A family gap for men? Diversity JC looks at how gender roles affect us all when having kids in academia.

“Academic science doesn’t just have a gender problem, but a family problem,” said Sarah Damaske, a sociology professor at Penn State and one of the report’s authors. “We came to see that men or women, if they want to have families, are likely to face significant challenges.”

From Study: Male scientists want to be involved dads, but few are


Is the gender gap in STEM about a family gap for men? This in our first Diversity Journal Club of 2015! For this, we discussed “Male Scientist’ Competing Devotions to Work & Family: Changing Norms in a Male-Dominated Profession” and a following Washington Post article.

Before I get into it – first, just so you know, I was unable to attend the discussion as I was out interviewing fishermen, and was unable to both interview fishermen AND have a lively discussion via twitter at the same time (totally working on that!). Thus, the following recap is from the tweets under #DiversityJC alone – please add in anything I may have missed in comments below (or add new things!)

Doctor PMS got the discussion going right off the bat:

NotThatKindaDr.Kline (@MichelleAKline) noted she knew serious rockstars with kids – and they seemed to be balancing it. Others also noted it was totally doable, but difficult – and it’s not just about finding time to get your research done on a daily basis.

Were parents having to juggle more and have less free time? Sure thing. That seems like a given. Others noted that parents have stricter schedules (leaving by 5pm to pick up kids, for instance), but they didn’t feel it was detrimental to how they were perceived. My two cents? I’m not sure if it’s detrimental or not. Personally, I think if people (all genders here) are already going to feel a woman is sacrificing her work for her kids, they’re going judge leaving work “early”. If someone believe this should be the lady’s job, that person will also frown on a man doing the same thing – but perhaps for a different reason (his wife should be helping with this so he can be focused…). These judgements may be outwardly stated – or they may be another source of unconscious bias.

It’s also a cultural thing
(isn’t it always). Last year, I spent quite a bit of time in Stockholm, where parents left work, even important meetings, at 3pm to pick up kids when daycare (which is free and universally accessible) lets out. This was absolutely expected and accepted. #GoSweden

From there, the initial discussion addressed how parents juggle their time commitments, and what might help.

Childcare is pretty much necessary, and to me a no-brainer. Flexibility at work – say, the ability to bring infants in especially when nursing – also really helps, as does maternal AND paternal leave (I still can’t believe the US of A is so so so far behind on this). Up against these challenges, institutional culture (how family-friendly it is) can be critical, as Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti) and ScienceGurl (@sciencegurlz0) pointed out. However, given the job market these days, making decisions based on family-friendliness may not be that easy…

And it may be difficult to assess the family-friendliness of a place ..

However, some institutions want to demonstrate their family-friendliness, so the conversation may be easier.

I agree – I feel like many places I’ve worked try to play up their pro-family credentials and aspects of the area. However just because there’s a great elementary school around the corner doesn’t mean the culture of an institution is family friendly: that there will be leave for either mom or dad, that women won’t be judged when they take, or that it is open to dads being as involved as their partners.

A quick note: institutions cannot ask you about your personal life in interviews.

By law they cannot ask if you are married or want kids someday. However, as the group discussion also covered, it’s not that straight-forward. These questions do come up and they’re difficult to deal with. Sometimes, places will ask you point-blank, regardless of the law, and not answering or pointing out that they can’t ask you that is challenging to actually do and can change the tone of the interview. In other instances, these q’s arise naturally in small talk over dinner. It’s still a tough spot to get through, but remember that you don’t need to answer these. If you know you don’t want to, figure out a way to defer ahead of time.

The group also discussed whether or not things might be different across fields. Perhaps some were more family friendly in general? More apt to allow children and infants in the lab or office? Offer better leave (or just offer it at all?). The study only covered some fields, and didn’t make clear if some were better than others…

Moreover, some of us may be speaking from institutions where laboratory research is critical, and where we’d need to balance this with kids. We should be careful to remember “research” is in reality a very broad term, and no less of a commitment. In addition, teaching may be a priority.

Once again, the importance of community came up. Networks within institutions can make all the difference.

But this discussion wasn’t just about raising children in academia. We chose this article because it looked at how these aspects affect men, and may affect them differently than women.

I agree. We rarely frame this conversation in this way – and it’s high time we did. How men feel and are treated is the other side of the coin we can’t ignore.

The discussion also turned to how and if the responsibilities of having kids affects men differently than women…

This was one of the fundamental questions: To what extent does responsibilities in the home fall to women, even in self-described egalitarian relationships? Are women bearing the brunt of making it all work?

So, to start, generally speaking and still in this day and age, women do pick up the slack and it is on them to fulfill both their career and personal goals, while men are more able to focus solely on their career. As evidence, look at how talk about balancing life and work. First, the group agreed, as do I, that balancing career and kids in academia (and many other fields) is seriously challenging.

Yet, especially in light of the study and article under discussion here, this begs a further question: Do you need a spouse to take up a lot of the slack at home to get everything done? From my perspective, I know and have witnessed several men right at this critical juncture, right there trying to land a TT (tenure-track) job, and then achieve tenure. They have 1+ kids, and, yes, they leave work promptly by 5pm… but all of them also have wives who spend far more time at home.

