Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Less Work, More Pay

I attended a panel discussion on Work-Life Balance and Gender Issues in Academia today. Some of the things which were said seemed sensible to me, some of them less so; Rainbow Murray was particularly impressive I thought. What struck me was that the panel, one of whom began by saying that clocking off was basically impossible for academics, all more or less accepted that there should be work-life balance issues in a profession the majority of whose work requires nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection, at least in the social sciences and humanities. It should be fairly straightforward to fit your nominal contractual hours of 36.5 hours a week around family life since other than teaching and meetings, which shouldn't take more than a day, almost all of it can be done wherever and whenever you want. There are of course other reasons why women struggle in academia - good old-fashioned sexism of the sort that systematically devalues women's achievements when making appointments, for example - but the problem with work-life balance is that there's too much work and not enough life. I know of one person who must work coming close to twice their contracted hours a week as a matter of course, and although they are I think an outlier, they're not as much of one as you'd hope. This is hardly good for them, their work, or anyone else in an environment where they drag the norm more and more towards the destruction of a life outside of work. People in the UK work more than the EU average, yet a fulltime worker in the UK works on average 42.7 hours a week; I'd be amazed if the average for a fulltime lecturer in the UK was less than 50. Of course this is a disaster if you want to care for children. A central part of any policy to address gender imbalances in academia, short of eliminating the effect of gender norms on child-rearing responsibilities, has to be dealing with that issue.


enzo rossi said...

Of course, to some extent, this is a self-inflicted rat race. We compete (ugh) amongst ourselves for jobs, space in journals, etc. We need ever more publications because we need to keep up with the drs Joneses. Factory workers got out of that lower square of the prisoner's dilemma through unionisation (and now are being pushed back into it by globalisation). Why we can't drag ourselves into the upper square is not obvious. It may well be overdetermined, but structural oversupply of PhDs may have something to do with it.

Rob Jubb said...

Part of it may be that collective action is comparatively difficult to organise, at least in disciplines where all you need is a laptop and an internet connection. We can't shut the factory down. It'd be interesting to see whether hours differ between the hard sciences, with labs and more direct cooperation, and the humanities and social sciences. There's also the REF with all its attendant pressures and the tendency to think of it not as work but as a vocation, something which we do for pleasure or the greater good of humanity and which should of course squeeze out everything else. I also suspect, however, that numbers of permanent staff have not risen in line with those of students and so it's partly that everyone just has more work to do.