“But our policies are robust”

Posted: April 25, 2012 by Jender in assumptions about mothers, difficulty of problems, failure to perceive problem

This is a copy of an email exchange with our head of school. What is shocking is that he shows NO AWARENESS AT ALL of any gender issues around academic environment or hiring – e.g. he thinks treating all cases the same is equivalent to treating equally, and blythely he claims that our policies are “robust”…The equality and diversity officer (a man) ignored the email entirely.

Dear Prof. P, (cc Dr Z, Equality and Diversity officer),

As Prof. P knows, I have announced my intention to take 2 semesters of
maternity leave from this coming September.

I heard today that the school does not approve of getting cover for
maternity leave. This seems like a really problematic policy to me. I
totally understand that we should be able to cover our regular automatic
sabbaticals without getting teaching fellows, and even that we should be
able to cover funded research leave. However, maternity leave and other
unpredictable leave seem like a different sort of case. and in the case of
maternity leave in particular, the current policy raises equality and
diversity issues.

In asking my colleagues to cover for me, the school is asking my colleagues
to do extra work – not work that can be built into our contracts, because as
I said, unlike with regular sabbaticals, and even funded research, it is not
predictable and also fairly rare given the gender balance in our department.
In fact, in my 8 years in this philosophy department I am the
only full time staff member to have taken maternity leave. So far as I know,
before that only one person ever did.

So it is totally clear to my colleagues that they are doing extra work
because of me. In fact, anecdotally, last time when I came back from
maternity leave I was made to feel like I owed everyone favours, and did a
considerable amount of extra work because of that.

But my point here is not about me or my case in particular, it is about a
general policy that seems designed to make people resent their colleagues
going on maternity leave, and make it hard for women to feel comfortable
about maternity leave.

It is also, of course, a disincentive to hiring women. Imagine that my
colleagues, mostly men, are deciding between two candidates to hire.
One is a woman of child bearing age, the other is not. The possibility of
the woman taking maternity leave has now become a serious disincentive to
hiring her – my colleagues know that they will have to pick up her work when
she has a baby.

I have spoken to our head of department in philosophy, and several
of my colleagues about this. I think my view has wide support.

Thanks for taking this into consideration.

Dr Q

Dear Dr Q,

Thank you for your email. There appears to have been some mis-understanding
here, as there is no special policy in the School regarding cover for
maternity leave.

Requests for additional teaching associated with maternity leave are taken
together with all other forms of request for teaching support in the context
of the overall subject area teaching plan and the balancing of workload.
Indeed, this is why we have such a plan. To give one indication of this: in
the coming year, even taking into account your own leave, Philosophy will
have more teaching staff available than they have in this current year. So,
far from this being an issue of lack of equality, my own view is the precise
opposite: we deal with this issue in exactly the way that we deal with all
forms of request for additional teaching support and in this respect
maternity leave is treated in exactly the same way as all other forms of
leave such as research/sabbatical leave entitlements.

So there should be no question of colleagues feeling that they are ‘doing
extra work’ or experiencing resentment – planning for covering all sorts of
staff leave is a perfectly normal part of our teaching planning processes.
(Across the School, a number of our colleagues have taken both maternity and
paternity leave.)

And just to be clear: our appointment processes are robust, and there is no
scope within them for any sort of ‘disincentive to hire women’. Indeed you
might remember that in just this last month, we appointed a woman to a
senior lectureship in Philosophy.

Best wishes

Prof. P

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