Auriemma and Klein, two researchers at the Center for Toddler Development, published a study on the “Experiences and Challenges of Women Combining Academic Careers and Motherhood.” They interviewed twenty female researchers and faculty members and analyzed the themes that emerged from their narratives.  From these themes, they concluded:

 “Greater support and understanding of family issues in academia are clearly called for in order to lessen the work/family stress experienced by academic parents and thereby improve job performance and satisfaction.”

While I am critical of their small sample size, I think that their collection of anecdotes is a useful illustration of the difficulties that likely affect many female academics.  They demonstrated that, at least for the women they interviewed, university policies and expectations led to stress and dissatisfaction.  Many of the women interviewed emphasized that it was not possible to be both a great mom and a successful academic.  [Here I’d like to note that while these women were not completely satisfied with their jobs; their satisfaction was clearly high enough that they chose to remain in them.]

Instead of arguing for a government solution to the problems facing the interviewees, Auriemma and Klein argued that:

“Institutional attention to providing, publicizing, and encouraging the use of policies that help faculty deal with professional and personal responsibilities would both enhance the quality of the environment, making it more attractive to academic women, and help individual scholars fulfill professional and personal duties.”

This is a sound conclusion, supported by the responses of the women interviewed.  It informs universities of the difficulties facing some female academics.  At the same time, it leaves open the question of whether individual universities will find it to be in their best interests to offer strong parental leave policies and on-campus parental care in order to attract women who want to balance their academic careers with raising children. 

In their recommendations, Auriemma and Klein discussed the benefits of university policies designed to help academics balance work and family.  In the body of their study, they noted that prior to having children, interviewees thought it would be possible to balance a career and a family, but after having children, they did not.  In their discussion section, Auriemma and Klein noted that as children became new priorities, mothers questioned which aspects of work really mattered. 

More emphasis should be placed on the responsibility of female academics with children to find a career/family balance that works best for them.  Some may choose to marry husbands who are willing to shoulder the brunt of childrearing, others may choose not to have children and to focus on their careers, others may find a way to “do it all,” and still others may decide that they are happiest spending more time with their families, even if it means being passed up when it comes time for tenure.  Regardless of the path each woman takes, institutions should promote and compensate them based on job performance.