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Whose Problem Is It? Gender Differences in Faculty Thinking about Campus Service

by KerryAnn O’Meara - 2016

Background/Context: Empirical evidence suggests women faculty spend more time in campus service than men, which perpetuates inequality between men and women because research is valued more than service in academic reward systems, especially at research universities.

Purpose/Focus of Study: In this study I apply insights from research on gender inequality to examine whether women and men faculty at a research university were thinking about their campus service differently. I add to the literature by (1) making faculty thinking about campus service visible, (2) examining how this thinking is constrained by gender, and the gendered nature of organizations, and (3) revealing how individualistic and cosmopolitan orientations, and communal and local orientations appear together in faculty thinking about campus service.

Research Design: My research assistants and I conducted 60–75 minute-long, semistructured interviews with 88 faculty including 34 men and 54 women on their work environment experiences. Interview questions focused on choices that faculty had made to emphasize different kinds of work (teaching, research, service), balance work priorities, and succeed.

Findings/Results: Overall, more women framed campus service in communal terms and expressed local orientations toward campus service; more men positioned service as a campus problem, and noted their own interests to avoid or minimize involvement in campus service so as not to hurt their career. In a smaller group of cases, (e.g., four men and five women) the faculty member expressed the dominant pattern for the other gender; however, even in these cases participants provided examples of the dominant pattern for their gender as well. In all cases, women and men were influenced by gendered ways of thinking about work, and gendered organizational practices that permeated their socialization and work environments.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings suggest that interventions are needed to affect thinking about campus service within university environments, as thinking shapes gendered divisions of labor. Sharing campus service data transparently, developing department consensus about appropriate levels of service contributions, and developing a sense of collective ownership for academic programs are examples of organizing practices that could generate change toward more gender neutral divisions of labor. Addressing the complex issue of inequality in campus service is not only about counting the numbers of service activities, although this is important. It is also critical to understand how faculty may be approaching the issue, the forces shaping their thinking, and the consequences of their thinking for individual careers and the future of the academic community.

Across many types of organizations scholars have long observed gender differences in the division of labor. Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1977) aptly described how women tend to do the lion’s share of office “housework,” serving on committees, performing administrative tasks, and generally taking care of others in the office in ways that did not help them advance within the organization. More recently, Williams and Dempsey (2014) observed that the pattern of women performing more office housework not only causes women to spend valuable time on activities that will not serve their advancement but also causes women to miss opportunities that would support their careers. Not unrelated to care-taking at work, scholars have found women across different occupations become more emotionally exhausted than men, and men more depersonalized in their work (Purvanova & Muros, 2010). Thus gendered divisions of labor within organizations are one mechanism through which women accumulate disadvantages in the workplace (Acker, 1990; Valian, 1998).

Higher education organizations are not exempt from this trend. Also referred to as academic mothering, institutional housekeeping, and hidden service, empirical evidence suggests that women faculty spend more time in campus service than men (Carrigan, Quinn, & Riskin, 2011; Link, Swan, & Bozeman, 2008; Nettles, Perna, & Bradburn, 2000; Winslow, 2010). Greater time allocation to service perpetuates inequality between men and women because research is valued more than service in academic reward systems, especially at research universities (Acker & Feuerverger, 1996; Fairweather, 1996; Park, 1996; Ward, 2003). Scholars have shown that faculty who spend more time on teaching and service produce fewer research products (Fairweather, 1993; Fox, 1992; Jacobs & Winslow, 2004; Link et al., 2008), and reap fewer rewards via the academic reward system. In addition, taking on more service as an associate professor has been linked to longer time to advancement to full professor (Misra, Lundquist, Holmes, & Agiomavritis, 2011; Stout, Staiger, & Jennings, 2007). Thus, fair service workload is important because it has career consequences. However, even outside of such consequences, perception of unfair service workloads can have a big impact because it damages the sense of procedural and distributive justice that employees expect of their organizations (Daly & Dee, 2006; Darrah, Hougland, & Prince, 2014; Lawrence, Celis, & Ott, 2014). Furthermore, when faculty perceive that campus service workloads are unfair, their intent to leave the institution is higher, their overall satisfaction decreases, and their productivity, organizational commitments and professional growth is compromised (Daly & Dee, 2006; Neumann & Terosky, 2007; Rosser, 2004). Therefore, understanding how campus service inequality manifests and creating organizing practices to reduce it is critical to improving gender equity and the “full participation” of women faculty in universities (Sturm, 2006).

