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Career and Family

The Juxtaposition of Career and Family:
A Dilemma for Professional Women

By Regina M. Watkins, Ph.D., Margie Herrin, Ph.D. & Lonnie R. McDonald, Ph.D. - 1998

Many subtle restrictions exist that prevent women from acquiring promotions, tenure, and other forms of advancement.

The vocations of successful mother and professional are not necessarily mutually exclusive (Holt, 1981). However, the major segment of the workforce-women, comprising 52%-are struggling to balance these two most important forces in their lives. Drastic increases in the number of working women have thrust this issue to the workplace forefront. Resolution of such career and family concerns should definitely contribute not only to increased productivity, but also to the psychological well-being of a more successful workforce (AAWCJC, 1991).

The February 1, 1993 cover of Time magazine confronts us with the plight of the working professional woman, as we see a picture of the first female nominee for U.S. Attorney General. Zoe Baird was "drawn and quartered" for decisions she made regarding a family concern: quality child care. Regardless of personal beliefs about respect for the rules, integrity, or credibility, the fact remains: Had a male nominee ever been asked about his child care arrangements? The answer is no (Gibbs, 1993).

Research supports a history of limited success for professional, and especially university, women with families (Ezrati, 1983). In fact, conflicts involving expectations and family obligations appear to run rampant in institutions of higher education. Several pertinent statistics are esoteric to institutions of higher learning and the issue of family and employee gender: (1) Fewer married women achieve high academic rank than married men; (2) Men are more successful in combining parenthood and academic careers; in fact, the combination of family and career are the norm for men, not women, academicians; (3) The majority of university women remain childless, 50% as reported by Hensel (1991), with only 15% having three or more children, as compared to 33% of men (Carnegie Commission as reported by Ezrati, 1983); and (4) The more children a woman has, the more difficult it is to balance family and career. In fact, career advancement for the professional woman often means limiting family size (Holt, 1981).

In an attempt not to only initiate but also perpetuate change, the American Association of Women in Community and Junior Colleges (AAWCJC) selected for its 1992 agenda the theme of "The New Workforce" in order to showcase issues pertinent to quality living for university women. This organization sees the need to promote optimum achievement of constituents, which means overcoming barriers to their success. Effective management of family and professional responsibilities is quickly emerging as a primary concern for university women across the nation (AAWCJC, 1991).

Covert Issues in Higher Education's Organizational Culture

Many subtle restrictions exist that prevent women from acquiring promotions, tenure, and other forms of advancement. Ezrati (1983) presented the following list of covert reasons why advancement for women in higher education may be limited.

Geographic Immobility

Few women have the luxury of relocating in order to attain job advancement. Ninety percent of women reported they would relocate only if their husbands secured employment. Seventy-five percent of men would relocate for a better job with or without the spouse’s employment. In fact, our society "discourages family change for the sake of a wife's career" (107).

Limited Bargaining Power

Being confined to one location, women usually have little or no bargaining power in negotiating for position advancement. Administrators feel minimal pressure when faced with the possibility of losing versus regaining a productive female employee who is trapped in one location. This condition also perpetuates low salaries and infrequent promotions.

Limited Job Market

Job relocation is acceptable if precipitated by the husband, but not by the wife. Therefore, limited mobility perpetuates infinitesimal career options. To further limit female career choices, colleges and universities are seldom in close proximity to allow convenient commuting.

Nepotism and Institutional Inbreeding

Anti-nepotism policies are widespread in institutions of higher learning. These policies appear to be inordinately discriminatory to wives, usually due to the fact that husbands are employed first. Most policies are not specific; however, the majority of institutions covertly forbid the hiring of any relative even if the position in question does not involve a supervisor/subordinate relationship. In fact, special permission is sometimes required, especially in the case of hiring a spouse. In juxtaposition, a similar discriminatory action deals with inbreeding. Many institutions assume an inflexible stance in hiring their graduates, a mentality which handicaps married women because of their immobility.

Inability to Combine Family and Career

Even when university employment is secured, the female faculty member has many tough decisions to make. If there are plans for children, the employee must face necessary leaves of absence which are usually at the convenience of the institution's schedule. Upon return, she finds herself lacking in scholarly activities necessary for promotion and tenure. Further, the ideal time for achieving quality professional status is between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five which happens to coincide with the optimum years for bearing children.

Additionally, women's career and family choices tend to follow a pattern of fragmented phases rather than a smooth continuum descriptive of their male counterparts. This paradigm tends to characterize university women's careers as disjointed.

Public Mindsets

Society vehemently declares that childcare is the responsibility of women. Mothering, not fathering, is a prevalent societal norm creating personal role conflicts that permeate institutions of higher learning. Religion and mores further confound the problem facing women who desire to maintain a quality career and family life. Most women feel pressured by society to make a choice. Hampton (1982) states that women professors generally chose careers over marriage.


Even though female academicians have greater earning power than most other women in the workplace, they continue to bear the burden of the caretaking responsibilities of the home. In fact, socioeconomic status is negatively correlated with the amount of hours spent in housework activities. Hensel (1991) reports the addition of a child and household responsibilities increase the workload of an average professor from 55 to 70 or more hours per week.

Part-time Employment

Most part -time employees are women , a choice that is often family-driven. Therefore they receive lower salaries, fewer promotions, and suffer from reduced productivity.

Childcare Provisions

Few institutions of higher education provide childcare facilities, thereby requiring women to acquire childcare on their own. When such programs do exist on college campuses, implementation was historically initiated as a result of student versus faculty needs. The unavailability of onsite quality childcare is pervasive in institutions of higher education. It appears once again that our patriarchal society is restricting women faculty who are attempting to combine family and career.

Extraneous Implications

Hensel (1991) noted that women are as productive and scholarly as men, although women suffer from higher attrition rates and slower mobility in higher education. Gender discrimination is prevalent and appears to be exacerbated by the perplexing responsibilities of university women attempting to balance family life and professional career. Most institutions continue to be male-dominated with athletic and military overtones. Women are, however, quietly breaking into the male-controlled society in a subtle manner but are required to utilize male rules and mores for successful integration. In fact, women who secure administrative positions must capitalize on the typical paths derived from their male predecessors.

Holt (1991) also addressed the issue of juggling the demands of family and position in the advancement process. Only those female university administrators who had secured quality childcare arrangements and had a supportive husband felt any relief from the career pressures they must endure. In addition, for those who are family women in management positions, their greatest expenditure of energy was directed at resolving conflict about priorities of family and career. Most of them felt that eventually a choice was forthcoming (Hampton, 1981).

Strategies for Successful Career Integration

The community of higher education and society as a whole can benefit from utilizing the untapped female academic talent of individuals who experience the conflict of family and career responsibilities. Selected strategies which follow must be incorporated into the policies and activities of the higher education community to accomplish this endeavor and provide support for the universal family needs.

Higher Aspirations by Women

Women sometimes do not "actively work toward promotion" (Hampton, 1992, 22). The psychological perspective of women must reflect higher aspirations and thinning patterns which support the achievement of non-traditional female fields of employment (Parker, 1991). Women must begin to change their mentality about professional opportunities and advancement (Hampton, 1982).

Financial Independence

Women must seek to achieve and maintain financial independence because of expected additional years in the workforce (Parker, 1991).

Experience Enhancement

To enhance career opportunities and remain current, women must take advantage of internships, volunteer for opportunities which lead to additional experiences and seek advice of experts in the field when available (Parker, 1991).

Family Response Surveys

Family response surveys administered by universities should be utilized to identify family conflict issues and family support factors, followed by the development of policies to eliminate unfavorable practices (Hensel, 1991).

Dual Career Couples' Recruitment

The development of placement policies which recruit dual career couples must be encouraged. Such measures will provide an easier transition for couples with families who move for career enhancement (Hensel, 1991).

Family Leave Policies

Alternative student assignments during periods of time when childbirth occurs during the semester should be utilized. Both parents should be allowed to participate (Hensel 1991).

Maternity Leave Policies

Women need at least three months access to leave with pay upon the birth of a child (Hensel, 1991).

Load Reduction

At the birth of a child, the woman may select a reduced teaching load or committee assignments for the semester or year (Hensel, 1991).

Tenure Clock Adjustment

The tenure clock must be adjusted for women one (Hensel, 1991) or two years (Graham, 1983) per childbirth to allow adequate review time.

Class Schedule Options

Parents should be permitted to select class schedule adaptations such as reduction of early morning, evening or Saturday classes (Hensel, 1991).

Leave of Absence

Child bearing, child rearing and family emergencies are legitimate reasons for discontinuous service without negative consequences (Ezrati, 1983). Self-selection for leave time by either parent is advisable.

Networking with Colleagues

Women must align themselves with productive employees of the university and be participating members of a network of female colleges (Holt, 1981).


Mentor relationships and new programs for new women professionals offer assistance, contacts and critiques of activities (Holt, 1981).

Throughout this article, we have attempted to share the concerns women have expressed as they attempt to balance their professional lives with their personal lives. With the suggested strategies women can begin to onsider how they can remedy some of the issues surrounding the juxtaposition between family and work.


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    Book Review:

    Highly Successful Women Administrators:
    The Inside Story of How They Got There

    By Sandra Lee Gupton & Gloria Appelt Slick

    Book Review By Kimberly Griffith, Ph. D. & Janice P. Thompson - 1998.

    We are encouraged to acknowledge the fact that gender-related problems will face us as we pursue educational administrative careers.Our family, friends, and professional peers can provide the wisdom and support we need to lead with excellence.

    One of the most exciting things about reading this book is its application to our own lives: each administrator's story validates our personal trials and tribulations, hard work, and desire to succeed as women administrators in education. The authors, Dr. Sandra Gupton and Dr. Gloria Slick, have provided an excellent service by presenting the viewpoints, personal stories, lesson frustrations, and accomplishments of successful female educational leaders. Using a strong research base, the authors provide insight into a field which historically is theorized and mandated by the viewpoints of White males.

    To our knowledge, no other study of this type has focused upon women in the educational power positions, the top executive administrators in public education: high school principals, assistant superintendents, and superintendents. The authors sagaciously note that women bring with them a way of leading that is different from the traditional, transactional style. The unique, and possibly natural, ability women possess is required by today's administrators of reform. This book provides a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the women behind the text and encourages women administrators by stressing the need today for a gentler, more values-oriented, integrative approach to educational leadership.

    Each chapter examines issues that women encounter on their journeys into careers in educational administration in the maintenance of their positions, and in their professional and personal growth. In chapter 1, the authors note that being sensitive to the political arena's perspective of women, as well as developing political awareness of the system and how it functions, is imperative, Having the proper credentials is only part of the preparation necessary for success in the job, and does not guarantee acquiring or retaining a position. Commonalities shared by female administrators indicate that one must be prepared for challenges above and beyond what might be expected of male counterparts. Another lesson indicated in the chapter is that the journey to the top involves insight into both the personal and transpersonal, as well as psychological and sociological, aspects of our changing cultural milieu.

    In chapter 2, women administrators call loudly to other women, encouraging them to plan their careers. Each participant's story resounds with the advice that career mapping is essential. Lack of planning has kept many women from successfully reaching the top. The authors indicate that it is important to have a blueprint for your career and to use strategizing skills from the start. Networking with others and learning from mentors can help seize opportunities to grow and facilitate career advancement.

    The third lesson reminds women that perseverance must prevail. Several of the women who provided responses to the authors indicated that they had little encouragement to pursue careers not traditionally occupied by women. Cultural biases also abound, and the data indicates that women in administration encounter numerous gender-related barriers. Other issues of this chapter cluster around family responsibilities and mobility problems which each woman overcame by tapping into the ability to perservere.

    In chapter 4, the issues of diligence and professionalism are stressed. Gupton and Slick found that women frequently refer not only to having a strong work ethic, but also to being willing and able to work harder than their male counterparts in administrative positions. Many women administrators feel that they still have to prove their worth in a male-dominated environment. The authors also indicate the need for women to hold fast to both a high priority of professionalism and strength of character. Remembering to laugh, refusing to whine, and keeping a professional, dedicated, positive attitude are essential for women in leadership.

    In chapter 5, the results of a November, 1995, USA Weekend reader survey indicate that compassion, tolerance, responsibility, integrity, and perseverance are highly valued by American families today. Interestingly, the authors note that these same values and families today. Interestingly, the authors note that these same values form the core characteristics of women leaders who tell their stories in the book. The importance of believing in oneself, adhering to one's values and maintaining personal integrity despite political pressure is addressed. Most of the women administrators surveyed acknowledged that they make decisions in the best interests of the students.

    In chapter 6, women are encouraged to network and support each other. We are encouraged to acknowledge the fact that gender-related problems will face us as we pursue educational administrative careers. Our family, friends, and professional peers can provide the wisdom and support we need to lead with excellence. Political savvy and skill are also recognized as essential elements for success as leaders in education.

    The seventh lesson concerns the importance of both finding and being a mentor. Specific mentoring strategies are outlined in order to improve communication and to share the power of information. Lifelong learning, risk-taking, envisioning, establishing priorities, and reflecting are suggested to establish us as credible leaders.

    The final lesson is to lead by example. One woman administrator said that the ability to facilitate meetings, to resolve conflicts, to problem solve with diverse groups, and to listen well have changed the status of women in education. Women possess the attributes of creativity, flexibility, and orientation toward people rather than things.

    This book is an important educational tool for any woman who is considering, pursuing or currently working in an administrative role, and it greatly enhance the contents of educational administration courses. A very valuable resource, one should read it early in a career. (It would have significantly influenced our career plans.) The advice of others in this study has provided insights into career planning, strategies for reaching goals, identification of the political arena in an educational environment, and the means for establishing a network base for managing the frustrations and obstacles which can occur in a woman's administrative pursuits. After reading Gupton and Slick's "pearls of wisdom", women will know that they can GO FOR IT!

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