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Enhancing the academic careers of women in science, technology, engineering, & mathematics

Rationale for a Dual Career Hiring Program


II.1. Philosophical Statement


Several groups at URI are coordinating efforts to address dual career issues: the President's Commission on the Status of Women, the Dual Career Partner Subcommittee of the PCOSW, the ADVANCE program, and other groups on campus such as Human Resources, Affirmative Action, Council of Deans, and AAUP. This philosophical statement, and supporting documentation, is the first formal step in addressing dual career issues and should guide further work.

This work aims to represent diverse opinions and needs; and rather than reflecting current culture, it can challenge unjust social norms and cultural expectations. The goal is to make URI a workplace that is more fair and equitable, and more welcoming/productive for everyone. Following are some guiding principles that reflect this vision.

First, we recognize that work and family are interconnected institutions, and one cannot function without the other. Research evidence is quite clear: national data indicate that a majority of university faculty have spouses or partners who are working professionals; and universities that best meet the needs of dual career partners are more effective in recruiting and retaining top candidates. Addressing dual-career needs will contribute to an overall family-friendly work environment and improve University recruitment, productivity, and retention.

Second, we recognize that women are differentially affected by dual career issues. For example, women are far more likely than men to resign from academic positions due to their partner's career considerations. We must acknowledge the manner in which institutionalized inattention to this issue continues to harm women, and work to focus practices and procedures on ways to increase the recruitment, retention, and success of women and other underrepresented groups. Thus, we view providing assistance for dual career couples as one part of a comprehensive goal to promote sustained and meaningful diversity at URI.

Third, we recognize that issues of gender, class, sexual orientation, and race are interconnected and have a profound effect on individuals and institutions. If we are serious about our goals of attracting and keeping diverse employees to the University of Rhode Island, then we must actively recruit women and minorities through family-friendly programs that recognize and appreciate the diversity reflected in families and employees. Ideally, to promote a healthy environment for everyone at URI, dual career assistance will eventually be available for all employees, not just faculty.

Finally, our intent is to challenge current norms that reproduce social inequalities, and here we offer collaborative and cooperative approaches aimed at challenging the status quo of university life and work-life balance.


II.2. Research at URI and Beyond


Studies find that 80% of the U.S. workforce consists of dual-earner couples (Baskin, 1998). Consistent with the general workforce, increasing numbers of candidates for academic positions are members of dual career couples (Clayman Institute 2006). This is partly because of the significant rise in women earning Ph.D.s (NSF 2002); but it is also because men with Ph.D.s today are much more likely than those of a previous generation to have partners with their own careers. Female academics are very likely to have academic spouses. For instance, 44% of female physicists are married to other physicists, and an additional 25% are married to some other types of scientist, while 80 % of female mathematicians and 33% of chemists who are women are married to men in their own fields (Clayman Institute 2006).

The university as we know it was originally modeled on the monastery: a place where men, removed from society, immerse themselves in intellectual work to the exclusion of all else (Noble 1992, Simmons 2005). Major changes in the last fifty years are exemplified by the upsurge of dual-earner couples. People in all walks of life find themselves under strain as they confront jobs that assume total devotion (see Acker 1990, Smith 1990), despite the realities of lives with other demands. For the academy in particular, the sea change means that the monastic model is no longer tenable: because men don't automatically have the privilege of (or want!) single-minded immersion anymore, and because women, who typically hold multiple social roles, are entering the academy in significant numbers. Like other work-life concerns, the dual career issue is here to stay and must be faced (Wolf-Wendel, Twombly, and Rice 2003).

URI has started, with its gender-equitable parental leave policy, to build a family-friendly environment. As part of the ADVANCE Climate Survey, faculty members were asked to respond to questions related to dual careers. Results of this survey indicate that 78% of respondents have a spouse or partner, yet less than 20% of those asked URI for help in attempting to find employment for the partner. Of those who did ask for help, 49% of males and 67% of females were not satisfied with this help. Significantly, 43% of female respondents with partners have considered leaving URI to improve career opportunities for the partner. Among men, 22% have considered leaving to improve career opportunities for their partner.

