Is There Gender Bias in Your Faculty’s Service Hours?

Gender inequities persist at many colleges and universities today.

According to the University of Arizona’s Commission on the Status of Women, there’s a great gender divide in faculty service in many institutions. Women are usually asked to perform more service than men and are also given more time-consuming roles.

Coupled with compensation imbalances, this disproportionately large workload decreases the research hours of women faculty and, the study found, “despite these increased service loads, women are less likely to be asked to head a department.”

Is this a trend in your faculty as well? What can you do to address it? Keep reading to understand why these gender differences occur and what HigherEd leaders can do.

Why Are Service Hours Distributed Unequally?

Results from the study by the Commission on the Status of Women showed that 75% of female associate professors have been in major service roles, compared to only 50% of their male counterparts. Institutional and national data show that women perform significantly more service than men, even when factors like rank, discipline, and race are controlled. There are several factors that contribute to this disparity:

  • Women are simply asked more often: Colleges and universities try to diversify their committees by asking women to join. Administrators also often see women as critical to institutional housekeeping tasks.
  • The perception that women are good at teaching and service: Studies show that students believe that female lecturers have the best soft skills, and colleagues and administrators perceive that women are good at service roles. These dynamics fuel disproportionate service hours.
  • Women are more likely to say “yes:” Research by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that women are more likely to volunteer, even for “thankless” tasks which they are reluctant to do. Women are also more likely to say yes when leadership requests that they volunteer.

Service is a time-consuming feature of the academic job, yet women receive little recognition or reward for sacrificing their research hours for service.

The Burden of Non-Promotable Tasks

Non-promotable tasks are volunteer jobs that provide little or no value to an employee’s career development and performance evaluation. Studies show that women are more likely than men to take on these jobs, such as filling in for a colleague, organizing holiday office parties, or working on under-the-radar projects.

While non-promotable tasks vary across fields, service-related jobs in academia tend to have less of an impact on promotions than research-related tasks. Women are more often assigned extra tasks and more likely to take them on, but because the bulk of this extra work is “non-promotable,” women continue to progress slower than men in their career development.

What Can You Do About this Issue?

The first step is to examine the data. Is your institution guilty of unequal distribution of service hours? With PeopleAdmin’s Faculty Information System, you can monitor your faculty’s service hours, allocations, and service requests. Understanding who is being asked to volunteer and what their commitments already are will help uncover any gender biases or inequities.

Once you understand your institution’s unique position, you can begin to tackle the issue head-on. Rather than putting the burden on their female faculty members to decline tasks or avoid volunteering, colleges and universities should work to ensure equitable distribution of tasks among men and women. As the Harvard Business Review suggests, rather than asking lecturers to volunteer, faculty heads should offer rotating assignments across team members. This avoids the scenario of women reluctantly volunteering while encouraging men to engage.

More importantly, every task needs to be recognized and equally rewarded. Higher education institutions need to value every contribution made by their faculty members. Whether a task is internal or external, all allocated or completed services should be accounted for to minimize inequalities and disparities.

Final Thoughts

The gender imbalance in higher education service hours is a pervasive issue, caused often by unconscious gender bias. These increased hours leave women faculty less time for research and do not often lead to promotions. With the right data insights, your institution can take action on this issue. Higher education leaders should also aim to change perceptions that lead to service burden on female faculty. It’s time to take action to reduce the gender gap.