A look at bias against caring

“There is often an unstated bias in the workplace against care giving,” said Robert Drago, professor of labor studies and women’s studies at Penn State, the keynote speaker at the last week’s spring meeting of the College and University Work/Family Association (CUWFA). “There is bias in the culture as well. To establish themselves as professionals, everyone—but especially women—feel pressure to hide their care giving.”

The three-day CUWFA conference, sponsored by Penn’s Human Resources Division, was held at the University City Sheraton Hotel. More than 50 college and university human resource administrators from across the country attended.

Drago based his presentation on his recently published survey of more than 5,000 faculty members in English and chemistry departments in a diverse group of colleges and universities. Drago and Penn State colleague Carol Colbeck found that substantial percentages of women seeking tenure reported making decisions—from delaying starting a family, to having fewer children than they wanted, to failing to ask for a reduced teaching load for family reasons—because they felt it would affect their career. In the battle for gender equity, Drago and Colbeck call this behavior “bias avoidance.”

An American Association of University Professors (AAUP) survey shows that the percentage of full-time faculty who are women reached 36 percent in the 2000-2001 academic year.

A recent AAUP policy document stated, “Transforming the academic workplace into one that supports family life requires substantial changes in policy and more significantly, changes in academic culture.”

“There is an essential conflict between the tenure process and the biological clock,” Drago said. “Higher education may look more gender neutral [than other professions], but it isn’t. Don’t look for direct discrimination, look for bias avoidance. Gender matters from the top to the bottom of the economy.”

CUWFA was founded in May 1994 to provide leadership in facilitating the integration of work and study with family and personal life for students, faculty and staff in higher education.

Originally published on April 3, 2003