UPDATE: [Professional] "An Office of One's Own": Motherhood and Academic Labor (NeMLA 4/10-4/13, 2008; 10/1/07)

full name / name of organization: 
Justine Dymond
contact email: 

Please note new deadline (October 1, 2007) at bottom.

In her groundbreaking essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf advocates
for the material conditions that enable women's intellectual work. However,
Woolf famously never had children. As women gradually but steadily break
through the “glass ceiling” of academia, they also increasingly bring with
them the expectation that they, like their male counterparts, can have a
family and pursue an academic career. While fathers and mothers alike face
unique challenges in balancing academic work and family obligations,
pregnant women and nursing mothers remain disproportionately affected by
the physical demands of care required in the first years of parenting and,
simultaneously, the perception that parenting diminishes their commitment
to academic labor. This reality is compounded by the fact that women still
fill the majority of part-time and temporary positions in higher education,
lessening their resources to balance the dual pressures of work and
parenting. Recent attention given to the experience of women in the
academyâ€"such as the 2002-2003 study at Utah State Universityâ€"reveals the
systemic barriers to tenure success that women faculty face in the academy.

While enduring, gendered barriers are disheartening, one positive trend
would seem to be more sustained attention to the institutional benefits of
policies and practices that are responsive to the needs of academic
parents. As Lisa Wolf-Wendel and Kelly Ward write, “If institutions want to
stay competitive and vie for the best talent in times of shifting labor
markets, then they must pay attention to work and family issues. If these
same institutions want to offer quality programs with qualified and
talented faculty (many of whom have small children), ‘family friendly’
policies must be established.” Some significant institutional policies,
such as family leave and tenure extensions, are widespread. Kathleen
Christensen of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has advocated the concept of
a “dual ladder program.” However, these policies and proposals frequently
apply only to tenure track faculty, and as A.R. Hochschild has reported,
only a small percentage of faculty take advantage of “family friendly”
policies, suggesting that policy implementation is not enough to effect
institutional change.

This roundtable aims to build on established research, both quantitative
and qualitative, on pregnant women and mothers in academia, and to provide
an opportunity for the ongoing cultural transformation necessary to effect
institutional change in academic workplace culture, policy, and accepted
scholarship. In drawing attention to the institutional barriers to women’s
“choice” to have children while pursuing an academic career, we will take
stock of the changes that have attempted to address the needs of mothers in
the early stages of their academic careers. Discussants will read brief
papers (1000-1500 words) that may encompass both personal narratives and
research and then the roundtable will invite discussion from all participants.

The roundtable's aim is to select discussants who represent a range of
backgrounds and various stages on the academic “ladder,” as well as
represent a range of institutional types, are welcome. Autotheory and/or
research-based proposals are welcomed. I have chosen a roundtable format so
that the session might also create a “think tank” in miniature to generate
more ideas for institutional and cultural change.

Please send a 250 to 500 word abstract and a brief bio to Justine Dymond at

NEW DEADLINE: October 1, 2007

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Received on Sat Sep 01 2007 - 16:09:21 EDT