Women Face Covid-19 Career Crisis in Academia, Law, Accounting, and More

For women facing all-or-nothing tenure or promotion evaluations this year during the pandemic, those with small children for whom school and day care have been closed most of the year are facing disastrous consequences for their careers. Noam Scheiber of the New York Times writes that in several up-or-out fields, “workers face a single high-stakes promotion decision,” such as tenure decisions in academia, partner decisions for lawyers and accountants, and some positions in finance or management. In these fields, the promotion decision can result in a lifetime appointment in the case of tenure or partner decisions, or unemployment—up or out. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant months of lost productivity because of the additional childcare responsibilities, which fall more heavily on women.

Scheiber notes that women in academia find themselves with little leverage. Dr. Susan Pearson, a tenured Northwestern University history professor who has helped rally colleagues, with limited success, to seek more accommodations, explains that academic settings see parenthood “as a personal choice” and not an issue of concern for the university. The one accommodation that Northwestern, like other universities, offered was an extension for one year of the time allowed to publish academic work required to qualify for tenure. Research shows, however, that this extension benefits men more than women. Dr. Jenna Stearns, an economist at the University of California, Davis, notes that “men appear to devote more of the additional year to academic research, while women appear to spend more of it managing parental obligations.”

In addition to more flexible tenure standards that take the pandemic into consideration, women faculty are also asking for

  • Paid leave exempt from the tenure clock for parents with pressing childcare needs
  • Additional childcare subsidies
  • Relief from teaching obligations and other workplace obligations such as student advising

As Dr. Magdalena Osburn, a geobiology professor at Northwestern University, notes, “I need an acknowledgment [from the University] that this year is trash” for those racing the tenure clock. This year is trash for women in a lot of professions, through no fault of their own. Organizations need to start the clock over on career evaluations after the pandemic is over.


Photo by Hatice Yardım on Unsplash

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