you - very focused at work, only do 40 hours a week which is unusual, but no chance of less than full time, really. I don't mind too much, I love work and my hours are great.

Am depressed again now though, just had two papers rejected in one day, ffs sad not sure what my chances of winning a big fellowship are now sad

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 19:21:54

AutumnMadness That's me that's me!!! (Phew! Recognition at last! grin) I am 60% and research active but I haven't been "successful" - no grant, no promotion. But then I'm doing research that I like, publishing things I like, teaching a course that I like, and have time to play the piano and deal with my bloody lovely children (sorry - they are a bit trying today). I don't want the situation to change so have been reluctant to make any effort for promotion.

Xenia Tue 18-Jun-13 19:32:19

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PromQueenWithin Tue 18-Jun-13 19:35:18

Is your husband cleverer? No
Is he sexist? No
Were you brought up to believe a woman's place is in the home? No
Are you lazy? No. In fact, part time is probably harder as no childcare is used.

So, why? Um. I want to. It works for me. I don't lack ambition. Come back to me in 5 years and I will be a 4 days a week Prof! grin

UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 19:42:36

I earn enough even when part-time. wink

And I do everything I like. I enjoy my life, my children (even when they are being horrific), I don't do all the housework because I employ a cleaner - yes, I earn enough even as a part-timer. I have a good pension. I play my piano and I read. What's not to like? Plenty of people progress up the ladder because that's what people do. Do you ever question the meaning of life and success Xenia? hmm

GrimmaTheNome Tue 18-Jun-13 20:01:16

I'd not heard of Athena Swan (I'm not in academia) - sounds good! Some of you might also be interested in the Dorothy Hodgkin fellowships - though obviously there aren't enough of these to solve the problem.

Going back to the OP, I'm not sure its totally the case that research is 'largely done by men and childless women' - a lot of actual research is done by the 'second tier' mentioned in the link. The postdocs and part-timers - who tend not to have the teaching load (and maybe less time spent filling in grant applications, from what I remember of my time within a lab). But for sure, not the status and job security. Some manage to carve out extremely successful careers - and full lives - by less conventional means - but probably by being exceptional compared to most chaps. Ideally, I think, there should be routes for people to take either approach - mothers who are head of department, fathers who are part-timers if they prefer that balance, whatever regardless of gender.

MalenkyRusskyDrakonchik Tue 18-Jun-13 20:04:37

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UptoapointLordCopper Tue 18-Jun-13 20:19:25

We are all losers. grin I quite like this way of life TBH. The conventional route bores me.

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