THE (Times Higher Education) - - OPINION -

The de­mands of par­ent­hood are a par­tic­u­larly fraught is­sue when it comes to jug­gling work and home life. And anal­y­sis of our sur­vey re­sults sug­gests that, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, fe­male univer­sity staff feel the strain to a much greater ex­tent than male staff do.

More than two-fifths (43 per cent) of fe­male aca­demics who have chil­dren say that this holds back their ca­reer “sig­nif­i­cantly” or “a great deal”. That com­pares with just 25 per cent of male aca­demics. Among pro­fes­sional and sup­port staff, 30 per cent of women give that an­swer, com­pared with just 14 per cent of men (see graph 6, page 40).

One head of depart­ment at a univer­sity in the north west of Eng­land be­lieves, sim­ply, that “the work­load and re­spon­si­bil­ity [of aca­demic life] are in­com­pat­i­ble with hav­ing a fam­ily”.

The ma­jor­ity of schol­ars with chil­dren (60 per cent) be­lieve that they would work at least five more hours a week if they did not have any de­pen­dants. Two-fifths of pro­fes­sional staff (40 per cent) say the same. Among fe­male aca­demics, that fig­ure rises to 65 per cent, com­pared with 53 per cent of male aca­demics. How­ever, when pro­fes­sional staff are ex­am­ined, slightly more men (52 per cent) would work at least five hours more per week if they didn’t have chil­dren, com­pared with women (47 per cent; see graph 7, page 40).

“Prior to hav­ing my son in 2016, I rou­tinely worked 50 to 60 hours per week, with a daily com­mute of two hours per day on top,” says a post­doc­toral re­searcher at a Welsh univer­sity. “I now am only able to work eight to nine hours a day, and use my (gen­er­ous) an­nual leave al­lowance to take Fri­days off for child­care. I have en­forced this work-life bal­ance but, ul­ti­mately, to the detri­ment of my job. My con­tract ends in six months, and it is likely to sig­nal the end of my ca­reer in academia. I have found it im­pos­si­ble to man­age my work­load with my cur­rent hours.”

In con­trast, how­ever, an em­ployee work­ing in me­dia, PR and mar­ket­ing at a Rus­sell Group univer­sity re­ports: “I think HE is one of the best sec­tors to work in if you’re look­ing for a bal­ance be­tween pro­gress­ing in your ca­reer and hav­ing chil­dren”.

The ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents to the sur­vey – 56 per cent of aca­demics and 60 per cent of pro­fes­sion­als – cur­rently do not have chil­dren, al­though this may partly re­flect the fact that 57 per cent of aca­demic re­spon­dents and

56 per cent of non-aca­demic re­spon­dents are un­der the age of 40 (14 and 16 per cent re­spec­tively are un­der 30). Fe­male aca­demics are less likely to have chil­dren than male aca­demics, but when asked how many chil­dren they ul­ti­mately in­tend to have, male and

“We have a work­load model, but it is to­tally un­re­al­is­tic. Time needed for ad­min, mark­ing and mod­ule con­ven­ing in par­tic­u­lar is re­ally not cal­cu­lated real­is­ti­cally, so there is al­ways more work than you ‘should’ be do­ing ac­cord­ing to the model”

Lec­turer at a Rus­sell Group univer­sity in the north west of Eng­land

fe­male aca­demics’ an­swers are very sim­i­lar: about 30 per cent of both gen­ders want two chil­dren: about the same pro­por­tion as those who want none. A sim­i­lar fig­ure is re­ported by pro­fes­sional staff, too.

Among re­spon­dents who do not in­tend to have chil­dren, 63 per cent of fe­male aca­demics say that this is at least partly a re­sult of fears that do­ing so would be in­com­pat­i­ble with their ca­reers. The fig­ure for male aca­demics and fe­male pro­fes­sional staff is 41 per cent, and falls to 35 per cent among pro­fes­sional men – al­though a higher pro­por­tion of the last group (19 per cent) at­tribute their de­sire for child­less­ness “mostly” or “en­tirely” to their jobs, com­pared with non-aca­demic women (14 per cent; see graph 8, above).

“I want chil­dren very much, and would like to have them while I have a lower chance of fer­til­ity is­sues, but I am fear­ful this will im­pact my ca­reer. I do think that not sac­ri­fic­ing your en­tire life for academia is looked down upon,” says a so­cial sciences doc­toral stu­dent who did not dis­close the coun­try of her in­sti­tu­tion.

“I don’t have space in my di­ary to sched­ule a meet­ing, let alone have chil­dren,” adds a se­nior lec­turer at a UK univer­sity.

