The Status of Women in the Historical Profession, 2005
Chapter 1: Work and Family
Maternity Leave/Tenure Timeline
An enormous literature documents the difficulties women face in attempting to balance the claims of work and family, in particular those related to childbearing and rearing. Most readers will be aware of the choices women face in attempting to launch professorial careers while bearing and raising children. A number of women remarked that the difficulties involved in doing both had prevented them from having children at all, which many regretted. Conversely, a number of women felt that their being childless had helped their careers.
Survey results indicate wide variation in formal and informal maternity and childrearing policies across colleges and universities. Most have policies that provide for leave time or a reduced workload around the time of delivery or adoption, and/or stopping the clock to tenure for one year in recognition of the intense time commitment new mothers make to their infants. (Some universities grant new fathers the same benefits.)
However, a surprisingly large number of respondents reported that their institutions lacked formal maternity policies of any sort. This forced women to take time out under "disability" or "sick" leave, to use a sabbatical "research" semester or year, to time their pregnancies carefully to coincide with the summer months, or to return to the classroom a mere two weeks after giving birth. Some respondents from institutions with no formalized maternity policies were able to negotiate maternity leave with their chairs, with mixed results. This was an advantage for a few, as they were granted more generous leaves than those subsequently instituted at their institutions. For most, however, this presented problems; as one put it, "negotiating, as an untenured professor, felt awkward." In addition, many of those who received a maternity benefiteither leave or a delayed tenure clockfelt this was later used as a bargaining chip to force them to take on extra departmental work, in the form of heavier courseloads or extra committee assignments. At the same time, many reported that they faced resentment from their colleagues, who felt they were being unfairly advantaged and favored. Others felt that taking time off for childbearing, even under standardized policies, subtly affected their bids for tenure. Women on the job market also faced potential discrimination when they tried to inquire about maternity leave policies.
Beyond the issue of formal or informal policies on maternity leave, many
respondents mentioned subtle pressures to delay childbearing (or to not have
a second child)
until after achieving tenure, even at institutions with family-friendly policies.
The woman who wrote, "realistically, if you stop you fall behind," spoke
for many respondents. Others reported that those who take time to bear children
are often assumed to be "less committed" to the department or to
the profession. Manifestations of this subtle bias included departments later
expecting extra work from those who took their "halted-clock" option,
women noticing that those who have children are overall less likely to receive
tenure, and faculty who haven’t been primary caregivers of young children
voicing "resentment of women who have ‘more time’ to work
on their books" due to their tenure delay. It is worth noting that concern
about this issue is not limited to married and/or heterosexual women. A number
of single women, as well as single and partnered lesbians, mentioned that they
considered clearly articulated maternity policies (inclusive of adoption) important
in both practical and symbolic terms.