Teach Your Professors Well: Closing Gender Gap for Academics Leaning In To Help

Women faculty are more likely to do more service for the institution and get promoted less often.

Women faculty are more likely to do more service for the institution and get promoted less often.

The persistent gender gap in academia is not directly about pay—though that is there, too—or about tenure. It’s about helping out, or service to the university. And it all leads to an imbalance up the ladder. So what can you do about it?Perhaps it is because many women faculty at colleges and universities say “yes” when asked to volunteer on a committee, project, student group or event. On many campuses in this country, that simple leaning in is causing female professors to spend more time away from what could help them climb the tenure ladder.[bctt tweet=”#WomenFaculty are more likely to do more service for an institution & get promoted less often” username=“takeleadwomen”]As emerita faculty at Northwestern University, I saw over the 18 years I taught on the graduate and undergraduate levels just how this trend plays out. Many of my female colleagues and I agreed to help out on committees— ad hoc or assigned— whenever asked. It was not always the case with our male peers. They said no more often.Women need to heed that example and say “yes” if it works strategically for career advancement.A new study from the University of California-Riverside found that to be true. The study “looked at the average amount of service work professors did at more than 140 U.S. colleges and universities in 2014. The study examined work-related activities of almost 1,400 faculty members and took into consideration the race, sex, areas of study and the duties of the professors,” according to Learning English.“On average, female professors do about half an hour more service work per week than male professors. At the large Midwestern university system, the female professors were doing about 1.5 more service activities each year.”Cassandra Guarino, Professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of California-Riverside, says few are surprised. “In some cultures, women are asked to do more work than men while receiving less in return. The Pew Research Group reported that, in 2015, a woman in the U.S. would have to work 44 days more, on average, to earn the same amount as a man,” according to Learning English.And that extra time spent in service—serving as a judge on research committees, curriculum review and helping to judge awards and more—takes time away from the tangible and more visible work of submitting to peer-reviewed journals, writing books and delivering keynotes perhaps. While service is icing on the cake for promotion and tenure consideration, it is not what gets people tenure.Across all fields from anthropology to zoology and all the social sciences, hard sciences and humanities in between, there are decidedly more tenured male professors than female professors creating a wide gender gap.[bctt tweet=“There are decidedly more tenured male than female professors creating a wide #gendergap” username=“takeleadwomen”]According to Research and Trends for Women in STEM, “Female tenure/tenure-track faculty are not represented at the highest levels of tenure when compared to their male counterparts. As of the 2014-15 academic year, only 32.8 percent of female tenure/tenure-track faculty were classified as Full Professors, compared with 51.8 percent of male tenure/tenure-track faculty.”In the STEM fields, women faculty are under-represented on U.S. campuses.“On average, only 15.7 percent of tenure/tenure-track faculty in U.S. colleges of engineering in the U.S. are women. Life science-related disciplines have the largest percentages of female tenure/tenure-track faculty, with about 1 in 5 tenure/tenure-track faculty being female. Aerospace, nuclear, mining, and petroleum engineering disciplines have the lowest inclusion of female faculty, with only about 1 in 10 tenure/tenure-track faculty being female,” according to Research and Trends.The tenure clock—or the finite amount of time of usually seven years from the faculty member’s hire as assistant professor until promotion with tenure to associate professor—is also complicated by gender. The practice of stopping the tenure clock was intended to help women if they wanted or needed to time off for family, but it turns out it helps the male faculty and adds another dimension to the gender gap.Scott Jaschik writes in Inside Higher Ed, “A new study suggests that the biggest beneficiaries of the policies are male faculty members, and that the odds of a female faculty member earning tenure could go down when institutions enact policies to stop the tenure clock.”He writes that the study, “Equal but Inequitable: Who Benefits From Gender-Neutral Tenure Clock Stopping Policies?“ by Heather Antecol of Claremont McKenna College, and Kelly Bedard and Jenna Stearns of the University of California, Santa Barbara found “the success rate for male candidates increased by 19.4 percentage points after stopping the clock was offered. For women, the rate fell by 22.4 percentage points.”This is all part of the universe of gender gaps in higher education. Speaking up about it within departments and to the administration can help close the gaps.“While the majority of recent studies on the issue have found that women have a harder time earning tenure-track professorships and tenure than do their male counterparts, some studies also suggest that women are now playing on a level field with men — or even possess some advantage,” writes Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed. Amy Atchison, associate professor of political science and international relations at Valparaiso University, writes in the blog for the London School of Economics,Gender bias is well-documented in higher education. This includes well-known issues like harassment of female academics, lower rates of promotion and tenure  an 18 percent wage gap, and a dearth of women in higher education administration.”[bctt tweet=”#WomenFaculty are even cited less often than male faculty in their research” username=“takeleadwomen”]Women faculty are even cited less often than male faculty in their research. “In some disciplines women are cited at lower rates than their male colleagues,” Atchison writes. And that also matters for promotions and tenure. “ If women are cited at lower rates despite the high quality of their research, then they are disadvantaged from the outset in the promotion and tenure process.”So what is the solution?Changing the culture of legacy institutions may be slower to evolve, but women selectively picking and choosing what they will do and will not do based on available time and whether or not it is useful in the long run for promotion, will help.Just saying “no” can then be a powerful tool. This aligns with Leadership Power Tool # 2 created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead: Define Your Own Terms—First, Before Anyone Else Does. What this means is, whoever sets the terms of the debate usually wins. By redefining power not as “Power Over,” but as “Power To” we shift from a culture of oppression to a culture of positive intention to make things better for everyone. “Power To” is leadership.