Survey of faculty points to perceived gender disparity

Despite the University’s formal commitment to recruiting a more diverse faculty, women faculty members still perceive a sharp gender divide — resulting in what they see as significant inequalities between male and female professors.

Female faculty members at Yale are twice as likely as their male counterparts to feel left out of informal departmental networks, and tenured women professors overwhelmingly believe they have to work harder than their male peers to be viewed as legitimate scholars, a Provost’s Office survey released this month revealed

“It’s sort of implicit that it’s not acceptable to have your women and minority faculty feel different about the University than everyone else,” said Physics department chair and Women Faculty Forum co-chair Megan Urry. “It just indicates a problem.”

The survey, which was conducted last year, also found that senior female professors are more likely to feel overburdened with administrative and committee duties which, in turn, displace time they would use for their research. Male junior faculty are 50 percent more likely than their female colleagues to feel administrative assignments are distributed equally.

Both junior and senior women professors are “much more likely” to describe their jobs as stressful than men of both ranks, the survey reported.

The results come in the midst of a drive by the University administration to diversify its faculty ranks. In 2005, the administration announced an initiative to add at least 30 new female faculty members to departments where women are currently scarce.

But, as the survey indicates, the effects of this drive may not be fully felt just yet.

“The difference in responding by women faculty … stuck out for me,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said.

Inherent biases

Some of the more disturbing inequities brought up in the survey, namely disparities in mentoring, may have already been addressed, though not solved, since it was conducted, Urry said.

The survey reported that 56 percent of female junior faculty said they feel adequately mentored compared to 90 percent of male junior faculty. Administrators have stipulated that the University’s former system of tenure and appointments — revamped last spring to resemble the “tenure tracks” at most of Yale’s peer institutions — may have caused inadequate mentoring of junior faculty since, under that system, the internal promotion of junior faculty to tenure was extremely rare.

A request this semester from Salovey and Graduate School Dean Jon Butler that all University departments develop a formal mentoring system may help solve this problem within most departments. This newfound focus, Urry said, may make senior faculty more accountable to their women and minority junior colleagues.

But, Urry said, “I don’t think it’s sufficient. I think we also have to recognize how we look at minorities and women and evaluate them and how they are situated.”

As an example, Urry pointed to the results of a 2003 study by researchers at Wayne State University. The study found that recommendation letters written by senior faculty for women junior faculty at an unnamed medical school tended to be shorter in length and more likely to speak negatively about the candidates than those written for male candidates.

Urry said these kinds of systemic inequalities are often not perceived by male or non-minority faculty members.

“There’s no question that there can be biases that operate against women and minorities in fields in which they’re minorities,” Urry said, “because the expectations of what you are and how you behave are based on some other population. I’m not sure a majority of the faculty appreciate that. I think we have some work to do there as well.”

But music professor Sarah Weiss said she does not feel that the survey reflects her own experience at Yale, which she said has been overwhelmingly positive. But Weiss credited her experience to the progressive attitude of faculty in her department.

“If someone [in my family] gets sick, I know I don’t lose my job if I have to miss a meeting or cancel a class or something,” Weiss said.

Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations professor Benjamin Foster said how women are treated often varies from department to department.

“Some departments are very medieval in their approach to women,” Foster said. “You will find that some departments are sort of blind [to gender], to where the women feel quite comfortable and even run it, and in other departments women feel extremely alienated. All of us know horror stories, and they tend to focus on two or three departments.”

Foster declined to specify which departments are the most problematic.

Family issues

Some of the gender issues brought to light by the survey are reflective of broader societal trends that extend beyond the Ivory Tower. Eighty percent of women, for example, said that caring for children has slowed their career progression, compared with 57 percent of men with children.

Sociology professor Jennifer Bair, who has a six-year-old daughter, said it is generally the case that women do a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare. Bair said the University can help its women professors by providing back-up child care so professors do not have to miss work if a primary daycare is closed because of bad weather.

Some said even having a child as a junior faculty member hurts a woman’s chances for tenure, even though, as Bair emphasizes, a woman’s childbearing years often overlap with her years as a junior faculty member. NELC professor Karen Foster, who is married to Ben Foster said she knows several women who hid their pregnancies for as long as they possibly could while they were being considered for tenure.

But, ironically, Karen Foster said having children is often beneficial to a man’s career.

“It’s a general perception that once a woman has a child she tends to be focused on the child,” she said. “This of course does not affect men. Supposedly having children steadies a man.”

“I don’t think [this attitude] is unique to Yale,” she added.

In the survey, professors were asked to rate their satisfaction with a wide variety of University resources on a scale of one to five, with one indicating “very dissatisfied” and five signifying “very satisfied.” Faculty members were more dissatisfied with available child care than almost any other resource, with a mean score of just over three.

In general, Bair said she would like to see more University-affiliated child care centers. When she first had her daughter, Bair said she had to “scramble” to find daycare because she was not given a spot at one of the University’s three existing child care facilities, which serve the needs of Yale staff.

This year, she said, her daughter is attending kindergarten at the Yale-affiliated Calvin Hill Day Care Center.

“It just improved the quality of life,” Bair said. “I think if you can get in there, it’s great.”

Despite the current disparity between women and men when it comes to satisfaction with certain areas of University life, female professors said paying attention to the survey’s issues will improve life for both sexes at the University.

“Women and minorities function as a canary in the coal mine, finding underlying problems that are a problem for everybody,” Urry said. “Whenever I see a result where women and minorities are somehow off, I just think that’s a symptom of a disease that really affects everyone.”

The survey also indicated that the University’s underrepresented minority faculty members felt marginalized within the larger faculty community.

University administrators are responding to the survey through a series of breakfast meetings with all department chairs to discuss issues raised by the survey, Salovey said.

Comments

  • turnover

    One of the most sickening footnotes to this type of survey is the decades of unrecorded (by the University) turnover of women/minority faculty. The number of women faculty (tenured, non-tenured, up for tenure, not up for tenure) in my personal recollection who have left Yale amounts to an army of scholars lost.

  • RQ

    I’d rather go to boarding school than live with a mother like Amy Chua. I’d be begging to go just to get away from her! At least they let you do /something/ you want to do /sometimes/.

    I’m all for hard work and discipline (which was a traditional American ideal too, so there’s no reason to call it “Chinese”), but what bothers me most about Chua is the idea that a child must be #1 at everything– not because of self-esteem (I don’t care about it) but one’s /esteem for others/. Needing to be the best all the time means that no one else excels because they are great; it’s just that you couldn’t beat them. That’s self-centered. In most workplace environments, it’s hard to get along with people whose sole purpose in life is to undermine you.

    Nothing I do is ever good enough, and I don’t recognize my own achievements because I always feel I could’ve done better. That motivates me. However, the only time I can feel good about myself is when I notice that someone else is doing badly. Some time ago I realized that this attitude is actually quite poisonous.