Prof. Suzanne Charles works in her bedroom while her son, who often makes cameos in her video lectures, reads a book.

Courtesy of Suzanne Charles

Prof. Suzanne Charles works in her bedroom while her son, who often makes cameos in her video lectures, reads a book.

May 8, 2020

Professors Face Gender Biases As They Juggle Work and Childcare at Home

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One of the many added challenges of working from home is determining how to manage child care. For some Cornell professors, this has meant reexamining gender biases within the household.

“Typically, in normal times, what we see is men being congratulated for being ‘good dads’ while women are critiqued for failure to manage [when balancing families and jobs],” said Prof. Mildred Warner, city and regional planning. “This causes some women not to avail themselves of work-life benefits — a problem called ‘flexibility stigma’.”

Warner, who has done research on gender dynamics in the planning workplace, pointed out that the University has taken effective measures to sensitize the administration and faculty to these issues — including the implementation of a child care grant program and the discussion of the differential impact such policies have on women.

Although balancing child care with work is a challenge those with children face even in the absence of a global pandemic, online schooling has only added to the difficulties child care brings.

Prof. Suzanne Charles, city and regional planning, said that while she works on publications or plans for the classes she teaches, her young son often sits beside her doing schoolwork. Inevitably, this setup also leads to him making “cameos” in her faculty meetings.

However, Charles said that the difficulties in maintaining a work-life balance can’t solely be attributed to gender roles.

“I think that men are more likely to have a housewife than women are likely to have a house husband,” said Prof. Linda Shi, city and regional planning. “But I think it’s also not necessarily just black and white.”

Shi pointed out that the productivity of an academic working from home is largely influenced by their partner’s profession and employment status.

For example, an academic married to another academic might not have to take on as many household responsibilities in comparison to one married to an essential worker, according to Shi. She also stressed that elder care is an added responsibility for both men and women academics during the pandemic.

Shi and her husband split the day to care for their two small children. As a result, Shi can only work four hours a day at most, with the exception of the occasional night when she finds the time and energy to work.

“Last night, I fell asleep putting them to bed,” said Shi, “I woke up at 11:30 p.m. and I got another three hours of work. That is what I need to do in order to really just maintain base levels of teaching responsibilities as well as gear up for some summer work. “

Faculty usually utilize their summers to research and write, but Shi has found it difficult to meet upcoming deadlines for her writing due to her additional responsibilities at home. She said that she believes academics without dependents do not have to deal with the same issues, calling isolation a “golden” time for them to be productive.

Charles and her husband, also a professor, have also fallen into a routine of dividing household responsibilities, but the fact that she is on the tenure-track, while her husband is already tenured, makes it more important for her to devote her undivided attention to work.

The University granted those on the tenure-track a one-year extension before they are reviewed for tenure, an action Charles called “generous.” However, Shi highlighted that when they are evaluated for tenure by experts in their field, unproductivity during the pandemic could reflect poorly on an academic.

She said that in the case where men are able to do more academic work during the pandemic than women, evaluators might consider women to be weaker candidates.

There has also been an increase in the demand for scholarly papers from academics that examine how the coronavirus affects their field, motivating those who now have extra time on their hands to write more than they did before the pandemic.

One journal, Comparative Political Studies, has seen no change in the number of submissions from women between this year and last year, but noticed that there has been an over 50 percent increase in the number of submissions from men. Some journals have also seen a decrease in the number of papers authored by women, The Washington Post’s The Lily reported.

Shi noticed that much of the punditry during the pandemic has been from men, something she says might be attributed to their ability to be more productive in the current circumstances or the general overrepresentation of men in some academic fields.

She said that those juggling elder care or childcare responsibilities with work, like herself, have had to turn down opportunities that have landed on their plates.

But these are sacrifices she is willing to make.

“Being part of my children’s lives is a choice that I make because I derive value from it,” Shi said, “I can, in the end, still produce enough good work to achieve tenure, and where I stand in the race is less [important].”