When I saw the cover of “Professor Mom,” my instinctive reaction was to lament the repeated question posed to women about achieving work-life balance in academia. In recent years, whenever the media brings up similar issues to professional women, it often invites scorn and ridicule.
However, my dissatisfaction was quickly assuaged upon reading the preface of the book “Professor Mom.” The author of the preface, Li Xiuqing, stated, “The balance between family and work has always existed. Regardless of the profession or gender, as long as men cannot become pregnant, give birth, or breastfeed – as long as these biological mechanisms remain unchanged – women’s experiences in this regard will undoubtedly be more intense.”
For the group of women scholars described in this book, it sharply contrasts with the stereotypical impression held by the public that university professors enjoy career freedom, leisure, and more time to take care of their families. It also reinforces the predicament faced by female scholars – while striving to survive in the academic workplace, they also have to deal with greater expectations from their family members for their time and energy.
Despite public opinion repeatedly resisting the question of “balancing work and family” for women in the workplace, the predicament, like the elephant in the room, persists. We cannot avoid discussing it or turn a blind eye.
It is not only in China but also in the global academic community that women scholars face similar challenges in career advancement. In many fields, career development is described as a pipeline, but the pipeline experiences “leakage” – women are leaking out. As people progress to higher career paths, the proportion of men increases while the proportion of women decreases.
In 2019, there were 424,000 doctoral students in China, of which 175,000 were women, accounting for 41%. In the same year, the ratio of male to female researchers was 100:38.
The latter data comes from the “Portrait of Chinese Researchers from a Gender Perspective” published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences Documentation and Information Center in 2022. The report mentions that in intermediate, associate professor, and full professor positions, the number of men is significantly higher than that of women. In 2017, the male-to-female ratio for intermediate positions was 1.57, for associate professor positions it was 2.01, and for full professor positions it was 3.92. The difficulty for women to be promoted increases as the academic title gets higher.
In terms of research funding applications, there are also more male applicants than female. This is particularly evident in the two important talent programs, the “Outstanding Youth” and “Distinguished Youth” programs. From 2015 to 2019, the difference between male and female applicants for the “Distinguished Youth” program ranged from 6.8 to 7.8, and for the “Outstanding Youth” program, it ranged from 3.9 to 4.7.
How did women gradually leak out of the pipeline?
We often see some outstanding women scholars overcoming obstacles and successfully advancing in their careers. While these women are certainly admirable, their success stories do not lead us to conclude that women scholars have not faced barriers (including gender discrimination barriers).