Tomorrow's marking of Equal Pay Day on the last Tuesday in April tells half the story: that on average a woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid. So, she comes even with his weekly wage on the following Tuesday; she comes even with his 2005 wage at the end of April 2006. Discrimination in hiring and pay -- some of it unrecognized and unintentional -- account for most of the difference.
The rest of the story is that women are not only being paid less, they are being asked to make a choice their male peers don't face: career, or family. In many professions, they can earn an equal wage only by sacrificing home life -- and often that means saying no to motherhood.
Yesterday's Times tells the story of the "rabenmutter," or "raven mother," as the Germans call her -- the woman who, supposedly, sacrifices her children at the altar of her career. Germany's new chancellor, Angela Merkel, has appointed Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, who is a physician and the mother of seven children, to address the problem working women face.
"The question is not whether women will work," [Dr. von der Leyen] said in an interview. "They will work. The question is whether they will have kids."
Germany, she says, must make it easier for women to do both, because it now has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. The number of children born here in 2005 was the lowest in a single year since 1945. If the trend holds, the population will decline 17 percent by 2050 — hobbling the economy and an already-strained social system. [...]
Social attitudes only deepen the problems. While the law entitles men to paid family leave, few take it, fearing it will cripple their careers. Yet women who work while rearing children meet disapproval from colleagues and bosses. [...] Rather than vault the hurdles and shoulder the guilt, many German women skip having children. In 2005, 42 percent of those with academic careers were childless. That is double the percentage in France, which has one of Europe's highest birthrates.
On the web site for Yale's alumni magazine, I found more about the choices faced by women in academia in an article called The Baby Gamble. It says that less than 20% of Yale's tenured Arts and Sciences faculty are women. Yet our nation's universities are producing roughly equal numbers of male and female PhDs.
So why hasn't that initial parity traveled up and over into the professorial ranks?
Theories abound, from gender discrimination and unwelcoming work environments to hard-wired neurological differences. But one solid hypothesis is motherhood. In their project "Do Babies Matter?" Mary Ann Mason, a dean at the University of California-Berkeley, and statistician Marc Goulden documented that women leak out of the "pipeline" at every level of academia. Worried that an academic career is incompatible with parenting, many women don't seek academic jobs after graduate school. Those who do, Mason adds, are often derailed if they have children; they may work part-time to cope with the demands of child rearing and then find it difficult to get back on a full-time professorial track.
Mason and Goulden drew on data from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients, a federally sponsored study that is following the careers of more than 160,000 PhD recipients. They found that men who had children within five years of earning their PhD were 38 percent more likely to achieve tenure than their female counterparts.
In response, Yale says it has made adjustments to the "tenure clock" to compensate for time spent raising kids, and has begun building a new day care center. But the article also notes that Yale day care costs about $1,000 each month, or two-thirds of some junior faculty's salaries.
I'm told that at Duke, assistant professors being recruited in the sciences are offered a special valet/secretary/concierge if they're female, to help with daily tasks like going to the cleaners, waiting for the cable guy, even doing the shopping. They realized that in families where both spouses work, women were still disproportionately burdened by responsibility for basic housekeeping or errands. A Duke 2003 report on women's equity concluded:
Faculty interview data brought forward six issues of note: (1) the fall off in the number of women Ph.D.s choosing to pursue academic research careers; (2) narrowly defined searches that significantly restrict the pool of eligible women, and decrease the likelihood of recruiting women faculty; (3) the sense of isolation among some faculty women; (4) the desire for mentoring on the part of some women faculty around women's issues; (5) the need for recognition of extraordinary service on the part of tenured faculty women; and (6) the problem created by partner hires for the recruitment and retention of faculty women.
But I think even more telling are the cultural problems they recognized that are endemic to academia and, probably, other fields:
The desire to be a good parent and family member is no longer reasonably presumed to be a women's issue, but rather an important concern for both men and women entering medical careers. Nevertheless, the culture of academic medicine is described as supporting a code of behavior that is partial to a conventional male model, and that equates the desire for more balance with a lack of seriousness, commitment and capability.
Prolonged training, curtailed flexibility, and a code of conduct that minimizes the importance of work-life balance all disproportionately impact women in academic medicine.
In other words, there is a culture that rewards the workaholic and regards individuals who strive for a family life as uncommitted, unexceptional, and often unworthy of promotion. These basic themes echo in every report I've seen: women reach the graduate level, then drop off steadily at the junior and senior faculty level; there need to be mechanical adjustments made so that the work-family balance is easier to strike; and there must accompany them changes in the institutional mindset that embrace those with a full life outside the lecture hall or laboratory.
One of my favorite sources, the American Society for Cell Biology newsletter (pdf) says in a column by ASCB president Dr. Mary Beckerle of the University of Utah:
Fifty percent of applicants to medical school are women, and women represent 49% of first-year medical students. However, at each subsequent stage of professional development, the percentage of women declines. Already at medical school graduation, only 47% of the graduates are female. Only 42% of residents and fellows are female. Women represent 38% of assistant professors, 27% of associate professors, 15% of full professors, and only 11% of department chairs at U.S. medical schools.
That's that "leaky pipeline" again. Dr. Zena Werb of UCSF, the previous ASCB president, offered some solutions last October (pdf):
Sitting on more than ten faculty search committees over the past three years, I am amazed how few women are applying or being nominated for junior faculty positions. It is a crisis of enormous and immeasurable cost, since academics is losing so many of the best and most gifted scientists. Industry unfortunately experiences a similar attrition of women in positions of responsibility and leadership.
The societalcost of not capturing this highly trained and talented workforce for the most challenging scientific opportunities is enormous. Women have been educated at universities at great public and private expense. Creativity is precious and every mind not utilized is a discovery not made. [...]
What is the solution? We must actively shun and reverse the culture of the 19th and 20th centuries that glorified the (male) scientist as workaholic, unaware of any aspect of life beyond the bench. We must remember to value quality and innovation in science, not quantity and hyperbole. Universities and public sector research institutions must become family friendly; if they do, private sector companies will match or better benefits in their competitive self-interest. Childcare and increasingly eldercare must become a standard work benefit so employers can hire the most talented women and men.
I've focused here on academics, and in particular the sciences, because that's what I know best. It also happens to be a community that is especially focused on increasing its share of women, and may develop models that can be adopted by the business world -- or, as Zena suggests, that can apply pressure on business to compete for that same pool of talented women.
Workplace equity, foremost by eliminating outright discrimination, but in the long run by minimizing the work-family divide, is one of those areas of common good that Mimikatz has been advocating the Democrats embrace. Creative solutions will need to arise, eitherby long-sighted employers realizing that competing well for that talented female workforce is in their self-interest, or from above by an imposed workers' rights program similar to the one Dr. von der Leyen has planned in Germany, derived from models in place in Sweden and France.
Fortunately, I'm just a blogger, not a policymaker. It's my job to complain about problems, not to actually fix them. I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences making the career-family choice, or balancing the two.