Economics of Retaining Women

Retaining Talented Women Faculty is a Business Necessity in the Current Economic Environment

Institutions of higher learning that address work-life concerns increase their ability to attract and retain the best faculty – men as well as women.

thumb-hiring-costs2“Faculty members are the primary resource for meeting today’s escalating demands upon colleges and universities .”[1] Attracting and retaining faculty is only possible if colleges and universities avoid the “chilly climate” that drives women out of their departments. A “chilly climate” often reflects gender bias, which imposes concrete costs on hard-pressed universities.

Sharply Declining Resources

Colleges and universities are in the midst of the perfect financial storm. Their financial resources are declining. Their endowments have been hit hard by the current economic crisis, which has decreased endowments by 23% or more.[2] Public institutions face further budget cuts as a result of declining tax revenue. Charitable contributions to public and private institutions alike are down. As a result, many colleges and universities are forced to freeze salaries and cut back on spending.

Simultaneously, families’ college savings plans have been gutted by the declining stock market. Parents of current and soon to be college students have lost their jobs. The number of requests for financial aid is rising.

At a time when resources are declining and the demand for financial aid is increasing, colleges and universities must identify opportunities for reducing costs without negatively affecting their competitive edge and reputation for academic excellence. Retention of high performing faculty, including women, is more important than ever. It is the key to staying competitive, attracting donors, grantors and students, and keeping costs down by minimizing attrition.

High Cost of Attrition

High Costs of Start-Up Packages. A 2002 survey of over 200 public and private research universities found that the average start-up costs for assistant professors at private Research I universities in physics/astronomy, biology, chemistry, and engineering varied between $390,237 and $489,000. For senior faculty members, the average start-up costs ran from about $700,000 in physics to about $1,442,000 in engineering.[3] A start-up package for an Assistant Professor of Psychology at a public university averages $47,000.[4] If a chilly climate drives one woman after another out of a given department, academic institutions face paying these start-up costs again and again.

Lost Grants. Losing a faculty member often packs the secondary punch of losing research grant support. When faculty members leave a college or university they often take their grant funding with them. Additionally, “it can take 10 years for a new faculty member in science or engineering to develop enough of a positive revenue stream from grants to recoup start-up costs. If a faculty member leaves before start-up costs are recovered, the university loses money and must start over again.”[5]

Reduced Faculty Productivity Due to Time Spent on Search Committees. Any senior faculty member can tally up the many hours of potential research time that are spent on recruiting, interviewing and mentoring new faculty. One dean estimated that over the life of a search, she spends two full weeks reviewing applications, leading search meetings, hosting candidates and talking with them prior to and after the visit. By her estimate, the average search committee member at her institution spends 25 to 40 hours per vacancy reviewing applications, attending search meetings and speaking with candidates.[6] Others note that the time required for a single search can climb as high as 100 hours.[7] Departments with a chilly climate for women face these costs over and over again, which represents an enormous drain on faculty productivity.

Case Study—Iowa State Faculty Work/Life Database. Iowa State University (ISU), with a Sloan Foundation Innovation Award, developed a database that measures the costs and benefits of the ISU flexible career policies. The database also calculates the average start-up costs of a new assistant professor which clearly illustrating the fiscal imperative for faculty retention. Please follow the links to the power point presentation and handout from a presentation of findings from an analysis of the Iowa State Work/Life Database.

Increased Legal Liability for Employment Discrimination Claims

Employment discrimination claims are more common than sexual harassment claims in academia. In a survey of 500 colleges and universities, employment discrimination was the single greatest and most quickly growing cause of employment claims (equal to 51% of all claims in 1997). This was five times greater than the number of wrongful termination claims and six times greater than the number of sexual harassment claims.[10] Large Settlement Costs. Employment discrimination claims can cost employers hefty sums. In 1997, 73% of employment discrimination claims that did not go to court were settled for $110,000 per claim for public institutions, and $175,000 per claim for private institutions. [11] These settlement costs do not include attorney’s fees and litigation expenses or the lost time of faculty members who need to assist in the investigation and defense of discrimination claims.

400 Percent Rise in Family Responsibility Discrimination (FRD) Cases. A new trend in gender bias litigation involves discrimination against parents who take family leave, or bias based on assumptions that mothers lack career commitment. For example, one woman professor won a reported tentative settlement of $500,000 after the Chair of her committee recommended against tenure on the grounds that, “as the mother of two infants, [she] had responsibilities that were incompatible with those of a full-time academician.”[12] FRD lawsuits increased by nearly 400% in the decade before 2005.[13]

Widespread Noncompliance. Academic institutions may be more vulnerable to suits based on family responsibilities because their policies so often fail to comply with legal requirements. A recent survey of 100 U.S. institutions found that over a third of their maternity and childrearing policies violated the law or had a high probability of doing so.[14]

Costly Impact on Institutional Reputation. Settlement costs, legal fees, litigation expenses, and lost research and teaching time are only the beginning. Negative media attention associated with employment discrimination claims can affect an institution’s ability to recruit faculty, students, and donors.[15]

Potential Loss of Federal Grants. All federal agencies that give funds to institutions of higher education, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, are obligated to enforce Title IX.[16] A 2004 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report found that the proportion of faculty in the sciences who are women has increased, but they still lag behind male faculty in terms of salary and rank. The GAO recommended that the Administrator of NASA, the Secretary of Energy, and the Director of NSF take actions to ensure that compliance reviews of grantees are conducted as required by Title IX.[17]

The above is adapted from Joan C. Williams and Donna L. Norton, “Building Academic Excellence through Gender Equity,” American Academic 4, no. 1 (March 2008) 185-208

Building A Department in an Era of Tight Budgets:
It’s Cheaper to Keep Her Workshop

This workshop is designed for deans and department chairs. It is discussed in two basic parts. The first explains all of the ways that a department can save money by eliminating a chilly climate and instituting family friendly policies. An integral part of this is avoiding legal liability. There’s a new kind of lawsuit that is increasingly filed and unfortunately presents a different risk for universities than they have seen in the past. The second part of the video covers legal risks and gives information needed in order to avoid legal liability.

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Cost Simulator

simulator-screenshotAs Family Friendly policies are adopted by more universities and colleges, there is evidence that they can become become an important factor in recruiting and retaining talented young women faculty.  The Cost Simulator, developed by UC Berkeley economists, allows your department or institution to perform a cost/benefit analysis on the presence or absence of family friendly policies, based on the characteristics of the faculty in your own institution or department.

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