To date, service is the most understudied of the three faculty roles of teaching, research, and service (Lawrence et al., 2014; Neumann & Terosky, 2007). Campus service expectations are rarely stated explicitly, widely considered discretionary, are usually unregulated and unrecognized, and are not transparent, public information available for public scrutiny (Barrett & Barrett, 2011; Bird, 2011; Lawrence, Ott, & Bell, 2011; Masse & Hogan, 2010; Misra et al., 2011; Misra, Lundquist, & Templar, 2012; Pyke, 2011). This leaves great variability in how much or how little service faculty perform, and the kinds of service they perform. Many studies have contributed to the literature on this issue by examining the time women and men spend on service and the different kinds of service they provide. I do not attempt either. Instead, I apply insights from research on gender inequality to examine whether women and men faculty at a research university were thinking about their campus service differently. I add to the literature on this topic by (1) making faculty thinking about campus service visible, (2) examining how this thinking is constrained by gender and the gendered nature of organizations, and (3) revealing how individualistic and cosmopolitan orientations, and communal and local orientations appear together in faculty thinking about campus service.

Understanding how men and women faculty frame and position themselves vis-a-vis campus service has consequences for cultural and structural change in solving the problem of unequal service workloads. In the next section I review key contexts that influence faculty service and service inequality. I then bring into view key theories, and guiding perspectives that may explain differences in thinking about campus service.



Though many studies have examined off-campus service, professional outreach, and disciplinary service, the purpose of this work is to focus on institutional, campus service, which Neumann and Terosky (2007) define as “contributions that support a campus’s mission, operations, and cultural life” (p. 283). There are many kinds of campus service. Porter (2007) used the following schema to differentiate between kinds of campus service: curriculum committees, personnel committees (search or recruitment), governance committees (faculty senate, student retention, budget or admissions), and other. Porter’s approach is a content-oriented way of viewing the service, focusing on the purpose. Another way to view faculty campus service is the level of the organization it serves, such as department, college, or university service. Regardless of the approach, faculty campus service includes such work as serving on admissions committees at the department level, course approval committees at the college level, and diversity councils at the university level.

Research on gender inequality reminds us that “inequality regimes” (Acker, 2006), manifested in organizational practices such as service workloads, are complex problems. They involve “interlocked practices and processes” that maintain gendered divisions of labor (Acker, 2006, p. 441). Figure 1 attempts to break down the issue into layers. There is the issue of what exactly is meant by inequality in service workloads; the number of hours, number of service activities, and kinds of activities. Although it is not the focus of this study, it is important to note that scholars have found conflicting results in studies of faculty service. Research has shown service participation is associated with individual attributes and work contexts such as gender (Acker & Armenti, 2004), race/ethnicity (Baez, 2000; Griffin, Pifer, Humphrey, & Hazelwood, 2011); career stage (Misra et al., 2011; Neumann & Terosky, 2007) and institutional type (Tierney & Minor, 2003). Most studies have found female faculty are more likely than male faculty to engage in campus service to their institution, especially as they become more senior (Acker & Armenti, 2004; Barrett & Barrett, 2011; Carrigan et al., 2011; Clark & Corcoran, 1986; Fouad et al., 2000; Hart & Cress, 2008; Link et al, 2008; Misra et al., 2011; Park, 1996; Turner & Myers, 2002; Winslow, 2010). However, several studies found few significant differences in number of hours male and female faculty devote to campus service when the researcher controls for variables such as rank, discipline, career stage, and institutional type (see Mitchell & Hesli, 2013; Porter, 2007; Singell, Lillydahl, & Singell, 1996). Women have also been found to engage in certain kinds of service that are less prestigious, more time-consuming; or “token” (Misra et al., 2011; Mitchell & Hesli, 2013; Porter, 2007; Twale & Shannon, 1996). Conflicting results seem to be the outcome of scholars using different methods, controlling for different variables, and methods not accurately capturing all kinds of service.

