Friday, May 01, 2009

Fine lines in the road to promotion

Recent articles in the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed discuss the MLA's report on slower promotion rates to full professor for women. (The Chronicle's is behind the subscription wall, but you can get all the information at IHE.) Here's an excerpt from IHE:
Many women report being punished for performing the parts of their job in which they may take the most pride. One woman is quoted saying that her career had been “helped and hindered by my own propensity continually to propose new courses or substantially revise existing ones" and by "the unusual time/effort I put into grading written work by both undergraduate and graduate students.” Another woman surveyed said she hurt her career because of a "difficulty saying no."
  • The issue about saying no is really partly an issue of energy. In the case of BSS (whose most recent bullet I dodged, by the way) saying no, and knowing that you'll say no, still eats up time and emotional energy. I think part of the issue for female faculty is calibrating the kind of response to give. If you're too pleasant and accommodating, well, there are always other faculty out there looking for an Academic Handmaiden who'll take your pleasantness for a strong wish to be one. If you muster the energy to say no--and it does take more energy to say "no" than "yes"--sometimes it may come out in a more strident way than you intended, just because of the unintended vehemence of your answer. Then you look like someone who's "not a team player"--or worse.
  • Time spent in the office. My theory is that although admin would like people to be in the office a lot and students would like us to be there 24/7 in case they get a random impulse to drop by, women faculty who make it to full professor are in their offices less than those who seem to be stuck at associate. In short, the culture of a place may encourage being available (and police it through pointed remarks like "oh, are you on campus today?") but it rewards staying away and getting research done. Could mentoring help this paradoxical situation? I'm not sure how, since there's a double message here: "Be on campus and available" and "Stay away and write if you want to get promoted." Balancing the two is another of those fine lines.
  • In the comments section at IHE, one commenter ("Jen") mentions that she's on sabbatical but is going to go in for a meeting since there otherwise won't be a woman on the committee. Would I do this? Not on your life; if you're on sabbatical, you're gone. Committees are eternal, and the mills of academe grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small, so there's little chance that something major would transpire while you're away. Yet I wonder if women aren't more prone to the "my department can't get along without me, for who else would do X?" syndrome than men are.

    Ink said...

    Academic Handmaiden is a fantastic description. The reality of it is awful, but the title you just bestowed is so creative!

    undine said...

    Ink, it's so awful yet so common that I'm surprised no one has made it into a job title yet--thanks!