It’s no secret that the covid-19 pandemic has taken a particular toll on both the careers and family lives of working parents, particularly mothers. Mothers of small children have lost work at three times the rate of fathers since the beginning of the health crisis, and even before the pandemic childcare responsibilities fell disproportionately on the shoulders of women. As Claudia Goldin, an economic historian specializing in women in the labor market explained it:
“Will this disproportionately affect female lawyers, accountants, people in various positions in finance, management, academics, all of whom have up-or-out or winner-take-all positions? I would say yes.”
One field where women are already feeling the strain of the pandemic is academia—especially the women still waiting to face their tenure evaluation and learn if their short-term professor role could become a long-term one.
The New York Times reports that Northwestern University, like many other universities, initially responded to the pandemic by pausing the so-called “tenure clocks” of junior faculty, giving them an extra year to publish the academic work that will determine whether they’re promoted. But unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all practice of pausing the tenure clock doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. According to a 2018 study, after university policies allowed for new parents of any gender to receive an extension, men were substantially more likely to receive tenure at their first job after the policy change, while women were substantially less likely. Early evidence shows that the pandemic is already having a similar effect—the gender divide in new academic papers has already been skewing increasingly male over recent months.
And all of that doesn’t even take into consideration the additional strains that women of color faculty are under, many of whom have supported marginalized students through a summer filled with relentless and traumatizing incidences of police violence.
“Beyond the pandemic, there’s the protests and everything that’s happening with Black Lives Matter,” said Sylvia Perry, an assistant professor of psychology who teaches a course on prejudice and stereotypes. “Students wanted to take time to talk about what’s going on, how it’s impacting them as individuals, because they know I study it, because of my identity.”
Faculty of color already shoulder a disproportionate amount of the invisible labor to support low-income students and students of color on campuses on top of their actual jobs. Factor in the pandemic, when so many college students are struggling to get enough food to eat and money to pay rent, let alone to complete their coursework, the burden on women of color in academia becomes exponentially greater.