In March, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study by Jolly and colleagues demonstrating that women in academic medicine -- those holding K grants, or career development awards -- do more domestic work than do their male counterparts. There are a lot of reasons: more women had working spouses than did men in the same position, but that didn't explain the whole difference. The article itself is quite interesting, but the editorial that went with it (accessible by same link) -- written by two women in senior academic roles -- was what really got my attention. They suggest that the differences are really a matter of choice, and that disparities are not as disturbing as the study authors suggest.
They ask: "...is the fact that talented women may choose to shift a few hours from research to their family roles until the youngest child is in high school a threat to academic medicine? We certainly do not think so."
I think the perspective of these very successful editorialists is one of hindsight rather than foresight: we made it work, in traditional or non-traditional ways, and so why are you so worried about a few hours here and there? The answer is that we won't have the jobs we love if we can't make it by the standard criteria -- these being acquisition of grant funding, publishing papers, and providing patient care. I certainly appreciate, and have taken advantage of, the flexibilities of my research time -- but flexibility is an illusory concept. The hour I spend (or that my husband spends -- I think this equally applicable to both genders in many ways) taking the kids to school or getting home earlier is at some price, either in late nights or in projects unfulfilled.
You can see my response, written with two colleagues in similar positions (we are all women with K grants, patient care responsibilities, and families, trying to make it in academia) with the original article.
What is fascinating to me about the dialogue that goes on in these letters is the span of decades of women's perspectives that are included among the letter writers. This is a pesky problem and it won't go away soon.