EL PASO, Texas — Faculty and staff at any university in the University of Texas system planning to have children face the especially difficult challenge of juggling motherhood and career with only a 12-week unpaid maternity leave.
Like many pregnant women teaching in the UT system professor Anne Giangiulio had to make arrangements other than just buying diapers and a crib before the baby’s arrival.
“I was due to have my baby in December. Knowing this, I made arrangements with my then-Chair of Department of Art to teach classes I normally teach in the spring, in the summer. I don’t normally teach in the summer,” she said.
“Having children during their career is still an obstacle for women” said Sarah Ryan, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication and advisor to UTEP’s Feminist Leadership Majority Alliance.
The University of Texas at El Paso for its part adheres to Employee Rights Under the “Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)” when it comes to granting leave permits to future mothers.
The FMLA requires the University to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours at the University during the 12-month period preceding the requested leave.
“My situation was very lucky. I am a professor but I am also a graphic designer, this allows me to work from a laptop, which I can do anywhere,” continued Giangiulio, an assistant professor in the Art Department and mother of a 2-year-old daughter.
“We don’t have a very good view of what’s good for society as a country,” Ryan said, “In Western Europe, a year off is standard. In the U.S. 12 weeks without pay is guaranteed by the law but women are held back from promotions because of the time they spend with children.”
Stacey Sowards, Ph.D., associate professor of communication who focuses on feminist theories agrees. “I think the big issue now is women who have children during their careers. There seems to be an attitude that work should always come first, and really it should be families that come first, so we have to find ways of changing our attitudes about work versus family.”
In the case of Giangiulio she was lucky, “I have no idea what I would do if I did not have the support of my husband, and the professional support of my Department Chair and colleagues in the Art Department,” she said.
Faculty and staff often negotiate their leave with their department chairs.
“I had saved vacation weeks to use them when the baby was born” said Rosie Antillon mother of twin boys and Administrative Assistant for the Department of Communication.
“Department chairs have the right to refuse such agreements and even when they agree, female professors are still expected to come to college while on their leaves for certain meetings (e.g., dissertation defenses),” added Ryan.
These arrangements are made to secure that their workload is covered. Unless women have a second job like Giangiulio or extra vacation weeks like Antillon “the 12 weeks of unpaid leave can really sting many people. Especially single mothers who don’t have the luxury of a spouse’s income,” said Giangiulio.
The problem UTEP and many other universities in the U.S. have right now is that they “do not recognize the needs of families well enough. It is one of the reasons why many women fail to get tenure and leave the profession (or simply leave even before they come up for tenure)” said Ryan.
For UTEP to implement a family friendly policy it would require “tens of thousands of dollars to implement a better policy” added Ryan.
But women trying to have a family must not be discouraged, “We have to find ways of changing our attitudes about work versus family” said Sowards.
“Women can stand up for other women. Women can help negotiate better family leave, especially the agreements that many women make with their bosses. Women can cover for each other when childcare and family care issues arrive. Women can encourage other women to force their husbands or partners to shoulder at least half of the childcare burden. Women can lobby Congress for a better Family Medical Leave Act. Women can start their own companies…” said Ryan.