A reader contacted us recently to ask for help in thinking through a quandary: what to think, how to feel about an institutional policy that has good goals/intentions, but happens, because of other factors (social, economic, etc), to be gender-imbalanced in practice. I think it’s a good thing to think about, because I think it actually comes up a lot in academia (and outside)– evening seminars that are followed by dinners are great for departmental cohesion and free exchange of ideas, for example, but surely the women in the department are going to be at least slightly less able to participate. Another example comes from the reader I mentioned:
The College is located in a region where homes are very expensive, and thus most faculty are unable to afford to buy houses. The College wants faculty to live close to campus so as to be better able to participate in the life of the College (and let’s just assume this is a worthwhile goal, which I think it is). But the College is also located a significant commute away from any urban centers where non-academic jobs are likely to be, and so anyone with a partner who has a non-academic job will find it difficult to live near campus. As a matter of fact, a much higher percentage of the women faculty are in this situation than the men faculty. The College is now exploring a housing policy that will help faculty achieve home ownership by providing them a significant financial benefit when
they buy houses, but only if they buy within a tight radius to the College. Many of the women faculty, who are in “split commute” situations, live well outside this radius in areas where housing in equally if not more expensive. (Expanding the radius slightly, even doubling it, won’t really make a difference.) So this significant financial benefit will end up being non gender-neutral.
So, what do we think? What ought we think? And more to the point, I suppose: What ought we do?