When Being Female Is Not the Only Challenge

When Being Female Is Not the Only Challenge

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1891-4.ch005
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I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance. – bell hooks

As we examine the role of women in leadership positions within higher education, it seems necessary to contextualize where we have been and where we are now before examining the additional challenges women face in gaining leadership positions within the Academy. The 1964 Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate based upon sex; however, Moss-Racusin, Phelan, and Rudman (2010) note that gender bias still creates a barrier for women to procure leadership positions. Mullen (2009) further reports findings whereby female faculty and department chairs are typically expected to engage in service-oriented tasks or take on extra course work to free up males to conduct research or perform duties considered far more esteemed. Interestingly enough, until recently there was a workload discrepancy on our campus. Teacher education faculty were expected to teacher a 4-3 (4 courses in one semester and 3 in the other), while our Arts and Sciences faculty were expected to teach a 3-3 load. In addition, as a part of our workload there is an expectation of field supervision (service-oriented task) on top of the increased teaching load. Ironically we feel that the words of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Congress, 1968, p.12388) regarding unemployment and underemployment still ring true: “The principal measure of progress toward equality will be that of employment. It is the primary source of individual or group identity. In America what you do is what you are: to do nothing is to be nothing; to do little is to be little. The equations are implacable and blunt, and ruthlessly public.”

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Bias Avoidance

We recognize that many of the biases against women are not deliberate or intended; however, we do hope to raise the collective consciousness of our colleagues, male and female. In some ways, women need to be more attuned to the biases so we can educate each other and our male counterparts. Marginalized groups often seek to avoid discrimination or prejudice. For example, Drago et al. (2005) state women strategically arrange personal commitments to avoid conflicting with work commitments to reduce the possibility of harming their professional identity or status. We think most women can relate to this statement. In fact we have personally done this, and witnessed male colleagues do just the opposite. Because of their privilege, male colleagues may seek to adjust their work schedule and not use earned time, seek funds for travel outside of academic scope, request technology or resources not typically within departmental budgets, ask to be included in meetings that include upper administration for personal gains, or ask permission to work from home over an extended period of time, when women would typically not seek either accommodation for fear of jeopardizing her career.

Bias avoidance strategies are especially pronounced when women are married, have children, and/or care for a loved one. Drago (2006) identified several examples. Women may: remain single in order to pursue a tenure track/leadership position; refrain from having children or have fewer children than wanted; wait to have children until tenure and/or promotion are attained; take less parental leave time; avoid stopping the tenure clock when having a child; not seek a reduced teaching load or flexible scheduling when needed; miss her children’s special event/games to avoid being perceived as casual or uncommitted to her work; and return to work prior to what is recommended after child birth or an illness, again to avoid appearing indifferent toward her work. Research by Mason and Goulden (2002) found that having a child had a negative impact upon a woman’s career in higher education; however, it in fact advanced a man’s. Furthermore, Schiebinger and Gilmartin (2010) indicate that female scientists typically complete twice as much housework as their male colleagues. That is a lot of hours over the course of a career!

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