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Motherhood: How Faculty Manage Work and Family

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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The book is based on a longitudinal set of interviews with tenure track women with young children at a variety of institutional types and disciplines.  It book focuses on how women managed work and family at the early career stage (when they face the dual pressures of tenure and infants) and then again as these same women face midcareer challenges and school aged children.  The book shows that managing work and family life is doable and that as women\'s academic careers and families evolve they face different kinds of challenges and pressures.



The posting below is a summary by the author, Lisa Wolf-Wendel, professor, Education Leadership and Policy Studies Department, School of Education, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS  [] of some of the key points in her book, Academic Motherhood: How Faculty Manage Work and Family (published by Rutgers University Press, 2012). The book is the winner of the Outstanding Publication Award from AERA, (American Educational Research Association, Division J.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Motherhood: How Faculty Manage Work and Family 


Institutions of higher education are increasingly recognizing that being \"family friendly\" is an asset in terms of recruiting and retaining top faculty members.  Over the last decade, an increasing number of colleges and universities have instituted a variety of policies for new parents including tenure clock extensions, reductions in teaching duties, and parental leaves, to name just a few.  In terms of policies and accommodations much of the focus is on junior faculty and accommodating birth; there is much less attention to the work/family needs of midcareer or more senior faculty - it is as if institutions assume that once faculty earn tenure and once children get older that managing work and family integration will come naturally and not require institutional support. Our research shows that this is not necessarily a safe conclusion, especially for women faculty with children. The academic career and parenthood are both lifelong commitments and institutions of higher education are best served by recognizing this and responding affirmatively. Failure to do so could result in continued gender stratification in the profession and possibly the loss of talented professionals in the field.

Brief Overview of the Findings

The early career results show that the academic career is consuming and greedy (as is parenthood), but that the autonomy and flexibility of the position make managing multiple roles possible. There is no question that being on the tenure track is intense and that the probationary period is stressful. There also is no question that taking care of an infant is a time-consuming task -- and mothers often bear the brunt of those duties. Time is a precious commodity for new mothers and for faculty on the tenure track and the tension comes from trying to fulfill one's multiple roles well within existing time constraints. Despite this pressure, tenure-track women faculty with young children find joy in their multiple roles.  During the early career stage, even when policies are available, faculty members are reticent to use them.


Midcareer faculty were less stressed about managing work and family but were, in general, not making the progress towards professional advancement as hoped.  Parenthood becomes a little easier as well. Family concerns shift from diapers and breast-feeding to carpooling and school activities. Faculty concerns shift, too. No longer is earning tenure the goal, now women are engaging in more service and more advising and are beginning to think about promotion to full professor. Mid-career women faculty are more settled and less stressed -- but they aren't always making the kind of progress towards promotion as we might like. They still need attention and support from their institutions and this is often lacking. Because the tenure process (and babies) is so time-consuming and stressful, there is a tendency for people and institutions to not focus on what happens next -- but being a faculty member and being a parent are lifelong commitments.

At both career stages, women were \"making it work\" through their own efforts and choices and relied little on assistance from their institutions or their departments. It is important for faculty to manage their own lives; but academic institutions play an important role in assisting junior faculty as they navigate the hurdles of tenure and mid-career faculty as they develop into successful senior scholars.  

Institutional Policy Recommendations

The most important thing campuses need to do is not just have policies, but to, more importantly, let people know they can use the policies. We refer to this as a \"culture of use.\" Campuses need to make faculty aware of policies and let faculty know they can use those policies without fear of professional or personal retribution. This requires a cultural shift on behalf of all members of the campus, not just the faculty in need of the policy. Policies have to be known, easy to find, and useable.

In addition to promoting family-friendly cultures we also recommend the following as some things to consider with regard to policy and its use.

• Tenure and biological clocks click simultaneously -- campuses need to be aware of this biological reality for most women.

• FMLA is not enough -- it's a start, but it's not enough to have as a default. Family-friendly policies must be more comprehensive.

• Parenthood is not just a women's problem -- men and women are both dealing with work and family concerns, although women do have unique needs based

  on the physical realities of pregnancy, child birth, and breast-feeding.

• Move away from \"making deals\" -- equitable policy environments grant all faculty access to policies. Success at navigating work and family should

  not just be a matter of personal agency.

• One size may not fit all -- recognize that people are different and babies are different and people may need different forms of accommodation.

  Modified duty policies help chairs to provide accommodations.

• Engage in work and family conversations proactively. We found a lot of chairs were fearful to talk to pregnant female faculty in their department about taking leaves. Letting people know about policies and their use requires conversation.

• Review policies and practices and repeat often to make sure they are relevant, up to date, and effective.

Department Level Recommendations

Departments matter -- they set the culture and climate for faculty. The department is really the most important place at an institution because this is where the work gets done and this is where the review and evaluation process is most intense. Department chairs set the tone with their colleagues about policy. Senior men and women colleagues also play a prominent role in the review process and in creating an open environment. A positive work/family culture starts at the department level. One of the things we learned is that departments (and institutions) need to think about faculty needs and how they vary throughout the career. A lot of time, energy and policy are focused on pre-tenure faculty, but departments should think about how to support their faculty throughout the career. If we want women to progress in their career the focus needs to be holistic and on-going and not just end once people get tenure.

Individual Level Recommendations

The primary focus for people trying to get established as professors is timing. We often get asked, \"When should I have a baby?\" And we respond, \"When you are ready.\" There is no right or wrong time to have a baby. It's also not a decision that is easily controlled (contrary to popular belief). So that is our first piece of advice. Once people have a child and are in a faculty job we offer the following bits of advice,

  • Ask for what you need.
  • Find allies and support.
  • Do your work.
  • Set reasonable priorities.
  • Manage time wisely and efficiently.
  • Plan and anticipate.
  • Be a good colleague.
  • Pay it forward.
  • Take a life-course perspective -- you won't always be \"junior\" and your children won't always be babies.

We want to stress that if you want a child and an academic career, it is doable and there is joy in the job and in parenting. There are women doing it every day who make it work in different institutional types and different disciplines. If you want to have a baby and an academic career you can do both and be happy and productive and sane.