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