Female academics ‘held back by greater administrative workloads’

US study suggests women perform more ‘service’ work in universities

April 19, 2017
Filing cabinets

Women shoulder a disproportionately large workload at home in ways that might disadvantage them professionally. But are female professors also “taking care of the academic family” via disproportionate administrative loads? A new study says yes and adds to a growing body of research suggesting the same.

“We find strong evidence that, on average, women faculty perform more service than male faculty in academia, and that the service differential is driven particularly by participation in internal rather than external service,” the study says. “When we look within departments – controlling for any type of organisational or cultural factor that is department specific – we still find large, significant differences in the service loads of women versus men.”

All that matters because administrative loads “likely have an impact on productivity in other areas of faculty effort such as research and teaching, and these latter activities can lead directly to salary differentials and overall success in academia,” the paper says. “In the urgency to redress not only differences in time use but compensation imbalances, as well, the service imbalance is one that deserves to rise to the forefront of the discussion.”

“Faculty Service Loads and Gender: Are Women Taking Care of the Academic Family?” published in Research in Higher Education, was written by Cassandra M. Guarino, professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Riverside, and Victor M. H. Borden, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington. The authors considered data from the 2014 Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, a web-based national survey related to the National Survey of Student Engagement. The faculty survey included responses from nearly 19,000 faculty members at 143 colleges and universities, and asked about how faculty members spend their time (in addition to professors’ views on student engagement).

Professor Guarino and Professor Borden limited their analysis of the national survey to responses from tenured or tenure-track faculty members at four-year colleges and universities, or about 40 per cent of the sample. The national survey asked only how many hours a week faculty members spent on service, not which kinds of service they did or how departments were run. So the authors supplemented that data with those from much more detailed yearly faculty activity reports from two research-intensive campuses (one flagship and one “urban”) of an unnamed Midwestern university. The latter dataset, from 2012, pertained to about 1,400 tenured or tenure-track faculty members. They reported whether their service was “internal”, performed on campus, or the more visible “external” kinds of service performed off campus for professional associations and other groups or communities.

In a first, basic crack at the data, the authors determined that women in the national sample performed 30 more minutes per week of service than men and 1.5 more service activities per year than men in the local sample, and that the difference was statistically significant in both cases.

To glean more meaningful results and control for a number of factors, they proceeded with a multiple regression analysis. In the national sample, women reported 0.6 hours more service per week than men, controlling for rank, race and discipline. Female full professors, in particular, reported significantly more time spent on service than male full professors – although full professors of both genders spent the most time on service overall. Faculty members in business and some sciences appeared to spend less time on service than those in the arts and humanities.

Results for the local data mirrored those for the national set. Controlling for rank, race, department and campus, female professors reported performing, on average, 1.4 more service activities per year than their male counterparts.

The difference was driven largely by internal service, the study says, with women performing approximately one more internal service activity annually than men.

Associate professors in the Midwest university sample reported performing more internal service than other ranks, but full professors exceeded them in terms of external service. “There was some evidence to suggest that Asian female faculty performed more service than Asian male faculty, and that women in various fields performed differently than their male counterparts,” the paper notes. “Women in the public policy faculty performed significantly more service than men on that faculty, and women in law and, to a lesser degree, education performed less.”

Regarding external service, women reportedly perform more service than men in the categories of community service and national service.

The authors had some specific hypotheses as to why gender differentials in service exist, so they looked at the STEM, social science and liberal arts fields (their categories) separately. One hypothesis related to “proportionality”, or whether women are called on to do more service when there are fewer of them in an academic unit. They also considered the importance of gender in departmental leadership, to see if women with male supervisors do more service.

They found some evidence for both the proportionality and leadership hypotheses, varying by discipline. In STEM, having a female department chair was strongly correlated with female faculty members’ external service, which, the authors say, is driven by service to professional organizations and the international community. Within the social sciences, having a male department chair correlated with women doing more department-based service. Interestingly, in the liberal arts, having female chairs correlated with women doing more service, especially within the department – “a finding that would go against the hypothesis that women are asked to do more service or less likely to refuse requests by male chairs,” the study says.

Professor Guarino and Professor Borden also explored whether women might have a heightened perception of the presence of an ‘‘internal’’ track into paid administrative roles via internal service. But there was little evidence to suggest that, at least in the limited local data, since women tended to be proportionately or underrepresented in such roles. One final explanation – a gender difference in self-report bias – proved difficult to assess.

Overall, the study says that the datasets “corroborate” each other, leaving “little doubt as to the existence of a gender imbalance in faculty service loads”, both in number of activities and amount of time spent on service.

Yet in the effort to achieve greater gender equity in academe, it continues, “service has often been overlooked as a factor in the quest for parity”, and “merits close attention”.

The authors assert that service is an area of inequity that can be addressed relatively easily, via careful monitoring of service requests and allocations. Female faculty members, it says, “could be mentored to show more selectivity in their service-related choices and cultivate their ability to say no to requests.” Department chairs and deans, meanwhile, “could be made to be more fully aware of how service assignments are being meted out. A simple increase in overall awareness of this issue may improve overall attitudes toward service loads, remove traces of gender bias from service expectations and enable both women and men to accept or decline service requests with equal ease and impunity.”

This is an edited version of a story which first appeared on Inside Higher Ed.

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