Poster Paper: Barriers to Effective Work-Family Policies for Government Grant Recipients

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Catharine Warner-Griffin and Rachel Holzwart, Insight Policy Research

Background: Women earn an increasing proportion of doctoral degrees in STEM fields, but their representation in full-time tenured faculty positions does not reflect the same proportional increase (Fiegener 2010; NSF 2011). Despite these efforts targeted toward primary and secondary students to develop greater interest in STEM, women, and more specifically women of color, remain underrepresented in full-time, tenured faculty positions (Croom and Patton 2011, American Association of University Professors [AAUP] 2014). Efforts targeting work-family balance to improve diversity in academic STEM positions are warranted for several reasons. Women are more likely than men to cite interpersonal and family reasons for leaving STEM careers (Kaminski and Geisler 2012; Preston 2004). Also, unmarried women and women without children made greater gains in full professorships from 1975 to 2006 than married women and women with children (Goulden, Frasch, and Mason 2009). Childbearing is often seen as a threat to receiving tenure, with childlessness more common among tenured women compared with tenured men (Comer and Stites-Doe 2006; Finkel and Olswang 1996; Mason and Goulden 2004).

Policy: The National Science Foundation (NSF) launched its Career-Life Balance (CLB) Initiative in 2011 with support from the White House to combat this disparity. The CLB Initiative is a 10-year endeavor that aims to increase the number of women in tenured academic positions in the sciences by promoting and developing family-friendly hiring and leave policies. The CLB Initiative offered several types of support in its initial phase, including supplemental funding to hire a research technician during a family leave to continue laboratory research.

Findings: Based on interviews with 48 CLB Initiative funding recipients and secondary data analysis of family-related policies at recipients’ institutions, results highlight barriers to policy implementation. Grantees and fellows outlined three pressing barriers in relation to work-family balance and career advancement. First, participants cite feelings of isolation and stigma attached to family leave taking. Second, more than half of the participants noted the high workload and extensive pressures to teach, publish, and provide service to the university. Finally, all of the recipients interviewed confirmed that academic careers in science and engineering require an extensive amount of traveling so faculty can share the research with a broad audience and network with colleagues to collaborate on additional projects. Maintaining a typical travel schedule in the year following the birth of a child posed a significant challenge.

Discussion: The discussion highlights policy challenges to addressing the concerns put forth by NSF grant recipients. First, regulatory limitations, particularly related to travel and university policies already in existence, prevent NSF from targeting a number of these barriers. This paper notes the way in which government regulations towards fairness may result in continued inequalities. Second, given the importance of promoting diversity in STEM academic positions, several policy recommendations are offered for additional work-family efforts in STEM disciplines. Last, findings highlight several areas of success, in addition to the structural and regulatory limitations discussed above.