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The Dilemma of the ‘Double Day’

The Dilemma of the ‘Double Day’

Although men are doing more, many women in higher education still find they have two domains – the university and the home

It’s a new twist on an old theme. Men have done it for years — left their families temporarily so that they could pursue better opportunities. And now women in the academy appear to be doing it, too.

We should be clear, however, on one point: No numbers exist to indicate how widespread this phenomenon is, while plenty of evidence documents the woes of mothers at the other end of the spectrum.

As Dr. JoAnn Haysbert, provost and chief operating officer of Hampton University and a mother of five, says with a sigh, “The academy is not a friendly place for mothers.”

In that respect, it’s little different from the rest of American society. Last year, for example, Catalyst — a leading research and advisory organization working to advance the careers of women in business and the professions — asked 3,000 women in their 20s and 30s to name the biggest barriers to their advancement. The culprit, the women said by a 68 percent margin, was family and personal responsibilities, beating out lack of mentoring, lack of expertise and even stereotyping and sexism.

Similarly, there’s no question that there’s an academic mommy track and that it has derailed many a promising career. A University of California-Berkeley study released last year found that young mothers were far less likely than young fathers to achieve tenure: 24 percent less likely in the hard sciences and 20 percent less likely in the humanities and social sciences.

Women who had babies earlier in their careers were far more likely to find themselves mired in low-paying, low-status, part-time positions as lecturers and adjuncts, the study said. And it also noted that women in the academy who did achieve success appeared to sacrifice child-bearing to do so: 62 percent of women in the humanities and social sciences and 50 percent of those in the hard sciences had no children 14 years after achieving tenure, compared with 39 percent and 30 percent of tenured men in those respective disciplines.

There’s one area in which the academy has the corporate sector beat — in the hiring of those at the top. Only 6 percent of Fortune 500’s top jobs — senior vice president and above — are held by women, the magazine reported recently. By contrast, 19 percent of the nation’s 2,341 college and university presidents were women in 1998, a percentage that’s doubled since 1986, according to the American Council on Education’s Office of Women in Higher Education.

“The hiring is becoming a lot more gender neutral,” says Dr. Yolanda Moses, president of the American Association for Higher Education and a highly regarded expert on the status of women in the academy, “but the values of American society are not.”

One statistic from the ACE report is particularly telling — and troubling — in that regard. Among men presidents, 90 percent are married, with only 6 percent reporting that they were never married. Among women presidents, only 57 percent are married with 20 percent reporting that they never married. Among African American presidents, 79 percent are married, according to ACE, but those figures mingle the statistics for men and women.

“What you find is that, as women become more educated, as they climb the ladder of success, it’s difficult for them to find a man who is as educated as they are or who is comfortable with the success they’ve achieved. I’ve had male friends say to me, ‘How do you ask a woman who’s a university president out on a date?’ They’re either intimidated or simply not sure of the etiquette,” says Moses, who is married with two children.

Moses and Haysbert both are intimately familiar with the struggles and triumphs of women like Drs. Beverly Daniel Tatum, A. Toy Caldwell-Colbert and Lucy J. Reuben — profiled in the accompanying article. Haysbert’s oldest child is 32 and her youngest is 11.

“It would never, in my view, come to a matter of choosing a job over family. That would never occur for me. But I would be quick to respond that (moving into the executive track) causes changes” for the family, Haysbert says. “As a woman, you’re always making compromises, working against the grain. For me as a woman, there’s always that desire to be caring for the family and the home, to be giving attention to the details of the home.”

For example, Haysbert says, “You’ll walk in dead-tired” from a long day of putting out fires at the office, “and you might think to yourself, ‘I need to change the curtains in this room.’ Three years later, you may get around to it.”

Haysbert’s point is that there are “innate things”— matters of cultural conditioning — that come with being female that are not issues for men and that don’t cease being issues for women just because those women have risen into the executive ranks.

“I still want to braid my little girl’s hair. But how often do I have time to literally sit and do it?” she says, adding that women executives face “the constant pull of what’s inside against the job responsibilities, the constant (inner questioning): ‘Can you do it all?’ “

Yes, comes the answer from Moses, who has certainly been there and done that in the course of her long and varied career — just not all at once.

“My husband and I have been through the whole cycle — the foregrounding of one person’s career and backgrounding of the other’s, there and back again,” explains Moses. “So, yes, couples can have it all, but not all at the same time. You have to have a clear sense of when it’s ‘your turn’ and when it’s not.”

Moses, interestingly enough, has just announced that she’ll step down at the end of her three-year term as AAHE president next August, in large part because her husband is needed back home in California to run his family’s real estate company. For Moses, who depended heavily on her husband to keep the home fires burning when her position as president of City College of New York forced the couple into a bicoastal commuter marriage back in the early ’90s, it’s clearly now her husband’s turn.

But since announcing her plans, she’s gotten all kinds of reactions. “Some people are very positive, very encouraging. ‘Wow! Congratulations — you’ve made the right decision!’ And then there are the other folks: ‘Why are you letting this dictate how you live your life?’ “

The answer is simple for Moses: “If you have a relationship where each person values the other and values their goals and aspirations, you’ve just got to figure out the rhythm of the career cycles of both people and be flexible enough” to flow with them.

Still, society has yet to address the problems of the woman’s dual responsibilities.

“My good friend (Dr.) Elnora Daniel (president of Chicago State University) and I are always saying that we need a wife!” says Haysbert. “In the sense that, men in these positions, they can call their wives at home and say, ‘I’ve got two visitors from Bangladesh in today, and I need to have five people for the reception. Can you call this person, this person, this person and make all the arrangements?’ Now the female executive has no wife to say that to, and most times her husband is working. So that means she takes out an extra hour or more to make the preparations — it’s much more of an effort.”

It’s the dilemma of the “double day,” as Moses calls it. “The reality is that most women in the United States still lead a double life — the life they lead in the workplace and university and then the life at home. Men are doing more, but the majority of women are still responsible for what is essentially two jobs. Even where there is help it’s usually the woman who organizes and makes sure that the help is there.”

All the women interviewed for these articles strongly credit their husbands for being secure enough to divide family responsibilities in order to help their wives achieve.

That’s what it takes, Moses says, adding, “In order for women to be as successful as men, they have to be freed from the double day.”

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