Figure 1.


Assuming that women are in fact engaged in more campus service than men as measured by total hours spent in service and number of total service activities, and are engaged in kinds of service with fewer career benefits, the question becomes how, or through what mechanisms? The mere presence of women in greater numbers in service roles does not explain how the inequality regime of unequal service roles is replicated and sustained.  Women could be asked more often, say yes more often, and/or volunteer more often. Research suggests women are invited to become involved in campus service more often (a) to add diversity to a committee, (b) because they are more likely to say yes, (c) because it is perceived they will be good at the tasks, and (d) because they are known to have commitments to the activities being pursued (Padilla, 1994; Tierney & Bensimon, 1996; Turner, 2002). Mitchell and Hesli (2013) conducted a cross-sectional survey and found women political scientists were asked to engage in service more often, and said yes to requests more often, but did not volunteer more often. However, additional research is needed in more disciplines and with a larger sample to understand the mechanisms and contexts within which women faculty engage in more service.

Putting aside the issue of women being asked more often to engage in service, it is important to consider why women might volunteer or say yes more often when asked. Presumably men and women operate under the same reward system in research universities, and this reward system does not regard service as highly as research and teaching (Fairweather, 2005; Ward, 2003). Why then might women and men faculty, socialized in the same disciplines, graduate programs and reward systems, think differently about campus service? How might differences in thinking influence differences in behavior? In considering this question, several theories emerged as most helpful: the gendered nature of organizations (Acker, 1990, 2006), self-interest and avoidance of conflict, commitments, social role theory, and cultural theory on local versus cosmopolitan orientations to faculty work.


Gendered Organizations

Gendered organizational theory begins from the premise that orientations to and decisions actors make about discretionary work activity such as campus service are socially constructed, not stable, and not biologically determined (Acker, 1990; Smith, 1990). Even if more women than men tend to think about campus service from a certain perspective, this does not mean that women have a biological preference. Rather, gendered roles and practices stem from historical patterns related to the division of labor, and socialization toward gender norms and expectations (Smith, 1990). Gender operates as a social structure to shape actors “perceptions of their interests . . . constraining choice” (Risman, 2004, p. 432). Acker’s (1990, 2006) theory of gendered organizations identifies many concrete ways in which gender inequality is embedded in division of labor and workload, everyday interactions between organizational members, role models, and recognition systems. For example, role models in research universities are expected to be “ideal workers” who spend most of their time on research, unencumbered by service and more than minimal teaching (Benschop & Doorewaard, 2012). Further, critical race theory (Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Solórzano & Yosso, 2002) and critical race feminism (Wing, 2003, 2015) and application of these theories to the experiences of underrepresented minority faculty (Turner, 2002; Turner, Gonzalez, & Wong, 2011) contextualize historical patterns shaping workload and reward systems for faculty of color. These patterns reveal experiences of isolation, tokenism, and a double burden of service for women of color, especially in STEM communities where identities as women and underrepresented minorities create more requests for both on-campus and off-campus service than experienced by white and male colleagues (Bird, 2011; Smith & Calasanti, 2005). Therefore, differences in thinking related to campus service are likely influenced by gendered interactions between faculty and between faculty and administrators, social role expectations, intersections between gender and race, and gendered divisions of labor.

Self-Interest and Avoidance of Conflict

Acker (1990, 2006) observes that self-interest is a form of internalized control. Given embedded sexism and issues of women’s representation in research university environments, saying yes to service may make women feel less isolated and invisible (Tierney & Bensimon, 1996). For example, women may have self interest in serving on a committee to network with others. In addition, those who request service are often in higher status positions (Tierney & Bensimon, 1996). Given women’s status in universities tends to be in lower ranks than men, women may be more apt to think they should say yes to service requests because the person asking is of higher rank and has power over them. Acker (2006) also observes fear as an internalized control. Women may have a harder time saying no because they fear letting others down and are less likely to negotiate with others making service requests. The ambiguity and discretionary nature of service may make such negotiations more difficult. Research has shown men prefer environments where the rules for wage determination and the contract are ambiguous (and negotiate more in those environments), whereas women prefer environments where the rules are clearer (and negotiate as much as men do in those environments) (Leibbrandt & List, 2012).


