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The Family Factor

In its current issue, American Scientist discusses policy problems that female academics who choose to have children face. The magazine's Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci say that their "own findings, as well as research by others, show that the effect of children on women's academic careers is so remarkable that it eclipses other factors in contributing to women's under-representation in academic science."

Williams and Ceci go on to suggest how universities might work to overcome such under-representation. "One potentially promising way to increase women's representation is to focus efforts on the problems faced by mothers struggling to raise young families while building tenurable scholarly records," the authors write.

They suggest that academic institutions "might educate women graduate students about the downsides of alternative career paths, following partners' career moves, and taking time off." Alternatively, universities "could explore the use of part-time tenure-track positions for women having children that segue to full-time once children are older, and offer members of a couple the option to temporarily share a single full-time position," the authors write. Another idea, Williams and Ceci say, is that academic employers could perhaps work toward "leveraging technology to enable parents to work from home while children are young or ill; providing parental leaves for primary caregivers of either gender and offering funding to foster successful reentry; and providing an academic role for women who have left professional positions to have children."