I was drawn to an article today with the attention-grabbing headline Being Married Helps Professors Get Ahead, but Only If They’re Male. It focuses on history faculty, but covers information that generalizes to much of academia. The results are best summarized in this paragraph:
Robert B. Townsend, deputy director of the AHA, surveyed 2,240 associate and full professors of history and released the findings in this month’s Perspectives on History. Female historians who were either married or had been married at the time of the 2010 survey took an average of 7.8 years to move from associate to full professor. Women who had never married were promoted in an average of 6.7 years. Almost two times as many of the female full professors listed their status as divorced or separated, which suggests their professional obligations were somehow less compatible with marriage than their male colleagues. They were also more likely than their male colleagues to have never wed at all. Conversely, male historians who were or had been married advanced in 5.9 years. The unmarried man took 6.4 years, a bit longer.
It goes on to discuss the extra pressure that women feel in terms of service, partially due to diversity pressures, as well as the two-body problem. None of this is news to anyone familiar with the situation in academia.
Articles like this usually tend to make me a bit depressed. But today I had the opposite reaction: it made me think about all the ways I’ve been fortunate in my career and personal life. Like most of the female faculty in the survey, I have a partner who is also in academia. We were both looking for positions at roughly the same time, and while computer science has a much better job market than history we were both trained as theoreticians. Finding a school that was willing and able to hire two theoreticians was challenging, but we happened to be searching during the boom of the late 1990s and succeeded. I was able to delay having my daughter until after I got tenure. After I had my daughter the administration in what would become the College of Computing and Digital Media enabled us to construct, quarter after quarter for over 8 years now, a non-overlapping teaching schedule so that one of us could always be home for her. I have a partner who does (to within epsilon) half of the housework and childcare duties. My partner is also more protective of my time than I am, scolding me when he perceives that I’m taking on too much work. It’s a good exercise for me to clearly explain to him why a particular job is worth the time, and when I’m not able to I decline the work. Much to the envy of other female faculty, he has little interest in attending conferences meaning that I almost never have to juggle my travel schedule. He’s also the first person I go to when I need to discuss a problem, and I’ve dragged him more than once into a research project with me.
So this time instead of being sad about yet another sign of the difficulties female faculty face, I spent the day being grateful for all the ways that my path has been smoothed. I am a very fortunate person.