Qualitative data from interviews with dual career partners and department chairs at URI revealed a similar trend. Several department chairs reported difficulty recruiting and retaining female faculty due to troubles finding appropriate employment for partners. They recounted instances of top candidates not accepting positions at URI because they were unable to accommodate partners. Several other faculty members who were already employed reportedly left to pursue opportunities for a partner at another university. Both faculty and department chair interview participants list the current hiring protocols as a severe restriction in attempting to recruit and retain top candidates, most of whom have partners in need of employment assistance. At times, blatant discrimination has affected URI faculty. For instance, one female faculty who was called for an interview for an academic position at a large state university was told that she was no longer invited for the interview once this faculty mentioned that she had an academic partner who would be looking for a job. This faculty learned not to tell universities (including URI) that she had a partner in search of employment. URI must confront this norm of either dismissing or ignoring dual career couples.

In at least two interviews, faculty members report that their partners, who themselves have advanced degrees, have been underemployed since their move to URI. In one case, the underemployment prevented the young family from being able to afford full-time daycare.

Partners of URI faculty described tenuous and nebulous ways of finding an on-campus job for themselves after their partner had been offered a faculty position. One woman mentioned navigating the "good old boy network" at URI in order to secure a faculty position for herself. Another female faculty described "hustling" for several years until she was finally hired into a faculty position.

Other faculty have had to maintain long distance relationships or take part in long daily commutes, which they have identified as interfering with both their family life and their work life. This situation is demoralizing and unacceptable if our goal is to create family-friendly work environments. Far from simply a personal problem, attending to dual career couples must be conceptualized as an institutional response designed to recruit and retain high quality candidates through family-friendly programs.

II.3. Equity for Women and Minorities


Dual career issues do not affect all faculty equally: women are more burdened by it. The majority (61%) of women with Ph.D.s are in a committed relationship with a partner having either a Ph.D., M.D., or J.D., versus only 27% of male Ph.D.s who are in a committed relationship with a Ph.D., M.D. or J.D. (Nerad, Aanerud, and Cerny 2004). Didion (1996) reports that 49% of female faculty have academic partners, whereas only 12% of male faculty have academic partners. This comparison is starker when considering typically male-dominated fields such as science, technology, engineering and math. For instance, another study found that 43% of married female physicists are married to other physicists, whereas only 6% of married male physicists have a physicist spouse (McNeil and Sher 2002).

Given the difficulty of finding two jobs in the same area in general, and two jobs in academia specifically, when faced with the prospect of relocation, "couples will very often be faced with a dual career dilemma -- his move or hers?" (Baskin 1998). Research indicates that it is more often her move and her career that is compromised (McNeil and Sher 2002). For instance, one study found that women faculty are more likely to leave an academic position (21%) than are men faculty (5%) and that 76% of women who reported resigning from an academic position cited their partner's career as the main reason for the resignation (Didion 1996). Finally, research also indicates that women are more likely than men to experience negative career consequences as a result of leaving an academic position. McElrath (1992) discovered that women in academia who experience career disruption are less likely to receive tenure or take longer to achieve tenure than comparable men who also experience career disruption.

Clearly, to neglect dual career issues would be to allow academic women's disadvantage to go unchecked. While we of course have no power over couples' relationships, the academy can ease the prospect of a couple's career-based relocation. Attending to dual careers will help improve URI's recruitment and retention of women specifically, but it will also benefit anybody who is part of a dual career couple.

Although people of color are no more likely than whites to be in dual career couples, dual career assistance could be a competitive advantage as URI seeks to hire top minority faculty. In a national interview study, a provost is quoted on the benefits of his dual career accommodation policy: he credited the policy with assisting the institution in having "the highest percentage of minority faculty ... we have ever had" (Wolf-Wendel et al. 2003:40). Another consideration is that minorities in dual career couples are likely to have minority partners too: Cherlin (1999:140) and Eshleman (2000:235) note that about 97% of marriages are within-race. So, in hiring a minority faculty member, the community may also receive the benefit of a minority partner who accompanies the new hire. Dual career assistance can further URI's affirmative action goals for minorities as well as for women.

Our interviews on campus indicate that deans sometimes offer assistance, informally, with dual career issues at the point of hire. But currently such assistance takes a significant amount of time and labor at a point in the hiring process (presenting a job offer) when immediacy is essential. What's worse is that when processes are unwritten, there is more chance of acting upon unconscious biases (Ridgeway 1997, Valian 1999). Given the leadership population and the culture in higher education, unconscious biases are likely to favor whites and males.

