Saturday, June 21, 2014

The baby penalty

As a female academic with a child, not to talk about my early and continuing perpetual desire to have a family, the discussion of academic career and children has always been relevant and worrying to me. Having read all the books (Mason, Hewlet, Hewlet and of course Sandberg) makes me acutely aware that anything I do in my professional life I have to do better, faster and more rigorously than others to get ahead. I have to keep focusing on research, papers, networking and politics without skipping a beat. I repeat to myself the age-old saying (that Charlotte Whitton has been credited with): "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men. Luckily, this is not difficult." Because I have to keep my sense of humor to get through the day. I find all these statistics and anecdotes indicating that children hurt women's career where they are an asset to men's, hugely depressing, not only for myself but also for all the other women who are not getting the most out of their life because they have to change career track and ambition level. These women are not contributing enough to society with their intellect because that is the duality of the downside: women don't get to contribute intellectually because they can't keep high level jobs and they are not happy with their lives because they had to give up careers or turn down ambition level to make ends meet. The ones who, like me, attempt to 'have it all' (like this is an unfair demand!) end up torn in half from this attempt, either compromising a career or compromising togetherness with our children.

And it is really hard to sell yourself, being someone who have made choices favoring the family for most of my career. I sometimes envision myself adding the following to my CV, right after me leaving the US and the top institution where I was, and the resent years, in the employment section and publication section: "The change of affiliation was due to family reasons and my priorities to my family took center stage for a short while, as I tried to maintain my professional contacts and publication record. The gap in my publications is in no way a reflection of a sudden lack of ambition or lack of ability, but simply a reflection of serious personal family complications. Future level of work will again reflect my true ambition level and opportunities".

I'm not sure how this would be interpreted but my big fear is always that people see my publication record and think "Oh, she had such great potential. Then something happened and she is clearly not dedicated anymore". Yes, something happened. I had a baby, got divorced and had to start all over in a new country with few potential collaborators and a scarce research resources (in Sweden, for example,  you don't 'get' PhD students, which has been detrimental to my research and career development). All in 2 years. But I am just as dedicated as I have always been, I'm as ambitious, if not more, as I always was and I still want to 'make it' in the academic system. I want to do interesting and valuable research, I want to publish and I want that solid, (semi)permanent well-payed position, no matter what the name of it is. I want the opportunity to do good work. And that's bloody difficult when you have to pick up a girl at 4:30pm and somehow feed you and her dinner while answering all the emails you didn't get to during the day, grade papers at night while the dishes are growing moldy and feeling guilty that the girl was watching an hour of TV while you were trying to review a paper.

If I were to be part of the statistics I would stay in this position, publish three workshop papers a year and never make professor. Ironically I'm already ahead of the US statistics where women stay in temporary teaching positions, get tenure much later and do too much administrative work to publish. So apparently I do have some sort of potential. I just need to find out where I can build on that because it is certainly not here. 

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