March 15, 2011

Survey: Cornell’s Female Faculty Less Satisfied

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Although Cornell’s female faculty report higher levels of satisfaction than they did in 2005, male faculty still say they are happier with their jobs than their female colleagues are, according to the results of the 2010 Faculty Work Life Survey.

Marin Clarkberg, director of the Institutional Research and Planning Department, which designed and administered the survey, said the department is “still actively engaged in analyzing” the 2010 data.

“Our analyses will include more in-depth explorations of ‘why’ type questions,” Clarkberg said. “But also more fine-grained analyses that would support the faculty development efforts of individual deans and department chairs.”

Of the 278 female faculty members surveyed in 2010, 40 percent reported that they were “very satisfied” with their jobs, compared to 35 percent who said so in the 2005 survey. The 2010 responses also indicated a seven point difference between male and female faculty members in the percentage who responded that they were “very satisfied” with their jobs — down from a 13-point difference in the 2005 survey.

Since the original 2005 survey was released, the administration has put various programs in place to confront the problem of dissatisfaction and increase the recruitment, retention and promotion of female faculty.

“Now there is a new family leave policy — female faculty get a semester off, as do their partners. This is helpful for both the personal and academic lives of female faculty, as well as other ongoing efforts put into childcare issues,” said Prof. Mary K. McCullough, feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

In the last five years, the University has become much more flexible in terms of offering parental leave to junior faculty, DeVault said.

“When I started my academic career 25 years ago, I didn’t know females in academia who planned on having children before they had tenure” DeVault said. “So having that one policy in place has given junior faculty the possibility to have children.”

The University has also been trying to address issues of spousal employment, which has been a concern among incoming female facultty, said Ileen DeVault, head of the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies department.

“If you come here with a partner, it’s not always easy for them to find a job,” Devault said. “It depends on what your partner does, but they’re not always successful.”

CU-ADVANCE, a program funded by the National Science Foundation, has also been instituted. The program aims to achieve 20 percent women faculty in each science and engineering department at Cornell by offering services such as bi-monthly networking as well as hosting professional development events for female professors.

Additionally, the program also provides small grants to pre-tenure and assosciate professors “to increase their visibility nationwide,” said Yeal Levitte, executive director of CU-ADVANCE.

“The scarcity of women faculty in the fields of science and engineering results in excessive demands on their time,” Levitte said. “Female students seek their advice, committees looking to diversify their point of views turn to them.”

Members of the faculty agreed there are still challenges to women in academia, despite these changes by the University.

Women in academia often face challenges because they are relatively new to academia, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said Prof. Zellman Warhaft, mechanical and aerospace engineering. Warhaft was appointed in October to help Provost Kent Fuchs and Vice President for Human Resources Mary Opperman in faculty hiring and promoting diversity and inclusion.

“The senior faculty [in these areas], which consist mainly of men, are unused to change and often carry the old fashion stereotypes of women,” Warhaft said. “Even a small amount of discrimination can affect the confidence of young women faculty and impede their success.”

Prof. Taryn Bauerle, horticulture, also recognized the difficulties associated with being a young woman in a field where the faculty remains predominately male.

“The challenge falls on younger women faculty that enter a field that remains grounded in an old method of operation,” Bauerle said. “In other words, it has worked this way for many years, why should we change things?”

However, according to Mary Dee Wenniger, editor of the Women in Higher Education journal, the gender-based gaps in satisfaction visible in the current statistics “are not limited to Cornell faculty alone”

“By every survey I’ve seen, women faculty are less happy than men in similar job situations,” Wenniger said “The reason is that higher education was created by men and for men, with the assumption that the daily need of faculty members would be taken care of by a third party. That party was assumed to be the wife.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti