being junior

I’m only just starting to wet my toes in the complicated seas of university politics, but shudder at Lisbeth exhausted post and Torill’s only slightly cheering followup about struggling as a new academic trying to make a difference.

Torill mentions the added difficulties of being a young woman in this system. I suspect young men have their problems too, but still, at our university they’ve noticed that far more women than men drop out in that transition from writing your PhD thesis to teaching and researching as a junior staff member, which is exactly where Lisbeth is right now.

My university is actually trying to help with this transition, and they do have lots of information on gender in the university and their attempts to attain a better balance. They’re starting up a mentor program. I find it amusing that I don’t qualify for the program. I finished my PhD a few months too early and am already in transition you see, on my second or third short-term contract, I’ve lost track, but hey, I’ll be alright, I’ve found myself lots of mentors and peers and support already, and I love the centre of my job, the research and the teaching, despite all the annoyances, so I’ll be sticking around.

But I do notice being in the minority. Almost all my colleagues are men. Correct that: apart from the secretaries, the only woman I work with and regularly attend meetings with is Hilde. Thank god for the internet and the telephone: using them I do have lots of contact with women in other departments and institutions. But it does make a difference to work almost exclusively with people of the opposite sex. I’ve never experienced explicit discrimination, men are great, it’s not that, it’s just that it would be really nice and a lot easier to figure out my role in this strange new world of actually being a nearly fully-fledged academic if there were more women around.

Here’s a table showing the gender imbalance of the academic staff here. This includes everyone from people with PhD fellowships (you’re not a student, here, when you’re working on a PhD, you’re in a recruitment position and your salary and pension rights and so on are about the same as a nurse’s, though you don’t get extra pay for the night shifts…), through post docs up to full professors. Blue is for women, burgundy is for men, and “år” means “years”.

graph of gender imbalance at University of Bergen

It’s even worse if you look at the positions people are in. This table shows gender related to your title. In Norway we skip assistent professor, you only get hired if you have a PhD and if you have a PhD you’re an associate professor (førstestilling) straight off. There are more women than men doing a post doc because a lot of post docs are only for women, to help women qualify for full professorship earlier. The stipendiats, or PhD fellowships, are also awarded with an intention of gender balance, but it’s obviously not quite working.

gender by academic position

03. October 2003 by Jill
Categories: Gender balance in academia, University politics | Tags: , , , | 6 comments

Comments (6)

  1. “I’ve never experienced explicit discrimination”
    I don’t know, but this could be because you’re in Norway… things are improving in the US (ever so slowly) but we still have a long long way to go… to catch up with Norway/Scandinavia.

    “The stipendiats, or PhD fellowships, are also awarded with an intention of gender balance, but it’s obviously not quite working.”
    This could also be because you are in Norway – women on career paths (or not) seem to have children (more than one) in their early 20’s (or younger) – let’s face it, no matter how motivated you are or how supportive your government and institutions, going for your PhD and tenure with young children is extremely difficult.

    I’m curious – how many childless Norwegian women in their 30’s do you know? I don’t know any, but I don’t know that many Norwegian women… on the other hand I know a great number of childless (some would say child free) American women 35 & up. Especially in the Academy…

  2. To the “childless Norwegians” question: of the women I have had the closest academic contact with during the PhD process: Jill, Hilde, Lisbeth, Susana, Anja, Ragnhild, Hanne-Lovise, Anne, Janne, as far as I know (somethig nmight have happened with the once I haven’t met the last year) only Jill and I have children. Only Jill has a young child, mine are getting awfully close to being adults. There’s one other female teaching at the Department here, she has no children. Among my female academic friends outside of the immediate circle, not having children is more common than having them. These are either like me: they had their children early and their degrees late, or they have their degrees early and their children late. Jill is one of two that I know of who has managed both.

    Scandinavia may have come far, but Academia is extremely concervative. It might be that the Norwegian women you know are people you have met as a married woman. Women in stable established relationships tend to have children, and they tend to split the work more and more evenly with their husbands.