It’s the head of the business program at one of my past institutions saying, while part of a panel on Women in Science, “I was cleaning the toilet at 1am and realized I needed help and couldn’t do it alone!” but not asking her husband (she was married) to help – instead getting a house cleaner.

But it’s more than just the evidence that women in general take on these responsibilities, it’s that we overwhelmingly frame discussions regarding the balance between a career and kids (that this discussion also makes clear is a reality) around women. We ask if women can have it all – but ignore their male partners (the majority of women being straight and cis-gendered) in this equation.

That is, we never ask if men can have it all – even though, if relationships and childrearing responsibilities are equal, we should be.

But ok I’ve made my point and this isn’t really what we were on the twits to talk about – it’s not just about women taking on more of the workload with kids, while men pursue careers with that support. It’s about how men feel about and how they make these decisions. Do they feel pressured to take on career responsibilities? Do they want to take on more at home? More importantly, IMHO, it’s also about how we as a society and within academia respond to those choices. And how are they treated? What is the response? 

This is the other side of the coin that we also need to address. Not only do gender norms mean women are expected to take on more of the responsibility at home, men are expected to focus on their careers, to have women to pick up the slack. A direct quote from the study:

“I never in my life made a tax return. I never in my life washed a pair of socks or cleaned a pair of shoes,” said one 67-year-old physics professor in a traditional marriage. When asked if having children is difficult to manage with being a scientist, he responded: “No, absolutely not. That’s why you have a wife.”

More than that, while we understand men still dominate the positions of power in academia and more generally in life, it is the men who allow or expect women to take on child care that are more likely to have those positions of power. Again from the WaPo article:

Men in traditional marriages rising to power faster, becoming boss and setting the tone for workplace expectations is a phenomenon seen in other fields. In a series of studies of more than 700 married men, researchers at Harvard, New York University and the University of Utah found that men in traditional marriages tended to hold positions of power in business and other organizations.

This inofitself is hugely telling. Clearly, for women and what is expected of them – but also for men. It also speaks volumes of the culture men exist within, and the pressures or expectations they feel. These men are their bosses too.

There is an, um, upside.

I’ve witnessed this firsthand: a single dude on a plane with two kids. Was super-stoaked to see this. And then the flight attendants practically fell over themselves to help him and praise him for doing things they watch women do with kids on airplanes every. damn. day. That said, having some additional cookies from some people (mainly from women, mayhaps?) doesn’t necessarily mean you’re supported in your career as a dad trying to make it work.

As the WaPo article points out, the problem is a culture where “[a]cademic science is portrayed as an all-consuming field“. Where you can’t have it all – men or women. Is this culture accurate? Can you do both? As I came to the end of the Diversity Journal Club tweets, those that came following the discussion, this response…

Isn’t this just exactly the issue? Can we be both good academics and good parents (that is, can we have it all)? Not just moms – but dads too? Yet underneath that question the fact that Simon James Dixon (@WoodinRivers) is just now contemplating this…. For women, this question has either been on our minds for decades, or is not a choice at all. And, finally, although women have been the focus of making these choices, it does leave men out in the cold – they aren’t expected to have the thought process, but when they do and decide they also want to be dads, too, they may be punished for this choice, too.

At the end of the day, again, it’s about culture. We do have a choice here, and to figure that out, we need to be talking about these issues, and challenging that culture. Getting us all, all genders, to be thinking about what it means to be a parent, about what our needs and commitments will be, what we want them to be – and how we will, together, figure out how to make that work.

But by “together” I don’t just mean as couples. Once again, this conversation makes clear how important it is that we have a community around us, institutionalized or not. We should support one another in these decisions, to make it work – and therein change the culture itself, one subbing lecture, one box of toys in an office, at a time.

On that note: I don’t want kids. I never have. I’m a great auntie, but they ain’t for me. That said, this is still a fundamentally important discussion for me, as I believe the balance of life choices is critical for all of us.



And that concludes our first Diversity Journal Club of 2015! Let us know what you think in the comments! Thank you to everyone who participated – give ’em a friendly follow (in no particular order and let me know if I missed someone)!

Luna CM Centifanti ‏(@LunaCentifant)
NotThatKindaDr.Kline ‏(@MichelleAKline)
B. Arman Aksoy ‏(@armish)
Josue Ortega Caro ‏(@josueortc)
Jorden Cummings ‏(@jordenc_phd)
Mariam Al Bayati ‏(@MelemBayati)
Sciencegurl ‏(@sciencegurlz0)
Anne Jefferson ‏(@highlyanne)
biochem belle ‏(@biochembelle)
Ruth Hufbauer ‏(@hufbauer)
Jessica Carilli ‏(@jess_carilli)
R. Deborah Overath ‏(@scienceknitster)
KristinaSchierenbeck ‏(@BotanyRules)
Genome F. Daddy ‏(@GenomeDaddy)

Our next Diversity Journal Club will be on Monday 9 February at 2pm EST! Join us!


Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)


2 thoughts on “A family gap for men? Diversity JC looks at how gender roles affect us all when having kids in academia.

  1. […] The thing is this: It’s not that women leave to have families, or that women believe they can’t have the home life they envision and work the crazy hours, or that women value family over work more than men. Maybe it’s more that women and men both already see women as taking on those responsibilities, and make those decisions. Because that’s what we think we’re supposed to do. We’ve talked about this before. […]


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