Academic working hours and glass ceilings
The President of the University of Manchester, Dame Nancy Rothwell has given an interview to the Guardian newspaper in which she answers a number of questions on the impact of academic work patterns on women and their careers. Here is one of her answers:
‘I rarely work less than 70 hours a week. On the other hand it depends what you look at as work. University events in the evening are usually work but they are enjoyable; there are a lot of things I chose to read for work but is that work? And I look at research as a hobby. But I think one of the greater issues around high achieving women in HE is that it is very hard to step out of research and then back in again because of the long-term impact it has on [your] research. Your research success depends on being published. It’s a hard culture to break because it’s an international culture and people who do research don’t consider working long hours a bad thing, they do it because they love it.’
A little later in the interview she offers the view that she ‘certainly [hasn’t] experienced any gender bias.’
Having perhaps similar working habits to those of Dame Nancy Rothwell, it is not for me to criticise what she does. But if we are to have gender equality in higher education we must avoid suggesting that excessive hours are not really hard work and that they are, and should be accepted as, normal. I am sure many people share her love for what they do, but people with family or other outside responsibilities will find it much more difficult to be so tolerant of what are really unacceptable conditions.
Universities are not always good at encouraging their staff to adopt a healthy work-life balance. To do so is good in its own right, but it is also an important ingredient in tackling campus inequalities. We all need to make sure we are sending out the right messages.