“Had I not en­tered academia, I ex­pect that I would have had chil­dren. Un­less I [find a] part­ner who could take on child­care, I can­not see how I could con­tinue with this job, con­tinue full-time (which I need, fi­nan­cially and for my pen­sion), and keep my men­tal health in bal­ance,” adds a fe­male se­nior lec­turer at a post-92 univer­sity in the north of Eng­land.

Fe­male re­spon­dents also high­light be­ing dis­cour­aged from hav­ing chil­dren by their man­agers. A post­doc­toral re­searcher at a UK univer­sity says her PHD su­per­vi­sor told her that each child she had would be “a book you haven’t writ­ten”.

One man­ager at a US in­sti­tu­tion “ter­mi­nated a preg­nancy two years ago, in part be­cause

I was fac­ing the end of my yearly con­tract and did not know whether I’d still be em­ployed, or able to take ma­ter­nity leave and count on be­ing able to re­turn to work af­ter­wards”.

But some re­spon­dents say that hav­ing chil­dren has helped their ca­reer and im­proved their men­tal health. “My child def­i­nitely keeps me grounded and I feel I’ve be­come a bet­ter aca­demic since I’ve had him. Be­cause I’ve got a sta­ble home life, it helps me cope with any stress at work,” says a head of depart­ment at a medium-sized Lon­don univer­sity.

A lec­turer at a mod­ern univer­sity in the east of Eng­land adds: “Since I had my se­cond child, I have made a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion to sep­a­rate work and home life. I am more fo­cused and pro­tec­tive of my time at work and more selec­tive about the work ac­tiv­i­ties I take on. Equally, I only work at home when ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary. Since draw­ing more def­i­nite bound­aries I feel more in con­trol and am much hap­pier in both my work and home lives.”

De­spite th­ese po­ten­tial ben­e­fits, large ma­jori­ties of both aca­demics and pro­fes­sion­als think that women take more of a ca­reer hit than men

“Uni­ver­si­ties should pro­vide post-ma­ter­nity sab­bat­i­cals, to give us a fight­ing chance to re­main re­search-rel­e­vant” Lec­turer at a medium-sized in Lon­don univer­sity

do when they have chil­dren. How­ever, the gen­der split is very large: among women,

89 per cent of aca­demics and 85 per cent of pro­fes­sional staff have this per­cep­tion, com­pared with 67 per cent of male aca­demics and 65 per cent of male pro­fes­sional staff.

“I see fe­male col­leagues with chil­dren kept down from pro­mo­tion, taunted and ques­tioned about their fer­til­ity and mother­hood, and as­sump­tions made about them which are sim­ply not made about men,” says a se­nior lec­turer at a post-92 in­sti­tu­tion.

One post­doc­toral re­searcher on a tem­po­rary con­tract in Aus­tralia adds that she is “in­cred­i­bly con­cerned and anx­ious” about her chances of se­cur­ing her next aca­demic po­si­tion be­cause she might be “marked by HR as ‘ma­ter­nity leave’ prone”.

“Prior to get­ting my first post­doc, sev­eral peers told me ‘if I could’ to weave into the in­ter­view that I’m not about to have kids, and to take my rings off to ap­pear sin­gle.”

The pro­por­tion of both aca­demics and pro­fes­sional staff who would like more chil­dren than their part­ners would is lower than the pro­por­tion who would like fewer, al­though the num­bers in all cases are low; the vast ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents in all cat­e­gories want the same num­ber of chil­dren as their part­ners do. Nev­er­the­less, where there is a dif­fer­ence, aca­demics are much more likely than pro­fes­sional staff to at­tribute that at least partly to the de­mands that their jobs place on them, with women, again, more likely to give this an­swer (68 per cent, ver­sus 60 per cent of men).

In terms of shar­ing child­care within cou­ples, men are sig­nif­i­cantly less likely than women to bear more than half of the bur­den. Just 7 per cent of male aca­demics and

6 per cent of male pro­fes­sional and sup­port staff do more than half the child­care, com­pared with 50 per cent of fe­male aca­demics and 45 per cent of fe­male pro­fes­sional staff (see graph 9, op­po­site).

A small num­ber of re­spon­dents (19 per cent) to the sup­ple­men­tary sur­vey re­port that they have car­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for other fam­ily mem­bers. Of those, just over a third of aca­demics (34 per cent) add that th­ese re­spon­si­bil­i­ties hold back their ca­reer sig­nif­i­cantly or a great deal, com­pared with only a fifth

(20 per cent) of pro­fes­sion­als.

“Ban emails out­side nor­mal work­ing hours”

Se­nior lec­turer at a post-92 in univer­sity the south of Eng­land

"Em­ploy more staff to de­crease stress and pres­sure on ex­ist­ing staff"

Lab­o­ra­tory tech­ni­cian at a large Lon­don univer­sity

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