Dual career assistance should be formalized, and implemented uniformly, for several reasons. First is efficiency: formalized assistance and resources would mean less labor for URI administrators. Second is to thwart bias: research shows that making processes explicit helps combat the (often accidental) racism and sexism that can affect decisions. Third is for employee morale: if dual career assistance is uneven, the appearance of unfairness can breed discontent. On the other hand, transparency sends a positive message to all. Assistance that is "regularized, advertised as available, and known by those doing the hiring" will appear fair and will truly be fair (Wolf-Wendel et al, 2003:124).

Assisting dual career couples can enhance URI; in fact, such assistance must always weigh the interests of the university as well as the couple's interests. With that in mind, we emphasize that our vision of dual career assistance does not include promising a URI job for the accompanying partner.


II.4. Peer Institutions


A national survey conducted by Raabe (1997) found that 44% of universities provided some form of job assistance to spouses. An additional 12% indicated that they were planning on implementing a job assistance policy for partners. A more recent definitive study (Wolf-Wendel et al. 2003) found that 24% of universities have formal dual career partner policies, and only 15% said they would do nothing to assist faculty who requested partner assistance. Furthermore, research institutions are significantly more likely than other types of institutions to have a formal dual career policy. Forty-five percent of research universities in the Wolf-Wendel survey had a formal policy.

Dual career programs are less common at universities located in large metropolitan areas with an abundance of employment opportunities either in academia or in the community. Institutions ­without a formal policy generally focus on referral programs to assist partners of employees. This may work in a large metropolitan area, but referrals may be inadequate for rural areas such as URI, and in small fields such as STEM disciplines. The leading partner's institution may represent the only viable employment option (Weiler and Yancey 1992). Given that the majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. are not located in large cities and are not prestigious enough to compete with Ivy League schools, dual career assistance can provide the competitive edge to hire a top candidate. This competitive edge is particularly important for research institutions located in non­metropolitan areas, such as URI.

URI peer institutions such as the University of Maine and the University of Wyoming have made efforts to develop and implement dual career guidelines. Other universities, such as the University of Washington, the University of Illinois: Urbana Champaign, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Colorado, all have formal dual career hiring policies. These policies include several creative and unique solutions such as the creation of a temporary position for a partner, the creation of a full search exemption, and the creation of split/shared positions. In most cases, this assistance is available to non-faculty as well as faculty job seekers. (See attached table for details of dual career assistance at comparable universities).

Increasingly institutions are realizing that hiring a qualified academic couple is an economic value in the long term. If both partners are employed at one university, the likelihood of their both finding better positions elsewhere is relatively small. So the early investment pays back later in employee satisfaction, arguably in productivity, and certainly in retention.

II.5. Legal and Pragmatic Concerns


There is some skepticism about the legality of dual career policies, in light of concern about nepotism and discrimination. We will discuss this briefly below, but the most important point is that, at the time of the definitive study of dual careers in higher education, universities' policies had drawn not one EEOC complaint or lawsuit, nationwide (Wolf-Wendel et al. 2003:128, 131).

Some URI department chairs interviewed cited anti-nepotism policies as a barrier to hiring dual career couples. However, URI's policy is like most others: related employees are only prohibited in a "chain of command" in which one person higher up in the workforce hierarchy has control over a relative or partner's hiring, salary, evaluation, and so on. URI Personnel Policies, Section 1.2.III, states that as long as there is no supervisory relationship between family members, "family or marital relationships shall constitute neither an advantage nor a deterrent to appointment at the University, provided the individual meets and fulfills the appropriate appointment standards."

Old anti-nepotism policies that still exist and work to prohibit "parallel nepotism" (e.g., two spouses in the same department) are actually in violation of federal law. A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against a meatpacking plant states that because its anti-nepotism law had a disparate impact on women, it constituted sex discrimination (AICPA 2005). Thus, in professions dominated by one gender -- as is the case in many fields of science, technology, engineering and math -- anti-nepotism policies are both de facto sex discrimination and de jure discrimination in violation of Title VII (McNeil and Sher 2002).

