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Component Five: Focusing on Work/Life Balance

Why focusing on work/life balance matters

  • The ability of Virginia Tech to attract and retain the best faculty depends upon a culture that values and supports both the work and life needs of all faculty over the course of their careers.
  • Men and women PhDs typically experience family formation and academic career progression differently. Although women now earn 50% of PhDs granted to U.S. citizens, they remain significantly underrepresented among tenure-track and tenured faculty. Given that the tenure clock generally coincides with the biological clock, women faculty often face particular challenges in achieving balance and success.

 What our survey data tell us about work/life issues

  • Data from two Virginia Tech surveys tell us that issues of work/life balance are sources of concern and dissatisfaction for both women and men in tenure-track and tenured appointments. However, women are significantly more likely to agree to statements indicating a high degree of tension between professional and family commitments. For example:
    • 76% of women and 55% of men agree that “It is difficult to have a personal life and be promoted or earn tenure at Virginia Tech”
    • 60% of women and 43% of men agree that their personal or family responsibilities have slowed their advancement at Virginia Tech
    • more than half of all women respondents and 41% of the men have seriously considered leaving their current job in order to achieve a better balance between their personal and professional life
    • 55% of the women and 44% of the men feel that their professional/job demands force them to make unreasonable compromises about personal or family responsibilities and interests (statements above from Faculty Work/Life Survey 2005)
    • 60% of the pre-tenure women and 39% of the pre-tenure men are somewhat or very dissatisfied with the balance between professional time and personal or family time (COACHE 2007)
  • Data from the Virginia Tech Human Resource Information System also tell us that women faculty are twice as likely to leave Virginia Tech voluntarily as their male counterparts, an unfortunate loss of talent and investment.

Points to consider about work/life balance

  • You can make work/life balance a priority and goal for your department by encouraging faculty to take advantage of institutional policies, resources, and practices to successfully integrate work and life/family needs, and making sure that they know they have departmental support if they do so.
  • Actively highlight, advertise, and support your department’s work/life balance accommodation policies and procedures for all faculty—this helps assure faculty that they won’t be arbitrarily disadvantaged in promotion, advancement, or compensation.
  • Make the use of work/life balance accommodations standard for conducting business in your department rather than viewing them as exceptions or “special privileges.”
  • Actively highlight your department’s work/life balance policies, benefits, and resources in faculty recruitment.
  • Provide brochures about work/life policies, dual career hires, etc. as part of all candidate recruitment packets. This sends a very positive message to candidates, even if they do not need the information at the time, and invites them to ask questions or to follow up individually with the offices listed.
  • Schedule a time for women candidates to meet with other women faculty members, the AdvanceVT office, or the college liaison if available, so they can ask the questions that may be too sensitive to ask the department chair or the search committee. (This same advice can apply to male candidates, but it is even more important for women candidates in departments where they may be among a very small number of women.)
  • Communicate that your department is a place where faculty with current or potential caregiving responsibilities can thrive.
  • Tenure and promotion committees should be directed to focus on quality and total quantity of scholarly productivity rather than time since degree or job hire so that faculty who slow down their professional lives to meet personal obligations are not unduly penalized in the review process.
  • All individuals and committees participating in tenure reviews should understand that any individual who has received a probationary period extension must be held to the same standard—not a higher or more stringent one—to which other candidates without such an extension are held. (Section of the Faculty Handbook.)
  • If a candidate has received an extension of the tenure probationary period, this should be addressed in the external review request as follows: “This candidate has received an extension of his or her tenure probationary period under approved university policies. You are asked to evaluate the candidate’s accomplishments and appropriateness for tenure and promotion to associate professor as if the record had been accumulated during our normal six-year probationary period.”