  3. Jill, I don’t know whether you’ve seen this Current Issues Brief (pdf) from the Australian Parliamentary Library, but it addresses gender imbalance in Australian universities and is quite comprehensive.

  4. Does the ratio vary at all from department to department?

    It’s all quite depressing, I must say.

  5. There is some difference between faculties, yes. Here are statistics showing professors in different facultiesand for associate professors across faculties, all in January 2002. In the liberal arts faculty, where I am, 29% of professors and 40% of associate professors are women, against only 3% female full professors and 15% female associate professors in the science faculty. So obviously it’s a lot better in my faculty than in the university as a whole. I seem to have studied and worked in departments with unrepresentative gender balances though: at comparative literature there is only one woman against about ten men, and my current department also has eight men teaching, I think, against two women.

    And children? Until Torill wrote so above I hadn’t really thought about it, but, hm, I’m obviously one of the few women with a young child in my field to have just completed a PhD, but I do know quite a few in other fields. Christine and Hilde D., anyway, oh, and Hege. And Anders has young kids, though he’s a man.

    One reason I love Norway is that dads do their share, or at least, many, many dads do. My daugher’s dad certainly does. If I were a single mother I’d be stuffed. But I’m not: though I’m happily divorced from my daughter’s father and I care for my daughter on my own every second week, her father does just as much parenting as I do, not just having her half the time but doing his share of every kind of nurturing, birthday party organisation, PTA meeting and so on. We’re both flexible about schedules when one of us has to travel for work. My daughter has grandparents too who are wonderful, and she often stays with them when her dad or I or both are travelling for work.

    If I’d been parenting alone, without an equal co-parent and without support from my parents, I might have managed to write a PhD thesis, but I wouldn’t have been able to go to any conferences, or give talks like the one I gave in Oslo yesterday. I think that without that networking it would have been extremely hard to do my research let alone build enough of a reputation for myself that I could continue in academia, as I hope to. Heck, even the university pedagogy course I have to do is based on staying at a hotel for three days three times across a year: there is no way I could have done that if I’d not had other people helping me care for my child. It takes a village to raise a child if both her parents are working…

    In Australia it seemed to me that most women quit work when they had kids, and well-educated women didn’t seem to have kids until way into their thirties. It depressed me, the staying home thing, though of course, you could and many do argue for the opposite view: after all, my daughter has been in kindergarten and later school from the age of one. Though I was able to work six hour days until she was three, and now use flexitime to work six hour days the weeks she’s with me. (I work some evenings too, and extra hours the weeks she’s not with me. It can be rather exhausting.)

    When I was doing my MA just about all of us had kids. I remember reading that 25% of all students at the University of Bergen had kids. It was entirely normal. Most of my girlfriends, apart from my academic friends, have young children.

    I went and found some statistics (in English!). Now every third thirty-year-old woman in Norway is childless. Here’s a graph showing the change in this in the last forty years: thirty year old women with no children, by the woman’s birth year. The average age of first time mothers is now 27.7 years, and it’s increasing. In Australia the median age of first time mothers is 30, and it’s 32.3 for fathers. It’s changing fast: “For women aged 25-29 years in 1981, 35% were childless, while 59% of women of the same age in 2001 were childless.” (from the same Australian Bureau of Statistics page as the last link)

    There are almost only men in planes on weekdays, even in Norway.

  6. There are, of course, “gaps” between males and females. But are they as great as those between [say] children from upper middle class homes and those from their lower working class equivalents? Society will never remove EVERY inequality. Even if we could remove ALL environmental inequalities, innate differences would still be there, whether we liked it or not.
    No one has any problem accepting that males will never [as a group] be as proficient in reading as females. Unfortunately, however, although it’s “acceptable” to acknowledge that there may be innate reasons for males falling behind females, woe betide anyone who suggests even the possibility of there being innate factors behind the reverse occurring.

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