There were a number of celebrations last week surrounding the 100 years of the women’s vote which marked a movement towards a more egalitarian society. Juxtaposed against that, I am on leave during half-term as my toddler’s childminder is away*. This got me thinking to what extent can we ever be egalitarian with respect to academic jobs, as childcare and its policies can sometimes suppress the extent that academics with caring roles can engage with different aspects of their jobs.
For example, since becoming a mother, I’ve resisted having meetings after 5 pm (most, if not all persons have been happy to adjust to my timetable) but these meant that social academics activities and evening keynote lectures have had to fall at the wayside. When it comes to overnight visits or conferences, it requires coordination with my partner’s timetable for childcare and this sometimes mean, I would prefer to choose a conference that is local to me, or one that my partner can attend with me (providing he has no other commitments and the leave time). This means often I forgo networking opportunities through these channels and try to develop these via other means. Of course, childcare policies and more egalitarian societies can probably make academics with a caring role to more likely to take up these opportunities. For example, Andringa et al (2015) noted that “The gap in working hours between women with and without young children at home was smaller in countries in which the population holds egalitarian gender role attitudes and in countries with extensive public childcare support.”
There are definitely policies in place at my university that are trying to overcome these issues, for example, there is a fund to help academics with caring responsibilities to pay for childcare if they need to attend conferences. I do wonder how many other institutions have similar policies. However, whilst this financial side is a step in the right direction, the issue for attending conferences away from your child is not only financial but usually social and emotional as well. For example, through leaving my toddler with my partner, I have entered a social contract with my partner, I have to ensure that I reciprocate at some time in the future and hence need to balance the extent of the social contract.
I don’t think I’ll have the solution for these issues but I think it is important for us academics, just like the suffrages did over 100 years ago, to raise the issues in the appropriate venue. For example, the Treasury Committee currently has a childcare enquiry where they are looking for evidence around childcare policy and its influence on the economy. If you have any, do share it with them!
*My partner also takes leave as well to take care of our toddler.
PS Also very difficult to write blog posts with a toddler who wants to tap your keyboard keys!