University of Toronto

Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life

Work at U of T: Part 2, A Different Experience for Female Faculty?

Last week’s article on the COACHE survey looked in detail at some of the differences between the mean scores across the benchmarks for female and male faculty at the University of Toronto compared with faculty at our peer institutions.  The data indicated higher levels of satisfaction for male faculty than for female faculty, particularly in regards to their experience within their departments.  Across four of the benchmarks, the mean score for male faculty was 0.22 or greater than for female faculty.   The four benchmarks where there was the greatest difference between male and female faculty were in response to the questions related to research, departmental leadership, divisional leadership and promotion. In this week’s article we look specifically at  some of the questions contained within these benchmarks and also consider the impact of family and caregiving responsibilities on work satisfaction for faculty.


Nature of Work: Research

please contact VPFAL for an accessible alternative

The benchmark which surveyed faculty satisfaction with the nature of their work related to research examined a number of different factors.  In each case, female faculty indicated less satisfaction than their male colleagues.

The greatest differences between male and female faculty (exceeding 10%) were in regards to balancing teaching, research and service and in the amount of time available to spend on research.  The literature suggests that female faculty are often asked to do more teaching and service than their male colleagues.  If this is the case, and it certainly warrants further exploration, it may help to explain why female faculty are less satisfied with their ability to balance teaching, research and service and are less satisfied with the time they have to spend on their research.


In an earlier article, we examined the results for associate professor satisfaction with the policy and process for promotion and noted that this was an area which warranted further investigation. The results for individual questions within this benchmark also indicate that sex has an important impact on a faculty member’s satisfaction around promotion.

please contact VPFAL for an accessible alternative

While male and female faculty both indicate low satisfaction on questions related to promotion, female faculty are significantly less satisfied than their male counterparts on a number of measures.  In particular, female faculty are much less satisfied around issues related to the clarity of process, the criteria used and the standards within their unit.  Evaluative processes such as tenure and promotion are regulated by policy and situated within structures developed to ensure that the processes are meritocratic and fair, however these results suggest there could be a disconnect between policy and process.

please contact VPFAL for an accessible alternative

“While we have committed ourselves to looking at ways of clarifying the promotion process for associate professors, I think we’ll need to start thinking about what additional resources can be provided to female faculty to help overcome some of these differences”, says Edith Hillan, vice provost, faculty and academic life.



In general, faculty were most satisfied with the leadership at the local level.  Here again though, we find that female faculty are less satisfied than their male colleagues.

please contact VPFAL for an accessible alternative

The greatest differences in satisfaction for female faculty members were in terms of the pace of decision making, the stated priorities of the chair and their communication.  Likewise, for divisional leadership, female faculty were much less satisfied than their male colleagues with the stated priorities of their dean and the pace of decision-making.

please contact VPFAL for an accessible alternative

The differential experience of female faculty is often explained by reference to their caregiving responsibilities and life decisions.  To what extent can the differences in satisfaction from male and female faculty be explained by these kinds of life events?

Context: Marital Status and Caregiving

Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden1 in their book “Do Babies Matter?” examined the impact of family formation on academic careers and found “not surprisingly, that babies do matter for men and women PhDs working in academia.  They matter a great deal, especially their timing”. Single without children at U of T: Men 11.6%, Women 20.7%.  Single with children: Men, 3.5%, women 6.5%Men who have babies early in their career (within five years of receiving their PhD) are 38% more likely than their female colleagues to achieve tenure. Mason and Goulden have taken this proposition a little further looking at how the ‘life trajectories’ of tenured women differed from those of tenured men.  Their research found that “only one in three women who takes a fast-track university job before having a child ever becomes a mother.  Women who achieve tenure are more than twice as likely as their male counterparts to be single twelve years after earning their PhD”.

Married without children: Men 25%, women 27.6%.  Married with children: Men 60%, women, 45.2%
Can this ‘life trajectory’, identified by Mason and Goulden, explain some of the differences that we see in the satisfaction of men and women at the University of Toronto?  Is it as a result of childcare and care-giving responsibilities that women are less satisfied across a number of measures?

The short answer is that it’s hard to tell and will require significantly more analysis of the COACHE data and further research.  Let’s begin by looking at the marital status of male and female faculty.  Female faculty are slightly more likely to married without children than their male colleagues. Although when we reverse this question to see what proportion of faculty are married with children, we find that 15% more male faculty are married with children then their female colleagues.

There does seem to be some evidence that tenure-stream female faculty are less likely to have children (20.7% compared to 11.6% for single without children and 27.6% versus 25% for married without children) but preliminary analysis of this data did not find that women in these categories were any more dissatisfied with their workplace than their female colleagues who had children.

What about caregiving responsibilities?

Tenure stream faculty across all ranks: 62.6% of men have children. 50% of women have children

Female tenure stream faculty across all ranks at U of T are less likely than their male colleagues to have children. They are also more likely to have a dependent adult in the household. Although this is similar to the findings of Mason and Goulden, it should be noted that at U of T this represents only a small proportion of female faculty and does not explain why women are less satisfied.

Tenure stream faculty across all ranks--caregiving responsibilities: Children are infants or in pre-school 18.7% male, 14.7% female.  Children are school age: 37.2% male, 31% female.  Dependent adult in the household: 8.8% male, 14.4% female.


Best and Worst Aspects of Working at U of T

Faculty were asked to select the best and worst aspects of working at U of T from a pre-populated list.  Male and female faculty selected the same items when asked about the best things about working at U of T.  These included: quality of colleagues (49% for male faculty, 46% for female); quality of graduate students (25% for male faculty, 22% for female faculty); geographic location (22% for male faculty, 21% for female faculty) and academic freedom (17% for male faculty, 21% for female faculty).

Interestingly, when we examined what are the worst aspects about working at U of T for male and female faculty, we find that each group chose quite different items. 

For male faculty, the worst aspects were: Cost of living 22% (11% female), Commute to campus 14% (8% female), Quality of leadership 11%, (11% female).

The first two items selected by male faculty as the worst aspects of working at U of T are items which are beyond the control of the institution itself.  For female faculty, the unrelenting pressure to perform is a constant across all ranks while the issue of too much service or too many assignments is one that has been noted for female faculty across a number of measures.  In departments where they are under-represented, women are often asked to serve on more committees and may spend more time providing informal mentoring to students – this is often exacerbated when they are also aboriginal or a visible minority.

For female faculty, the worst aspects were: Unrelenting pressure to perform, 15% (9% male), Too much service/too many assignments 15% (7% male), Cost of living 11% (22% male).

Next Steps

The initial review of the data does not provide us with clear cut answers or explanations for why female faculty are less satisfied than their male colleagues.  It does tell us that we need to do a lot more work with this data, that we need to speak to our colleagues and draw on their expertise and experience.  So, keep your eyes open for more information from the COACHE survey over the coming months on this topic and all the others that we have discussed as a part of this series.


The COACHE survey was conducted in October of 2012 by the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.  Almost 50% of our tenured and pre-tenure faculty participated in this round (pre-tenure faculty had been invited to participate in 2007).

Article: Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty & Academic Life
Graphics: NATIONAL Public Relations

1An earlier version of their research can be found at:  Mason, M.A. & Goulden, M. (2004), ‘Do Babies Matter(Part II)? Closing the Baby Gap’.  Academe, November-December.