The Presidents Advisory Commission on Womens Issues has issued a summary report of responses from senior women faculty to questions about the environment at the U-M and what they perceive to be barriers or supportive structures in that environment.
Twenty-four senior women faculty responded to the invitation to participate in focus groups that examined such issues as whether the workload in their departments was the same for both women and men, and barriers the women had encountered.
While the questions evoked an array of responses from anger to frustration to laughter, participants comments indicated that most of them had experienced some form of gender discrimination in their professional careers.
Many of the participants acknowledged that positive changes had taken place over time, and several told stories about how different things had been when they first arrived at the University.
You need to get women to help you negotiate when you first come. It is difficult to negotiate anything once you get here, noted one participant.
Its better for women now, wrote another. My colleagues are in a better position.
Women identified having peers with similar needs, a mentor or advocate, supportive colleagues and informal support groups as important resources.
However, comments from many senior women faculty on equity in hiring, promotion and workload revealed a general discontent about both the departmental and University climate in which they work.
If my colleagues see two women together, they think its conspiracy. If they see a man and a woman together, they wink. If its two men together, its lunch, noted one participant.
Some women felt they were working in a system with invisible standards and unwritten rules that favor the more powerful, and others said that they felt there was an old boy network in their department with standards that exclude women.
Many felt that in order to be successful at the University, they had to play by rules that had been previously set by men in their fields. According to these women, men feel it is important to develop the reputation of being tough, minimize time spent with students and maximize research.
My profession is male-oriented and very egalitarian, said one participant. [The men] are willing to treat everyone the same as long as you act like a man. The thing that facilitated my success was that the men were very willing to share what you were supposed to do to act like a man.
Senior faculty women also were asked whether they thought there was equity in hiring and promotion. In general, their answers show that they felt their records were scrutinized more carefully than those of their male counterparts, and several said that they believed they received more recognition and respect nationally than they do from the University.
Additionally, participants agreed that their workloads were more demandingthat they were expected to serve on more committees, spend more time advising students and teach more large lectures than their male counterparts. These women, the report notes, were concerned not only about balancing their own workloads but also about being poor role models and discouraging students from choosing an academic profession when their distress and exhaustion became visible.
Individual experiences regarding dual-career relationships, pregnancy, childbirth, maternity and family care issues were unique to each participant, but there was an overall feeling that women in dual-career relationships and those with families have additional burdens. Many felt that progress would be made only when men take equal responsibility for children and other family commitments. Some senior women faculty recalled earlier experiences with family issues that have been resolved for their colleagues by new policies.
I had a C-section and seven days later started teaching. It was very discouraging. I had no sleep. It was a dreadful time, said one woman. The family leave policy has radically changed things for my colleagues now.
From the group discussions, the following recommendations arose: