“Faculty members are the primary resource for meeting today’s escalating demands upon colleges and universities .” Institutions of higher learning that address work-life concerns increase their ability to attract and retain the best faculty – men as well as women.
Attracting and retaining faculty is only possible if colleges and universities avoid the “chilly climate” that drives women out of their departments. A “chilly climate” often reflects gender bias, which imposes concrete costs on hard-pressed universities.
Eliminating gender bias is not just the right thing to do. It is the only cost-effective way to run an academic institution.
Retaining Talented Women Faculty is a Business Necessity in the Current Economic EnvironmentSharply Declining Resources
Colleges and universities are in the midst of the perfect financial storm. Their financial resources are declining. Their endowments have been hit hard by the current economic crisis, which has decreased endowments by 23% or more. Public institutions face further budget cuts as a result of declining tax revenue. Charitable contributions to public and private institutions alike are down. As a result, many colleges and universities are forced to freeze salaries and cut back on spending.
Simultaneously, families’ college savings plans have been gutted by the declining stock market. Parents of current and soon to be college students have lost their jobs. The number of requests for financial aid is rising.
At a time when resources are declining and the demand for financial aid is increasing, colleges and universities must identify opportunities for reducing costs without negatively affecting their competitive edge and reputation for academic excellence. Retention of high performing faculty, including women, is more important than ever. It is the key to staying competitive, attracting donors, grantors and students, and keeping costs down by minimizing attrition.
High Costs of Start-Up Packages. A 2002 survey of over 200 public and private research universities found that the average start-up costs for assistant professors at private Research I universities in physics/astronomy, biology, chemistry, and engineering varied between $390,237 and $489,000. For senior faculty members, the average start-up costs ran from about $700,000 in physics to about $1,442,000 in engineering. A start-up package for an Assistant Professor of Psychology at a public university averages $47,000. If a chilly climate drives one woman after another out of a given department, academic institutions face paying these start-up costs again and again.
Lost Grants. Losing a faculty member often packs the secondary punch of losing research grant support. When faculty members leave a college or university they often take their grant funding with them. Additionally, “it can take 10 years for a new faculty member in science or engineering to develop enough of a positive revenue stream from grants to recoup start-up costs. If a faculty member leaves before start-up costs are recovered, the university loses money and must start over again.”
Reduced Faculty Productivity Due to Time Spent on Search Committees. Any senior faculty member can tally up the many hours of potential research time that are spent on recruiting, interviewing and mentoring new faculty. One dean estimated that over the life of a search, she spends two full weeks reviewing applications, leading search meetings, hosting candidates and talking with them prior to and after the visit. By her estimate, the average search committee member at her institution spends 25 to 40 hours per vacancy reviewing applications, attending search meetings and speaking with candidates. Others note that the time required for a single search can climb as high as 100 hours. Departments with a chilly climate for women face these costs over and over again, which represents an enormous drain on faculty productivity.
Case Study—Iowa State Faculty Work/Life Database. Iowa State University (ISU), with a Sloan Foundation Innovation Award, developed a database that measures the costs and benefits of the ISU flexible career policies. The database also calculates the average start-up costs of a new assistant professor which clearly illustrating the fiscal imperative for faculty retention. Please follow the links to the power point presentation and handout from a presentation of findings from an analysis of the Iowa State Work/Life Database.
Employment discrimination claims are more common than sexual harassment claims in academia. In a survey of 500 colleges and universities, employment discrimination was the single greatest and most quickly growing cause of employment claims (equal to 51% of all claims in 1997). This was five times greater than the number of wrongful termination claims and six times greater than the number of sexual harassment claims. Large Settlement Costs. Employment discrimination claims can cost employers hefty sums. In 1997, 73% of employment discrimination claims that did not go to court were settled for $110,000 per claim for public institutions, and $175,000 per claim for private institutions.  These settlement costs do not include attorney’s fees and litigation expenses or the lost time of faculty members who need to assist in the investigation and defense of discrimination claims.
