Let’s make the sector work better for women

Posted By TEU on Mar 15, 2019 |


Dr. Sarah Proctor-Thomson, a programme coordinator at NMIT, the Tertiary Education Union’s women’s vice-president, and one of the lead researchers behind the forthcoming State of the Sector survey reflects on International Women’s Day and what it’s like for women working in the sector.

The level of work-life conflict faced by women in tertiary education, coupled with the hard path to career development, were high on my mind when I got to the TEU Council meeting on International Women’s Day .

The weekend before had been spent working on the state of sector survey, research that I am doing jointly with Charles Sedgwick. At the time I was looking at data that shows women in the tertiary education sector find it harder to negotiate their workloads and working hours than men. And here I was not spending time with my own family on the weekend because of research
demands.

The stories I was seeing in the survey responses were all too familiar, and sadly overall it seems working conditions are getting worse for people in polytechnics, wānanga, and universities. Getting worse because of underfunding and workplaces where the culture is to demand perfection – where every leader wants their institution to be #1 at everything, as some
of our participants put it.

This pressure leads to weekends sitting on the sofa at home day-and-night to finish marking; late nights scanning survey responses; and, extra hours in the office each day just to keep up with the demands for ever increasing numbers of reports while teaching loads are added to without relief.

Even for those who are working part-time the demands don’t diminish. The survey results show that significantly more women academics from across the sector worked part-time than their male colleagues. However, there was no significant difference in the actual hours women and men worked (44.0 hours cf. 44.2 hours respectively).

Our drive to look after students, to provide accessible quality teaching and learning, has us staying put until we’ve got through the task-list. We just keep increasing the hours we do (even when not paid for them).

We struggle to get workloads in hand. About a third of academic staff said class sizes and staff levels were non-negotiable. And women, more so than men said that extra work on the weekends was also not negotiable.

This push from managers for staff to do more is unhealthy and not reflected in the pay rates and conditions of work for staff, particularly for general, allied, and professional staff – a group dominated by women.

The lack of transparency and use of salary bands rather than scales which have steps for progressing your pay is one reason for relatively persistent gender pay gaps in the tertiary education sector.

So too are the lack of time and resources to allow general staff to engage in professional development activities. As a sector we keep saying we want ‘life-long learning’ to be the heart of all we do, and yet the institutional leaders are not making ‘life-long learning’ part of their workforce priority.

I don’t want these things to be my top thoughts on IWD in 2020. And I certainly don’t want my daughters to face barriers to career advancement or non-negotiable workloads no matter where they work.

So let’s get real. We know what needs to change.

Long-term underfunding of the tertiary education sector has led to understaffing, and the staff left behind have to pick up more students and more administrative tasks. When do they do this? On the weekend and that means they miss out on time with family, friends, and that good book.

We must also work collectively to get pay scales in all collective agreements for all staff. Then ensure we support career advancement and professional development for the women working in libraries, labs, offices, and many other spaces in our tertiary education institutions.

So to all those leading our tertiary education institutions, come to the party and give us something to celebrate next International Women’s Day.

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