Laurel Wilder is the assistant director of Institutional Research & Planning at UCSB. She works an eight-hour day and exercises during her lunch hour. After a long day, she picks up her two young children from their after school program and makes them dinner before putting them to bed. Wilder and her husband do not usually eat their own dinner until late in the evening.
“Some of my greatest challenges are just the everyday chaos and constant motion of always being prepared, whether it be for getting to school [or] work in the morning, or for getting ready for dinner [or] bed in the evening,” she said.
Like Wilder, millions of women across the nation face the challenge of dual careers — staying in the workforce while they maintain a family. However, women at UCSB, especially those seeking tenured positions in the sciences, find that balancing children and a career can be a nearly impossible road to travel.
Only seven of the top 100 paid employees at UCSB last year were women, and four of them work in the sciences, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields. These male-dominated departments traditionally pay the most at UCSB, as they receive the most grants and other funding.
Many think that women are less involved in these departments due to a lack of interest. But for the past three decades, the United States has made a concerted effort to attract women to the sciences and other competitive fields. Today, women earn over 50 percent of all Ph.D.s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
However, a 2009 study of the UC system by UC Berkeley and the Center for American Progress showed that women do not often attain academic research positions in STEM and, when they do, are more likely to quit before obtaining tenure.
Findings showed that family formation accounts for the “largest leaks in the pipeline.” Women in the sciences who are married with children are 35 percent less likely to enter a tenure track job after receiving a Ph.D. than their male counterparts.
Single women without children are, on average, as successful as married men with children in attaining a tenure track position.
According to Eileen Boris, feminist studies professor and hull chair, motherhood and the demands of STEM are often incompatible.
“Women have not been encouraged in these fields,” Boris said. “That’s partially because of the 24/7 kind of workload in which men more often have other household members to pick up the slack.”
Diane Mackie, a mother and psychology professor, is a testament to the difficulties of balancing a work and home life. UCSB hired Mackie in 1984, the same year she graduated with a M.A. and doctoral degree from Princeton University. Mackie waited until she had tenure and was a full professor before she had her two sons, who are now 11 and 14 years old.
“It’s always a trade off,” Mackie said. “Instead of being a superstar professor and a supermom, you are sometimes stuck being a ‘good enough’ mom and a ‘good enough’ professor.”
According to Mackie, aspiring tenure-trackers must establish themselves in their field early on. However, with evidence that fertility issues and diseases such as autism are linked to giving birth at an older age, less women may be willing to delay child bearing in the future.
Mackie added that even women who are established in their field and have strong support systems at home have difficulties managing their time.
“Even with the most liberal, equal-minded guy, women still have the babies,” said Mackie. “There is no ‘good’ time for that in a career.”
Although some overcome the challenge of having families while working as professors and researchers, social norms prevent many females from acting competitively to get the best pay and the best jobs.
UCSB regularly matches offers that professors get from other institutions. However, if UCSB is not interested in paying the employee more to keep them at the university, the individual has to take the new job. According to Mackie, many women are hesitant to consider moving their family.
“Men are more likely to put themselves on the market,” she said. “I suspect that women don’t like to play that game as much.”
Barbara Prezelin is one of the top paid women at UCSB and a 37-year veteran of the Dept. of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. She said that she has petitioned to receive earned bonuses, but added that many females do not act as aggressively to get higher pay when it is deserved.
“I do think that male colleagues are far more likely to self advocate for accelerations in promotions which leads to higher pay scales and/or go [through] the trouble to look for possible jobs elsewhere in order to leverage for higher retention pay,” Prezelin said in an e-mail.
According to Boris, all women in academia, regardless of what institution they work at, what department they are in or how aggressively they pursue fair pay, are at a disadvantage.
“It isn’t that women are being discriminated against as individuals, it’s the way the structures are set up at this point,” she said. “The structures represent the ideal worker as the unencumbered individual. More men have been unencumbered individuals.”
However, work cultures at UCSB were markedly worse for women a mere 14 years ago. In 1997, Professor Yolanda Broyles-Gonzales pressed charges against the university after a study showed that UCSB was the ninth worst offender of unequal pay for professors in the nation. Broyles-Gonzalez, who is now a professor at the University of Arizona, eventually settled out of court and became the first woman in history to win a gender pay equity lawsuit against the UC system.
