By now, everyone has watched the viral clip of professor Robert E. Kelly’s BBC interview-gone-wrong, shrieked as his two toddlers crash through the door of his home office without warning.
“There’s a flexibility myth in academia,” says Eileen Kane, that says academic women “have it much better than other professional mothers because of their flexible schedule — a luxury women in business, journalism, law, and medicine don’t enjoy .”
“I, too, have locked myself in my home office for phone interviews, trying to sound focused and serious while praying that no toddler fists beat down the door. …But I’ve done this without a wife to run interference. I have a husband who’s an excellent father, but when I’m working, he’s at work too,” says Kane.
But although it sounds wonderful, it’s not true. In fact, recent research shows that academic mothers are faring terribly 30 years after they began to enter graduate programs in numbers comparable to men.
Mary Ann Mason, faculty co-director of the Earl Warren Institute for Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, puts it bluntly: “For men, having children is a career advantage, and for women, it is a career killer.”
Like many American institutions, academia is culturally and structurally rigged, however intentionally or unintentionally, to reward men and disadvantage women. Academia’s rigid career track, Mason says, does not allow “time outs,” and requires that assistant professors “perform to their highest potential early on, in their 30s and early 40s, which are prime childbearing years for women,” writes Kane.