The decision to become a stay-at-home parent is often not easy – many parents weigh the costs of career sacrifices relative to the benefits of increased family time. They might want to consider another cost: how easy will it be to return to work?
Previous research has demonstrated that unemployed job applicants are disadvantaged in the hiring process relative to applicants who had no employment lapses. Researchers have also studied how parents who try to balance family demands with inflexible workplaces can face penalties at work – sometimes leading them to “opt out” of work to become stay-at-home parents. My recent study builds on this research to examine what happens to stay-at-home parents who want to return to work.
Women are underrepresented in high status positions in companies and universities, in part because they are less likely to receive promotions at work than are men.
What is the reason behind this gender gap in promotion? One possibility is that women are less productive than men in their jobs, and promotion decisions are simply rewarding the most productive individuals. Another option is that men and women start off in different types of workplaces, and women’s workplaces could have different promotion processes or expectations that affect their likelihood of promotions. A third possibility is that promotion evaluations themselves contain gender inequality and bias.
In a recent study described here, I tested these three explanations for the gender gap in promotion to tenure in academia, among three disciplines. To do this, I collected and analyzed data on research productivity, school and department context (size, type of university, department prestige, etc.), and promotion outcomes from over 1,500 professors at research universities in three departments.
I find that in Sociology, Computer Science, and English departments, some productivity measures partially account for the gender gap in promotion, but large portions of the gender gap are not explained either by research productivity or by the department/school context. In other words, the results suggest that gender inequality in the promotion evaluation processes are contributing to the gender gap in promotion among professors.