Two recent studies confirm some gendered patterns in employment that deeply affect women in higher education: we do more service, we earn less, we are punished for trying to protect our time, and we are punished for asking for raises. This is all about as surprising as that study that confirmed that cats like boxes. I’d say that it helps to have quantitative evidence for what women have long experienced and testified to, but I’m fairly sure that if higher ed administrators and lawmakers weren’t willing to believe women’s words, they’ll find a way not to believe quantitative data, too.
Nonetheless, we should spend some time thinking about the results.
Women ask for raises about as often as men, but men receive them about 25% more of the time. Efforts to achieve a raise or equality in workload often backfire, as women who seek fair compensation or try to protect their time are seen as non-collegial, a criterion that the AAUP rejects as it can mask sexism and other kinds of bigotry, including linguistic bigotry. (This is why Southern Good Old Boys can seem like they are on your side while they are simply riding on your work but people with, say, a New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or Scranton accent might prompt you to respond with prejudice.)
The sum of it: If women don’t accept the conditions of their employment—underpaid and overworked—that undermine their ability to do their jobs well, they are punished. The larger message is that we might have gotten this far, backwards and in high heels, but we still don’t belong.
Oh, it’s not always that overt. Sometimes this discriminatory behavior is rooted in stereotypes that are hard for faculty of any gender to see. Department chairs and administrators who are women have internalized sexism and thus put more work on women colleagues. Fearing backlash or just cognizant of the mediocrity of some of their white men colleagues, it can just be easier to “voluntell” women to do work that they can’t convince men to do well or willingly.
Students see women faculty as more emotionally available and as more student-oriented, which means that they make more demands on women faculty—and get angrier when those women don’t live up to their gendered expectations as warm, nurturing, forgiving mother-figures. This, of course, is expressed in course evaluations, which means that if women aren’t more student- and service-oriented, they are punished for it in quantitative ways.
Combine the expectations of students, chairs, and higher ed administrators with the fact that women (as mothers or potential mothers, whatever their fertility intentions are) are always suspected of being less loyal to the university (Will she get married and follow her husband’s career? If she does, she’s betraying the university and all those who supported her undeserving bid to be here. If her husband situates his life to support her academic career, she’s “married down,” which is what happens when a woman, poor dear, gets too educated.) and women face incredible pressure to prove their loyalty, far above what an actually less committed man, who benefit from a spouse and children, might feel.
Of course, these are broad statements and not true of everyone, every department, or every university. If you are wondering if your department must be displaying some signs of a workload unevenly distributed across gender lines, you might ask:
- Who receives university awards for research? For teaching? For service?
- Who takes notes in meetings? Who supervises the student academic club for the department? Who has the most advisees? Who writes the most letters of recommendation?
- Who keeps tissues in their office because that’s where students cry? Who has never thought to have tissues in their office because the idea of a student crying in front of them is so foreign to them?
- Who serves on the most committees? Who occupies service positions that receive university-wide recognition? Whose service is student-focused? Whose is institution-focused? Whose is dedicated to regional and national organizations? Whose service work is also a form of networking? Whose is a form of care for people with less power?
- Who spends their service time talking to people below them in the academic food chain? Who spends their times in meetings with people ranked higher than them?
This “service gap”—not just of amount but of professional payoff—doesn’t just hurt women, who carry the extra stress of this kind of lower-level administrative and emotional labor and who face opportunity costs—each minute of service is not a minute of scholarship—which is so much more valued. It also hurts students, who need opportunities to connect with a diversity of faculty and need to see men taking on service work so that they have models of healthier workplace interactions. And men are missing opportunities to connect with students in multiple ways and thus to understand them from different perspectives. They are also missing out, too, on opportunities for shared decision-making, which is so important to academic life.
All of this can be solved, thankfully—but only by one group of people: men need to step up.
Women are punished as “complainers” when we ask for fairness, so men are going to have to be the ones to change the culture. Here are some easy suggestions:
- Take the meeting minutes. Every time. Don’t even ask. Just volunteer!
- Make sure the division of advisees is fair. Check in regularly to make sure that the numbers are distributed fairly. And do a good job at it. (We’ve not told you this in order to keep the peace, but your advisees come to us after they meet with you because you so regularly blow them off, misdirect them, or fail to fill out paperwork correctly.)
- Explicitly tell students you are available to write letters of rec for them if their performance warrants it.
- Host a serve-in session. Reserve a room at the local coffee shop and pay for the first round, or bring the coffee to the conference room. Complete service work side-by-side. Ask to see your women colleagues’ to-do list. If it’s longer than yours, ask what you can do.
- Prior to course evaluations, tell students how biases, including racial, gender, and ableist prejudices, can affect how they evaluate their instructors. Ask them to consider their own gendered expectations. Show them Ben Schmidt’s work on gender in course evals. (They tend to be fascinated by it.) Tell them how much this matters.
- Tell your chair and your dean that you want men to do more. Tell them why.
- Don’t act like a hero. Ultimately, this is your job.
That the patterns in higher ed follow the patterns in household labor—men earn more, women do a bigger variety of tasks, including more “dirty work” and more of the emotional and memory work, with less personal time—is not surprising.
Couples who want a traditional division of labor and achieve it tend to be pretty happy. The bad news for men is that no woman in higher ed wants a “traditional division of labor” in her workplace. The good news is that couples who want and achieve a fair division of labor also have high levels of happiness. That’s probably true for academic departments too—and we who have been long underpaid and overworked have some good ideas of how to get there.