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Women Professors Not Being Promoted as Rapidly as Men

Troubling inequities remain in career advancement between male and female college professors in English and foreign languages, according to a report being released today by the Modern Language Association.

Men are promoted more rapidly than women to full professor – regardless of women’s marital status or whether they have children – concludes the report, titled “Standing Still,” by MLA’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession. It also concludes that women raising children do not necessarily take longer to gain such a promotion than childless women.

The MLA report, based on a survey of 400 professors and associate professors from around the country, found that, among married faculty members with no dependent children, women reported the longest time – 9.4 years on average – rising from associate professor to full professor.

And among married women with children at home, the average of 8.2 years for promotion to professor was actually shorter than the average of 8.8 years for all married women. The same pattern held true for married men with children at 6.3 years as compared to 6.8 years for all married men.

Dr. Kathleen Woodward, the report’s lead author and a University of Washington professor of English, says it is not uncommon for working mothers to “push right on through, incredibly efficiently” with their responsibilities. Consequently, whatever stigma working mothers face for spending less time on campus than non-parents do is overshadowed by their accomplishments and productivity, she says.

Female associate professors also reported spending more hours per week than their male counterparts on course preparation and grading and commenting on student work. These women also devoted less time on average every week than men did to research, writing and publication – pursuits that often carry more weight in promotion decisions.

The MLA report issues recommendations to schools everywhere for closing the gender gap in promotion. For instance, the report suggests creation of more mentoring programs for associate professors and leadership training aimed at newly tenured women faculty.

The report also calls for schools to clearly establish paths for promotion in alignment with institutional values. “If a university emphasizes diversity in its mission statement, and a faculty member mentors students of color, that should be counted more heavily than it is now in promotion decisions,” Woodward says.

MLA executive director Rosemary G. Feal notes that women clearly tend to take longer to become full professor “at every type of college in every region of the country. (Our) report calls for concrete action to support women’s advancement.”

Woodward adds, “You would have thought persistent inequity would have vanished by now, but it hasn’t.”

The survey also found that, on average, it takes women one to 3.5 years longer than men to advance from associate to full professor, depending on the type of school in which they teach. Slightly more than half the respondents were women.

Only 38 percent of respondents reported having dependent children at home. Women reported spending at least 31 hours a week caring for children – more than twice the average of their male colleagues.

The MLA and its 30,000 members work to strengthen the study and teaching of languages and literature. The MLA’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession investigates and reports on women’s issues.



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