“The lawsuit has been very important in my life, for many reasons. The outcomes were many,” Broyles-Gonzalez said in an e-mail. “One of the conditions of my settlement was the establishment of a Gender Equity Review at UCSB for women faculty.”
Since the settlement, administrators UC-wide have tried to reduce gender gaps and ease the strain on working mothers. But has it worked?
“It’s only been in the past ten years that [work cultures have] changed here in the UC system,” Ricardo Alcaíno, director & title IX officer at the Office of Equal Opportunity & Sexual Harassment, said. “That’s because in the last ten years, there has been such a huge number of influx of not only females into academia and doctoral programs but also males that don’t want to give up their entire life. They want to be multi-dimensional, not one-dimensional.”
UCSB initiated the Breastfeeding Support Program in 2007 with grant money from the Orfalea Foundation. Five private rooms on campus are available where lactating mothers can feed their children or access breast pumps.
“It’s another way to encourage faculty … to get their child, nurse their child or another one of their spouses can come by with the child, they nurse and be on their way,” Alcaíno said.
According to Liz Molina, Breastfeeding Support Program organizer and UCSB human resources office manager, approximately 30 women take part in the free service.
“It is convenient and it’s a lot nicer than the other options where someone is pumping in the bathroom or in their car,” Molina said. “Pumping takes a long time … so you do want privacy.”
In 1991, the university’s children services expanded into West Campus. Today, the Orfalea Family Children’s Center and Infant and Toddler Center work with more than 200 children ranging from ages three months to five years.
Leslie Voss, director of UCSB Childhood Care and Education Services, said 55 percent of the parents who bring their children to the centers are faculty and staff. Voss added that the center staff do what they can to help ease the strain on working parents.
“Their children’s needs always come first and obviously are the top of the list of priorities,” she said. “But the demands of work, whether as a staff member or faculty … is very challenging.”
According to Voss, the centers cater to the needs of parents by extending hours during exam weeks, providing parent support groups and assisting families during times of crisis.
Academic climates have also adapted to the needs of working parents. For example, faculty meeting times are no longer scheduled at 4 or 5 p.m., the prime time for picking up children from school. The university also “stops the clock” for those on the track to tenure, allowing individuals to take anywhere up to a year off in order to care for new children or elderly family members.
However, while Boris said UCSB has certainly made efforts to assist female faculty with children, it simply isn’t enough.
“UCSB is doing a good job in trying to stop the clock for those dealing with family pregnancy, taking care of newborns and adopting children,” Boris said. “But the work cultures haven’t changed.”
Mackie added that the work climate has changed for the better in recent years, but that “little things … can make it harder.” She said that UCSB does not offer camps during most holidays and the university’s quarter system does not align well with other school’s calendars.
“How much easier it would be to have spring break — or even one week of it — align with the kids’ spring break,” Mackie said.
Wilder said maintaining the current level of child care available for UCSB staff and faculty is imperative. She added that infant care is needed by many more UCSB employees. But, because infant care is high-cost and the university is dealing with a budget crisis, Wilder said infant care probably will not be expanded without a subsidy for the child care center.
“I really think that if the UC system saw child care as an essential service it provides to its working employees and students, as opposed to operating the child care centers as business models, we could have more confidence in the continued high quality, accessibility and affordability of the care our children receive,” she said.
However, there is also a more personal side to the story. With her busy schedule, Wilder said having fun and enjoying family time is often lost in everyday endeavors.
“Another challenge is the emotional question of whether we are doing the right thing, whether we are making the right sacrifice — sacrificing time home with the kids when they are young for working in a job I enjoy in order to make enough money to continue living in Santa Barbara,” she said. “That sometimes can be very stressful to reflect on.”
Alcaíno said although academia is rooted in male-centric traditions, systematic changes are inevitable with an influx of working mothers and a change in family dynamics.
“In the next five to ten years, the cultures will start changing by the numbers — sheer numbers,” he said. “There will be a change in the chemistry of the culture.”