It is also important to remember that nepotism policies are usually institution-based rather than actual legal structures. There is nothing illegal per se about nepotistic hiring practices. As shown, anti-nepotism rules can be implemented in an equitable or in an inequitable manner. Nepotism rules are becoming less prevalent in higher education, largely because they have been implicated in discrimination against women. In the past, the wife of an academic hire was unfairly excluded from positions due to nepotism rules. More recently, academic women have sometimes been prevented from accepting academic appointments because of the difficulty of finding a position for a male partner.

As long as dual career programs do not lead to discrimination against individuals based on age, race, ethnicity, religion or gender, they are not illegal. "As long as the dual career policy is not used solely to hire individuals of a certain gender or race, then academic institutions will generally find themselves protected against lawsuits from those claiming such discrimination ... if an institution has a policy that it follows explicitly in hiring an accompanying spouse or partner, the institution should be protected from claims of discrimination" (Wolf-Wendel et al. 2003:127). This is true even in cases where an accompanying partner is offered a job without a full search. Wolf-Wendel et al. (2003:128) point out that universities "are certainly within their legal rights to conduct closed searches in certain circumstances, especially if the situation furthers an institutional goal and is in accord with institutional policies."

The philosophy of Affirmative Action is to increase diversity, not to restrict it. If we are truly committed to this philosophy, then we must make every effort to promote diversity through the inclusion of family-friendly programs. The issue of partnered professionals is having a growing impact on an institution's ability to recruit and retain faculty, especially women and people of color (Bird & Bird, 1987; Preissler, 1989; Smart & Smart, 1990). It is inequitable not to have dual career assistance programs.

II.6. Bibliography



Source / Author

Publication Title

AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) 2005

Management of an Accounting Practice Handbook.Read the article

Acker, Joan

Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations, Gender & Society 1990

Baskin, Beverly

Dual Career Couples - Facing the "Stress of Success" - How Families Cope,1998

Bird, G.W. & G.A. Bird

In Pursuit of Academic Careers: Observations and Reflections of a Dual-Career Couple, Bird, Family Relations, 1987

Cherlin, Andrew

Public and Private Families, Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1999

Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University, 2006

Dual-Career Academic Couples

Didion, C.J

Dual Careers and Shared Positions: Adjusting University Policy to Accommodate Academic Couples. Journal of College Science Teaching, 1996

Eshleman, J. Ross

The Family, 9th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000

Hensel, N

Realizing Gender Equality In Higher Education: The Need To Integrate Work/Family Issues. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 2. Washington: George Washington University School of Education and Human Development, 1991.

McElrath, K.

Gender, Career Disruption, and Academic Rewards. Journal of Higher Education, 1992

McNeil, L. & Marc Sher

Report on the Dual Career Couple Survey." Read the article.

NSF (National Science Foundation) 2002.

Survey of Earned Doctorates

Nerad, Maresi, Rebecca Aanerud, and Joseph Cerny

'So You Want to Become a Professor:' Lessons from the PhDs - Ten Years Later Study," in Paths to the Professoriate, eds. Donald H. Wulff and Ann E. Austin. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004

Preissler, S.M. "Job Search Help for the 'Trailing Spouse.'" Journal of Career Planning and Employment, 1989

Raabe, Phyllis H

Work-Family Policies for Faculty: How 'Career- and Family-Friendly' Is Academe? In Academic Couples: Problems and Promises, eds. M.A. Ferber and J.W. Loeb. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Ridgeway, Cecilia

Interaction and the Conservation of Gender Inequality: Considering Employment." American Sociological Review, 1997

Shoben, E.W.

From Anti-Nepotism Rules to Programs for Partners: Legal Issues," in Academic Couples: Problems and Promises, eds. M.A. Ferber and J.W. Loeb. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997

Simmons, Gail

The Adaptive Landscape of Academe: Why Female Scholarly Fitness Is Not Maximized. Paper Presented at the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Philadelphia, 2005

Smart, M.S. & R.C. Smart

Paired Prospects: Dual Career Couples on Campus. Academe, 1990

Smith, Dorothy

The Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990


URI Personnel Policies, 1983

Valian, Virginia.

Why So Slow?: The Advancement of Women in the Sciences. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1999

Weiler, C.S. & P.H.


Dual-Career Couples and Academic Science." Journal of College Science Teaching, 1992

Wolf-Wendel, Lisa, Susan B. Twombly, & Suzanne Rice

The Two-Body Problem: Dual-Career-Couple Hiring Policies in Higher Education. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003