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In this chilly economic climate, every dollar counts. Schools can prevent costly faculty turnover by providing usable flexibility policies that would help to retain both female and male faculty. Department chairs are the key.
It's not enough to create policies--you have to also make sure the policies are usable, said Joan C. Williams, a distinguished professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She keynoted the 2009 Denice Denton Distinguished Lecture Series held at University of Wisconsin-Madison in October.
As director of Hastings' Center for WorkLife Law, Williams is a leading voice in preventing employment discrimination against women with family responsibilities.
Research indicates that above all, faculty value flexibility in their schedules and lives these days, especially in balancing career and personal responsibilities. While most schools have developed flexible policies for faculty, many women avoid using them for fear of bias against them.
Williams also met with department chairs at the University of Wisconsin to motivate and encourage them to help faculty understand and use the policies to increase the flexibility in their jobs. "Research institutions are especially difficult to change," she told the chairs, "because most decisions are made by people with no HR training--people just like you. But you folks are in a position to make change."
Department chairs are in a unique position as gatekeepers of work/life balance, she said. They can:
* Improve the work/life of their faculty and staff.
* Control risk exposure by their school, their department and themselves.
* Model gender equity in departmental practices.
High costs of turnover
Making the "business case" for improving work/life policies, …