400 Percent Rise in Family Responsibility Discrimination (FRD) Cases. A new trend in gender bias litigation involves discrimination against parents who take family leave, or bias based on assumptions that mothers lack career commitment. For example, one woman professor won a reported tentative settlement of $500,000 after the Chair of her committee recommended against tenure on the grounds that, “as the mother of two infants, [she] had responsibilities that were incompatible with those of a full-time academician.” FRD lawsuits increased by nearly 400% in the decade before 2005.
Widespread Noncompliance. Academic institutions may be more vulnerable to suits based on family responsibilities because their policies so often fail to comply with legal requirements. A recent survey of 100 U.S. institutions found that over a third of their maternity and childrearing policies violated the law or had a high probability of doing so.
Costly Impact on Institutional Reputation. Settlement costs, legal fees, litigation expenses, and lost research and teaching time are only the beginning. Negative media attention associated with employment discrimination claims can affect an institution's ability to recruit faculty, students, and donors.
Potential Loss of Federal Grants. All federal agencies that give funds to institutions of higher education, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, are obligated to enforce Title IX. A 2004 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report found that the proportion of faculty in the sciences who are women has increased, but they still lag behind male faculty in terms of salary and rank. The GAO recommended that the Administrator of NASA, the Secretary of Energy, and the Director of NSF take actions to ensure that compliance reviews of grantees are conducted as required by Title IX.
An Opportunity to Gain a Competitive Advantage
As a Talent Pool, Women Are an Undertapped Resource
Women are leaving academia at disproportionately high rates at every stage of their academic career. “It is essential to put in place programs to retain women in order to achieve a diverse faculty. If you don’t have a department that appeals to women, you will limit your talent pool and may end up with a lesser candidate,” according to Chancellor Blumenthal at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Women today earn nearly half of all doctorate degrees, yet they constitute only 31% of tenured faculty and 24% of senior faculty nationwide. In science and engineering, women earn 40% of doctorate degrees but comprise only 28% of tenured or tenure-track faculty and 19% of senior faculty. 
Moreover, the higher the prestige of the institution, the lower the percentage of women. Women held 19% of senior and 26% of tenure-track faculty positions at doctoral-granting universities—but 47% of both types of positions at community colleges. “[A]t the top research institutions, only 15.4% of the full professors in the social and behavioral sciences and 14.8% in the life sciences are women—and these are the only fields in science and engineering where the proportion of women reaches into the double digits.”
Women Who Want Children and Marriage Face Particularly High Barriers
Mothers are only half as likely as other candidates to gain a faculty position. In addition, fully 59% of married women with children are thinking of leaving academia, according to a 2000 survey of 800 postdoctoral fellows at U.C. Berkeley. This category of faculty “were far more likely than others to cite children as one of the reasons they changed their career goals away from academia, and they were the most likely to indicate that balancing career and family was a source of high stress for them.” Married women, particularly those with children, are significantly less likely to relocate to advance their careers, which makes it harder to take academic jobs or to move to higher-ranked institutions. Women without children also leave academia because they see the standard academic career track as incompatible with childrearing, given that only one in three women who begins the tenure track without children ever has them. Academic institutions will never retain proportionate numbers of women until women—like men—find they can have both careers and families.
Family-Unfriendly Institutions Will Fail to Retain Men As Well As Women
[I received] a sneering denial by my chair [to my request for reduced duties to care for a new child], who said that, while another male colleague at Berkeley may have enjoyed that “vacation” our department couldn’t spare my teaching services.
If academic institutions present a chilly climate for mothers, they often present a frigid climate for fathers. Male faculty members (like their female colleagues) often feel the need to avoid having children, or hide their family responsibilities, in order to succeed. In a national survey of faculty, 10% of men “remained single because they did not have time for a family and a successful academic career.” Among parents, 9% of men “had one child, but delayed considering another until after they received tenure.” 19% of men did not ask for a reduced teaching load when they needed it for family reasons, “because it would lead to adverse career repercussions.” One-third of faculty who were parents—mothers and fathers—did not ask for parental leave, and roughly 20% did not ask to stop the tenure clock, even though they thought they would have benefited from doing so. Institutions that fail to address faculty demands for bias free family friendly polices will see a rise in attrition among both male and female faculty.
The above is adapted from Joan C. Williams and Donna L. Norton, “Building Academic Excellence through Gender Equity,” American Academic 4, no. 1 (March 2008) 185-208