Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Service and gender equity

Profgrrrl, Dr. Crazy, Historiann, and Female Science Professor have some great posts about issues that Dr. Crazy grouped together as "Gender, Equality, Mobility": spousal hires (Profgrrrl), salary compression and gender equity (FSP and Historiann), and all three (Dr. Crazy). Go read their posts for some thoughtful commentary.

I'd like to add a fourth one loosely connected with gender: service and promotion.

The MLA Report "Standing Still: The Associate Professor Survey" says it best: "On average, it takes women from 1 to 3.5 years longer than men to attain the rank of professor, depending on the type of institution in which they are employed and regardless of whether they are single, married, or divorced or have children." According to the survey, women report that they do not spend significantly more time on service than men do, although they spend more time on teaching.

I wonder about this, although all I have is anecdata. Do women really spend the same amount of time on service as their male colleagues, or do they just not count some of the kinds of service that they do perform?

I'm thinking of conversations with colleagues from other institutions who are irritated that "the men" in their departments aren't doing X or Y service task. When I asked them why they didn't give the tasks to "the men" instead of taking those tasks on themselves, they laughed and said, "They wouldn't do it! It would never get done."

My belief is that if "the men" wouldn't do Task X or Y, the department would soon figure it out. Either (1) something would go badly awry in the operations of the department, in which case the faculty member who hadn't done the work would come under scrutiny, or (2) it wasn't worth doing in the first place, in which case the female colleagues should give it up, too. Either way, the colleagues weren't doing either themselves or "the men" any favors by completing these tasks.

Were "the men" really slackers, or were these colleagues just unfairly painting an entire gender with the same "slacker" brush? Did my female colleagues count the extra work that they did as service?

Are the kinds of service that women do different from the kinds of service that men do in departments? Does that service have anything to do with rates of promotion?


Historiann said...

Great questions, Undine. I think this is a very important issue. In many ways, I see parallels to the salary/compensation issues that FSP raised (and which I wrote about yesterday.) On the one hand, women are scolded for not being better negotiators of their own salaries. But as I have written previously, women get punished for being their own advocates, too. We can't win.

With respect to service and gender, we might tell women to "just say 'no'" when asked to take on the more onerous and thankless service tasks in an academic department. OTOH, the women you report saying that if they didn't say "yes," the service "wouldn't get done" might be wrong about that, but they might be right in calculating the possible price they might have to pay down the road for being perceived as "uncollegial," "uncooperative," or "difficult to work with."

I still say it's worth saying "no" to service that will neither interest you nor advance your career goals. (And it goes without saying that if it's "service," it won't count for much at all towards promotion or in annual evaluations in any case.) But my sense is that women, as always, have to tread much more carefully when saying "no" than men do. That's not a slam against men--that's just the world we live in, and we all (women and men alike) play a part in devaluing women's work and in maintaining the status quo.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

I'd be inclined to think that many women are not including some types of service that they perform. For example, in both departments I've worked for the social events have been the domain of the women (in one case quite pointedly; in the other they offer after a period of crickets). But you don't put "organized and hosted department back-to-school party and retirement dinners" on your annual activity report. Ditto advising, another major time-suck. I've found that as the young approachable woman students will come to me to ask questions they should ask their advisor. Sometimes they're testing the water (should I ask Dr. Q or Dr. Y to be my dissertation chair?) and sometimes they "don't want to bother the busy Dr. Y". In these cases, I don't get involved by just responding to the query sucks up my time. Ditto people emailing me to ask when meetings are (seriously?). And then I get students asking met to review conference proposals and the like, and not just my students. It's really hard to say no if you're at least on the committee. So where does this stuff count?

Ianqui said...

In my department, there's a curious split between competent and incompetent people. No one wants to work with any of the incompetent people (who can also be personally distasteful), so they often get to avoid service tasks. It just so happens that the incompetent people are mostly men, since my dept is top-heavy with old white men. So I think a lot of the service falls to the younger (more competent) women, as well as the two men who have proven themselves both competent and conscientious. I think women are probably more likely to exude competence and conscientiousness, which is pretty much what you alluded to in your post, and that hurts us in the end.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

In my department, people do put "organized and hosted department back-to-school party and retirement dinners" on their annual service reports, and I think rightly so. What I have observed is that there are many, many ways of doing praiseworthy amounts of service, but some people (who happen to be male) are better at organizing NEH seminars, which advances them personally as well as being service to the profession, while others (a mix) step up to serve on committees at department, college, and university level. I still get really irritated with colleagues who never serve at dept. level, but I have to admit they're pulling their weight elsewhere in the university; I just wish we could get these things more equitably distributed. I have noticed this delay in women going up for full, & I'm not sure what to attribute it to. In individual cases, it's often clear enough & seems like it could happen to anyone, but in the aggregate, I'm not so sure.

My captcha is "magog." How very medieval.

undine said...

Historiann, I was appalled at FSP's tale of being scolded for not negotiating better. You're right about the price that women pay for saying not to certain kinds of service. It's as though we're given one "say no to service" card, like the "Get Out Of Jail Free" card in Monopoly, but we have to be really careful about when we use it.

profgrrrrl, those are great examples. I wonder what would happen if no one stepped forward to plan those events. The student contact is even harder to avoid, because we want to help them, and yet it's frustrating to have those contacts eat up time because "Dr. Y" is so busy.

undine said...

ianqui, it's as if those who do the work are hit with a Competence Tax. I hate the idea that being unpleasant and/or helpless lets the incompetent faculty members off the hook. I wonder if they've always been that way or if they assumed it as a privilege of age. Either way, it's frustrating that they aren't held accountable.

Dame Eleanor, that's a good point about department versus university service. I think it goes along with the promotion issue: if someone has "planned retirement dinner" and another person has "served on university curriculum committee" (however those posts get appointed), the powers that be are bound to make value judgments about the latter being more important to the institution--even though the events are part of what make the institution viable.

Anonymous said...

I also think it's the kind of service assignment one gets: men get the more prestigious ones, so they get rewarded for service more than women do even though, in my experience (with some notable exceptions) people put in about the same in terms of effort/time.

Even my most solidary colleague, a man and a very long suffering one who does a lot of good service, flakes out more easily than I do and excuses himself by saying, "Yes, well, there were other priorities." He's not wrong, and I'm glad he says that because it Reminds me, but I do notice that what he does is Appreciated whereas what I do is more like Expected. That makes a difference because he's considered "generous" whereas I am sometimes considered not to have used time well. And that can be said in years where we've taught the same amount, published the same amount, and done the same amount of service!!!

undine said...

Profacero, that difference between Appreciated and Expected does seem to fall along gender lines; that's a great way to put it.