Despite recent strides toward gender equity in academia, US female faculty members continue to perform more uncompensated service than do male faculty members, according to a new study in the journal Research in Higher Education.
The most striking gender difference is found in the level of service to one’s university, particularly in institutional ‘housekeeping’ chores including faculty governance, recruitment, student admissions, evaluation and promotion.
Using two different data sets, the study authors find that women spend both more time in service activities and do more of them than do men. The study mined the national 2014 Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, a web-based survey of 140 institutions that yielded 6,875 respondents. On average, female faculty members reported spending 0.6 hours more per week on service activities than did male faculty members, controlling for rank, race, ethnicity and institution or discipline. Corroborating those findings, the study says that women engaged in almost 1.5 more service activities per year, according to 2012 data from 1,378 full-time tenure-track faculty responses to an online annual performance reporting system used at a large public midwestern university.
“While there are definitely cultural differences within the fields, the overall persistent, pervasive trend is that women do more service than men, on average,” says study co-author Cassandra Guarino, professor of public policy and education at the University of California, Riverside. The gender imbalance was particularly high in fields in science, technology, engineering and maths, however, with women taking on an average of three more service activities per year than did men. The study authors found support for the hypothesis that women whose department is chaired by a man end up performing more service, which can negatively impact their research output. “It’s quite possible that this kind of service load makes a difference in the productivity of women compared to men,” Guarino adds.
There is some evidence that female faculty members also do more external service – for example, working at the national or international level of professional organizations. Internal institutional service tasks, however, tend to carry far less weight in performance reviews than do research, teaching or external service.
The data do not indicate whether women take on too many tasks or are assigned them. Solutions, says Guarino, need to come at an administrative level. One way to ensure that tasks are fairly distributed is to monitor service assignments—a strategy being adopted at the schools of public policy and education at Guarino’s institution. “You have to see it to fix it,’ she adds.
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Virginia Gewin is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.