Personal Life, Family, and Academia
As women we are blessed with the choice of a career and kids. Guys don't even really get the option of choosing. But this blessing is interpreted as a curse, because yes, now we have to choose. Female PhD student in CS.
Perhaps the most glaring difference between mens and womens career decision processes is that women consistently must weigh the possibility of having a family into their decisions. Biologically, women will always bear the brunt of childbearing. In addition, society places the majority of responsibility for raising children on the mother. We explored how these factors might influence womens decisions to pursue advanced degrees in CS and to go into academia.
One male professor, with regards to the question of balancing a family and a career in academia said you have to work harder to juggle both lives, but its hard on the husband, too. Regardless of gender, its tough if you have kids. While being a father is certainly an important commitment, we found that our female interviewees were consistently very concerned with the potential of conflict between their careers and their plans to start a family, while males rarely mentioned the issue as it related to their personal plans.
Pursuing a PhD is time consuming. So is trying to get tenure. Many people feel, for good reason, that they cannot plausibly do either of these while simultaneously having a family. The effect is more pronounced among women. Studies have shown that Few women who get pregnant in the middle of their studies finish their PhDs, but plenty of men get PhDs while their wives have children. [from ai article]
One female PhD student felt that the primary reason for the shrinking pipeline effect was womens desire to start a family: Even if girls are competent and have an interest, and aren't bothered by the male/female ratio (i.e. me
), they want to go out and have babies which will leak the pipeline. She herself expressed that desire in the interview.
A female Master student also mentioned this as a deterrent towards women who might want to pursue a professorship: To become tenured you have to work your butt of for 7 years. Society has structured it so that a guy can work his butt off and have a fulfilling home life. Its not that easy for women, especially if they have kids.
The perception among many of the graduate students we interviewed was that industry offered better support for women who planned to have families. An undergraduate male said, One reason that I might see more women choosing industry over academia is that industry probably accommodates womens needs more maternity leave, day care centers for their children, etc.
But one female professor said she thought that academia actually provided more support for families, and that she was able to bring her children into the office and no one was bothered. She did note that going into industry for several years and proving herself there made it easier to get tenure, and therefore easier to balance her academic career with her family.
A supportive husband can make all the difference. One female lecturer noted that she found it possible to work because my husband put his career on hold and stayed home with our boys.
The challenges of balancing family life and an academic career (or any career) are not going away anytime soon. Delivering a baby is physically a big deal, and societal expectations of motherhood (as well as maternal instinct, which may or may not be intrinsic) are deeply ingrained. Many women have found solutions on an individual level, such as scheduling their careers so that they have already built a reputation by the time they have kids, or working out a solution with a supportive husband. As far as what a University can do, providing childcare and flexible work schedules for parents would certainly ease the burden.