Academic journal article Family Relations

Role of Institutional Climate on Underrepresented Faculty Perceptions and Decision Making in Use of Work-Family Policies

Academic journal article Family Relations

Role of Institutional Climate on Underrepresented Faculty Perceptions and Decision Making in Use of Work-Family Policies

Article excerpt

As academic institutions continue to grapple with the challenge of becoming more diverse and inclusive, it is increasingly important to consider the conditions that affect the recruitment, retention, and success of historically underrepresented minority (URM) faculty. URM professionals represent a segment of the domestic talent pool and are defined as individuals of African American, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and Native American/American Indian ancestry with an intergenerational family history in the United States. Although these groups represent close to one third of the U.S. population, they constitute about 10% of all faculty in U.S. colleges and universities (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014).

The extant research has examined the unique experiences of URM faculty in higher education in the areas of teaching and student mentoring (Umbach, 2006), tenure and promotion processes (Allen, Epps, Guillory, Suh, & Bonous-Hammarth, 2000; Cooper & Stevens, 2002), and first-generation class identity formation (Turner, González, & Wood, 2008). Furthermore, a significant body of scholarship demonstrates that URM faculty experience racial discrimination, racial microaggressions, stereotype threat, implicit bias, and powerful messages of not belonging in the academy (Antonio, 2002; Delgado Bernal, Burciaga, & Flores Carmona, 2012; Gutiérrez y Muhs, Niemann, González, & Harris, 2012; Turner, 2002). These experiences promote more hypervigilance and a greater sense of vulnerability among URM faculty, thereby affecting how they navigate their roles and institutional benefits. Yet how and when this group utilizes workplace-family supportive policies is an understudied area. Accordingly, in this study we examined the institutional challenges that URM faculty perceive in higher education with regard to the use of family-supportive workplace policies.

An extensively cited study published more than 30 years ago (Menges & Exum, 1983) demonstrates the need for more intersectional research that addresses co-constituted identities of race and ethnicity, class, and gender, as well as history and economic opportunity (Collins, 2000). We can deduct from Menges and Exum's findings that the economic conditions of URM academics will affect their work-family balance. As these researchers noted decades ago,

Financial circumstances are particularly hard on Blacks. Of doctoral recipients in 1978, most Blacks were dependent on their own earnings-59 percent of Blacks compared with 34 percent of Whites-or loans-13 percent of Blacks compared with 4 to 7 percent of Whites, depending on the type of loan. Financial awards to Blacks "are so low that comparative percentages would be deceptive." (p. 128)

Yet it is difficult to identify studies that have examined the intersections of race/ethnicity, economic assets, and microaggressions and the ways in which these factors affect perceptions of institutional climate and the use of work-family policies. Instead, the majority of scholarship focusing on work-family policies in academia has largely described the experiences of non-Hispanic White faculty members, especially White women (for a review, see Armenti, 2004, and Terosky, O'Meara, & Campbell, 2014). This is surprising given the multiyear efforts by many academic institutions to diversify their faculty ranks, some of which began their intentional efforts in the 1980s.

Despite these initiatives, many URM faculty report a fear of negative consequences for tenure and career progression when using work-family policies in instances of child care, the birth of a child, or a family emergency (Reybold, 2014). These fears are associated with high visibility within research-extensive universities, perceptions of being "affirmative action" hires, and oftentimes less availability of economic assets such as family assistance or savings to supplement their salary to enhance family quality of life (Castañeda & Isgro, 2013; Sotello-Turner & Myers, 2000). …

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