Gender, Race, and Faculty Workload Inequities

Faculty members carry out many different tasks – teaching, research, advising, and administrative and leadership work (often called “service”). How these tasks are weighed in faculty rewards systems may differ from institution to institution – with teaching valued more heavily in some settings, and research valued more heavily in others. Across settings, mentoring and service are often devalued.

Within this system, workload inequities are rampant. Women report a greater mismatch than men between what they want to spend time on and what they actually spend time on. Women faculty members tend to spend less time on highly valued research. Service work is often particularly devalued, and men are much more effective at avoiding it, while women are more likely to be good team players. Students also expect more mentoring and support from women faculty members. Time spent on campus service, teaching, mentoring and advising appear can reduce the time that would otherwise be spent on research.

This problem is worse for women of color, who face an identity tax, carrying out more service and mentoring than other faculty members. Women of color also often feel overburdened with responsibility for the much-needed diversity work on their campuses. These inequalities in workload have long-term effects. Faculty members who focus on research are often more likely to get recognized and promoted, while the good citizens of the department go unrewarded, hindering their career progression.

Workload Distribution and Valuing

Our article in Gender & Society draws on our NSF-ADVANCE funded project, which carried out a survey of 957 faculty members from fifty-three mostly STEM departments, primarily located in research-intensive universities. 

We find that white women, by and large, feel that the workload distribution in their departments is unfair, and are less likely to think that their colleagues are committed to having a fair and equitable workload. This finding supports what we already knew about women doing more of the less-valued mentoring and service work in their departments. We further find that women of color are more concerned about how their workload is valued. Women of color indicate that the essential teaching, mentoring, and campus service work they do is not credited within their department rewards system. The work that women of color see as important appears to be devalued by their colleagues and goes unrecognized and unrewarded.

These findings are troubling. Faculty members who believe that their workload is unfair, or that their work is undervalued, are much less likely to be retained. This is both because they feel frustrated in their work, and because their colleagues may not support their promotions. Furthermore, in the wake of the protests for racial justice and the COVID-19 pandemic, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are more critical than ever. Institutions need, and sometimes require, faculty members to engage in this critical work. They must align their rewards systems so that faculty members are recognized, retained, and advanced when they do.

As long as white women and women of color do more of the undervalued work, and are not recognized for the work they do, the senior ranks of faculty will primarily be made up of white men.  As this figure below shows, faculty diversity still remains a substantial challenge in the U.S.   

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2016 through Spring 2019 Human Resources component, Fall Staff section.
(This table was prepared November 2019.)

Solving Workload Inequities

However, our study also had some good news. There are a number of strategies that departments can use to create workload policies that faculty view as more equal. For example, faculty in departments with transparent workload systems, clarity about workload expectations, and fair teaching and service assignments are more likely to see workload as fair, regardless of their race and gender. Similarly, faculty members in departments with clarity about workload expectations and fair teaching and service assignments are more likely to see workload as fairly valued, regardless of their race and gender

These policies can be adopted by departments to and make a positive difference relatively quickly.  Departments can have explicit conversations about what activities are valued and compensated; they can also publish benchmarks, perhaps by rank or appointment type, to clarify expectations in teaching, advising, and service. Department leaders can ask faculty members for their preferred teaching and service assignments, and make those assignments in ways that promote equity. Importantly, these simple steps can help address whether white women see workload as distributed fairly, and whether women of color perceive their work as being credited in evaluations. Other publications from this project lay out how to create transparent faculty work activity dashboards, to ensure that faculty workload is equitably distributed, as well as how to adopt workload policies and assignment procedures that promote equity.

We recognize that many leaders think of faculty workload inequity as a can of worms that they are afraid to open. But addressing faculty workload inequity has immediate, long-term effects on race and gender equity. Workload equity must remain an ongoing project, tracked yearly, and consistently adjusted, to reap the benefits of these systems.  Yet departments that strategically design their faculty workload systems, and put in place mechanisms to foster workload equity, can make meaningful progress toward advancing equity.

Joya Misra is a Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and the Director of the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. You can find her on Twitter, @JoyaMisra.

Alexandra Kuvaeva was a research assistant for the ADVANCE program and recently earned her Ph.D. in international education policy at the University of Maryland, College Park.

KerryAnn O’Meara is a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Maryland and was 2020 President of the Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Dawn Kiyoe Culpepper, is a doctoral candidate in higher education and Faculty Specialist for the ADVANCE Program at the University of Maryland.

Audrey J. Jaeger is the W. Dallas Herring Professor and Executive Director for the Belk Center for Community College Leadershipand Research at North Carolina State University.