They conclude that after controlling statistically for presence of young children, the evidence of past sex discrimination in promotion disappears, with the gender gap entirely explained by fertility decisions. Many of the most helpful strategies for dealing with professional—personal life balance issues, therefore, focus on ways to reduce the career costs of motherhood. Some strategies are actually suggestions for administrators who run the organizations in which women work.
An example is that institutions should consider stopping the tenure clock for new parents, for one semester or even one academic year. Given the central importance of grant funding to academic scientists, it would be helpful if organizations and funders would adjust the length of time to work on grants to accommodate child-rearing and elder care.
Along with this would go offering no-cost grant extensions, and supplements to hire postdocs to maintain research momentum during family leave. Some have argued for set-aside postdocs targeted for women returning from maternity leave—this to enable these academics to re-enter their careers and get back up to speed.
Some universities have begun offering childcare subsidies to enable professors to attend professional meetings; these funds also pay for travel expenses to bring young children and their caretaker to professional meetings. Many universities also have created childcare centers on campus that also offer emergency backup care and even summer-camp-style programs for preschool children as well as school-age youth.
A key strategy for the modern university is that of couples-hiring. Universities and colleges that appreciate this problem often can score in making hires of desirable talent—simply by finding both of the two bodies good positions.
The willingness to pursue couples-hiring has grown as the number of academics partnering with other academics has increased—we have come far from the traditional society of the s in which the male professor and breadwinner came home to his stay-at-home wife who raised their three children. Institutions of higher learning have grappled with the couples-hiring issue for several decades and fortunately, as of , it has become far more common to hear about two jobs being offered to the members of a family.
As professors sit on search committees and evaluate potential job candidates, one issue that arises frequently is how to deal with the CV of a woman or man who has taken a long-term parental leave. The debate concerns whether women or men on parental leaves are still able to do academic work. Some say that any expectation of publishing during such a leave is ridiculous. Others note that the quiet time when infants are sleeping can afford opportunities for writing up research.
We are witnessing the development of this debate in real time—but some universities are responding by instructing members of search committees to ignore the time spent on leave, which is fortunate for new mothers.
One strategy that is often neglected is simply to educate women graduate students about the upsides and downsides of alternate career paths—there is unquestionably a lot of misinformation out there, among our own students and those of our colleagues! Perhaps we will live to see an academy that tolerates older and nontraditional job applicants, and gives them an equivalent chance at being hired, based on their credentials—but today, there are so many excellent applicants for any decent position that it becomes easy to disregard any applicant with a less-than-linear path.
An additional direction universities might consider is offering a role and a way to contribute to women who choose to leave the tenure-track academy, so that their training can still be put to good use for themselves and for society. Technology can help in many of these regards—being able to work effectively from home, especially when caring for young children or elders, can help women remain involved despite their physical distance from the workplace.
Ensuring that adolescent girls and boys have access to career information that is accurate is also important, so that misinformation does not contribute to young people opting out of careers they might have found rewarding.
The enchanting charms of this sublime science reveal only to those who have the courage to go deeply into it. But when a woman, who because of her sex and our prejudices encounters infinitely more obstacles that a man in familiarizing herself with complicated problems, succeeds nevertheless in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating the most obscure parts of them, without doubt she must have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents and superior genius.
Carl Friedrich Gauss in a letter to Sophie Germain, French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher