Women in Academe

Women in Academe

In recent years, women have begun to make inroads into the ranks of teaching staff in Canadian universities. Between 2002-2003, the number of full-time female faculty had risen to 30 percent, which was a substantial increase from only 20 percent one decade earlier (Statistics Canada, 2006). The growing presence of female faculty has been largely attributed to the rising educational attainment of women in undergraduate, masters and doctoral programs. However, although female enrollment has never been greater, their increasing presence in all degree programs has not kept pace with the proportion of males occupying full-professorships in Canadian universities. Currently females occupy only 22 percent of full-time professors, 34 percent of associate professors, and 41.3 percent of assistant professors. Furthermore, their pay pales in comparison to that of men while occupying the same position, averaging a discrepancy of approximately $3,500 (Armenti, 2004). At first glance, female presence within academic circles appears to be rapidly growing. Nonetheless, when analyzing current statistics of women’s positions within Canadian universities, it becomes increasingly apparent that their progression is limited to the lower ranks. As a result, a burning question is “Where are all the women?”

Struggling for Full Citizenship: Why Women lack Full Equality

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Alfred Marshall (Heater, 1999) argues that citizens are composed of three bundles of rights: the civil, the political, and the social. For the this article, the focus will be on the bundle of civil rights, in particular, the right to work and how this is an essential criterion to possess full citizenship. The critical aspect of assessing one’s freedom is distinguished between the extent of achievement and the freedom to achieve. Achievement is concerned with what we manage to accomplish, and freedom with the real opportunity that we have to accomplish what we value (Sen, 1992). In regards to the extent of achievement, female academics have managed to achieve their position as professors within universities as the result of their educational background. However, they do not possess the freedom to achieve because their prospects for advancement are severely limited. This is because female professors do not have ample time to invest into their careers because they are required to perform a disproportionate amount of childcare and housework.

At present, Canada has two forms of leave, which include maternity leaves and are often referred to pregnancy leaves, as well as parental leave. A pregnancy leave is a right that pregnant female employees have that entitles them to take up to 17 weeks of unpaid and job-protected time off work. This length of time is typically the same for all provinces with the exception of Quebec and Saskatchewan, which provide 18 weeks, and Alberta, which provides 15 weeks (Deven & Moss, 2006). Following the 17 weeks of pregnancy leave is 35 weeks of parental leave. This leave can be 37 weeks if the mother does not take a pregnancy leave and can be taken by either parent or shared, but cannot extend beyond 52 weeks. However, this “gender-neutral” policy was created in 2000 and the length of parental leave was dramatically increased from the 10 weeks parents were provided prior to the amendment. The money that is paid during a pregnancy or parental leave is paid through Employment Insurance (EI), which is under federal jurisdiction. It is a rate of 55 percent of your average insured earnings up to a yearly maximum amount of $40,000. That is, you can receive a maximum payment of $423 per week. The pay provided for pregnancy leave will not exceed 15 weeks and for parental leave it is 35 weeks (Deven & Moss, 2006). For university faculty, the pay provided to them by the federal government is “topped up” by the institution so they earn approximately 100 percent of their pay for the first two weeks of leave and 85-100 percent of their pay during the next 17 weeks of leave (Caut, 2006). However, as discussed earlier, the amendment of this policy did not relieve women of their roles as primary parents since only 9% of men in Canada took a parental leave between 2001-2006 (Deven & Moss, 2006). Since there is a divergence between what women manage to achieve and the freedom to achieve, women do not posses full citizenship. Their rights are confined within a policy that privileges men’s positions in society and provides them with the freedom to achieve.

Traditional Structure of Academia

Academia requires a large amount of time, preparation, and involvement both inside and outside of the university setting. Since these responsibilities are extremely crucial in the consideration for tenure and promotion, they cannot be compromised with the expectations and demands of childcare and housework. In an attempt to combine family life and work without jeopardizing their prospects of attaining tenure, women faculty has typically taken one of two approaches referred to as “May babies” and post-tenure babies. “May baby” phenomenon refers to timing the birth of one’s child for the month of May, or nearing the early summer months, so that women would be permitted to have children without being forced to take time off from work which would be perceived as a lack of commitment towards their careers (Armenti, 2004). A second strategy that many female academics use for attempting to avoid the conflict between childrearing and attaining tenure is referred to as “post tenure babies.” This is where young female academics postpone having children until after they have obtained tenured positions (Armenti, 2004).

Although female representation in undergraduate, masters and doctoral programs is ever growing, the traditional structure of universities inhibits women from attaining equal status, recognition and pay to that of their male counterparts. This reflects what Aisenberg and Harrington (1988) call the “old norms”, a set of historical beliefs and expectations that remain even as new understandings arise. Old norms reiterate the message that female professors must choose between childrearing and work as opposed to combining the two. The upholding of such traditional norms is contradictory because academia is an environment which fosters liberal ideologies and where individuals are encouraged to challenge the status quo without any consequence to their positions (Rhode, 2006). With that, it is unrealistic to assume that the expectations placed on professors can be altered or lessened to alleviate the burden many female academics experience when attempting to balance family life and work. Instead the problem lies with the construction of parenthood, in that women’s primary role has, and continues to be attributed to childrearing which remains unchallenged among many academics.


Aisenberg, N., & Harrington, M. (1988). Women of Academe: Outsiders in the Sacred Grove. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press

Armenti, Carmen. (2004). “Women Faculty Seeking Tenure and Parenthood.” Cambridge Journal of Education. Vol. 34: 65-83.

CAUT (Canadian Association of Teachers). “Policy Statement on Parental Leaves.” Retrieved from: http://www.caut.ca/pages.asp?page=248&lang=1

Deven, Fred & Moss, Peter. 2006. “Leave Policies and Research: A Cross-National Overview.” Haworth Press, Inc.

Rhode, Deborah. (2006). In Pursuit of Knowledge. US: Stanford University Press.

Stats Canada. (2006). “University Enrollment.” The Daily-Tuesday October 11th, 2005. Retrieved September 29, 2007 from http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/051011/d051011b.htm

Heater, Derek. (1999). What Happened to Citizenship? Polity Press: Cambridge, UK.

Sen, Amartya. (1992). Inequality Reexamined. Oxford University Press: Cambridge, Mass.

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