Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Best policies for gender equity?

I’ve been having lots of discussions with gender equity allies around my university about how to make academic careers more attractive to women and how to help level the playing field for women once they are on the faculty. We are now seeking to reduce barriers through intelligent policies at the level of universities or research organizations and in the federal funding agencies. A group of us met recently with the new NSF Director, Subra Suresh, and were pleased by his interest in these issues.

Three areas seem to me especially challenging and ripe for policy improvements: maternal or family leave, child care, and accommodations for dual career partners.

Many organizations now have some form of family leave exceeding the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act, at least for faculty-level employees. What about for graduate students? Postdocs? Staff? What are examples of best practices? For example, should universities or funding agencies provide for paid leave? What about for postdoctoral fellows, who are not employees and therefore not subject to the same regulations as employees? Are these issues that have to be solved at the top level (e.g. university-wide) or can smaller units make initiatives? Are there examples of the latter? What should federal agencies do?

Child care is generally unaffordable for graduate students and places a financial strain on postdocs and staff. Many organizations have subsidized day care, however there are far too few spots for the demand. Should universities or funding agencies provide portable child care benefits? Some places do; what are examples of best practices?

Some university systems have made serious efforts to accommodate trailing partners in dual career couples, with obvious benefits to their hiring success. How important is this and what kind of accommodations work best?

Are there other topics you consider similarly important, where policies or funding can make a real difference?

I welcome suggestions from AAS Women and gender equity advocates.