Most research studies exploring gender inequality in workload begin from the premise that others have assigned women more service than men, as opposed to women and underrepresented minority faculty having sought out service to impact issues and groups that a professor values as is often the case (Baez, 2000; Cuadraz, 1997; Griffin et al., 2011; Turner, 2002; Umbach, 2006). For example, Acker and Feuerverger (1996) found women faculty deeply committed to building their programs, supporting colleagues and students, and being good department citizens. However, they also felt disappointed that male colleagues did not show the same commitments to the same institutional housekeeping activities (Acker & Feuerverger, 1996). Women of color faculty have likewise expressed deep commitments to teaching, mentoring, and diversity work on campus and outreach that might explain differential thinking about service (Griffin, Muniz, & Espinosa, 2012; Turner, 2002).

Social Roles

Social role theory posits that historical divisions of labor that place women at home and men at work create expectancies for male and female behavior that are reinforced through socialization (Eagly, 1987). For example, women are stereotypically expected to be more communal, interdependent, and collective in their thinking, and men more individualistic (Cross & Madson, 1997). These expectations exist in society at large and are reinforced through micro-interactions between individuals, consciously and unconsciously. Communal behaviors relate to being concerned with the welfare of others, identifying as part of a group, helping others, accepting other’s direction and wanting to maintain relationships (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001). Individualism promotes and favors the exercise of one’s individual goals and desires over the interests of any social group, organization or the state (Cross & Madsen, 1997; Hayek, 1994; Wood, 1972). Individualists value self-reliance, independence and assertiveness in making sure the interests of the individual take precedence over those of the group (Wood, 1972). Individuals who violate gender stereotypes are often perceived unfavorably (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004; Rudman, 1998). Women who show individualistic traits are often considered less appealing and cold, even by other women (Heilman et al., 2004; Wiley & Eskilson, 1985). Thus a woman assistant professor may have been socialized to believe she should try to be helpful to the department when asked to serve on another committee and feels it is appropriate to say yes. She is rewarded by her department chair who also sees this as her role. At the same time, down the hall, a male assistant professor has been socialized to be individualistic, and assertively prioritize his research. He is regarded as behaving appropriately by saying no to the same request. Although much research has shown these patterns are prevalent, research also demonstrates gender roles are flexible; work roles may trump gender roles in decision-making (Eagly & Johnson, 1990).

Local Versus Cosmopolitan Orientations to Faculty Work

Closely associated with the idea of communal behaviors, Gouldner (1957) characterized faculty as tending to take on “cosmopolitan” or “local” orientations to their work. Gouldner observed that cosmopolitans are “low on loyalty to the employing organization, high on commitment to specialized role skills, and likely to use an outer reference group orientation” (p. 290). Gouldner explained that local orientations express themselves in faculty who are high on loyalty to the employing organization, low on commitment to specialized role skills, and likely to use an inner reference group orientation. Gouldner further noted that women tend to populate the “homeguard” or local group in that they develop personal connections to the organization, and are dedicated to the goals of the organization. Rhoades, Kiyama, McCormick, and Quiroz (2008) explored cosmopolitan and local roles among graduate students and faculty, observing that they were very much embedded in mentoring and socialization experiences. It is possible women faculty may view service as a form of loyalty to their organization, and identify more directly with an inner group trying to get work done; men may more often identify with a cosmopolitan orientation that is lower on loyalty to organization, more loyal to their discipline, and less connected to an inner campus group than external colleagues. Research showing male faculty spend more time on research, less time teaching, and prefer it that way (Winslow, 2010) suggests men may have stronger cosmopolitan orientations to work and be more responsive to cosmopolitan reward system priorities.

With these perspectives in mind, I sought to understand if there were gender differences in faculty thinking about campus service. The research questions guiding this inquiry were: Did women and men faculty think differently about requests for and participation in campus service? How and why?


Specifically, were there differences in how men and women faculty framed their obligation to be involved in campus service?


Were there differences in the consideration of consequences of participation for self, colleagues, and the institution?


What role, if any, did gendered organizational practices have in women and men’s thinking about and experiences with campus service?


An underlying premise of these research questions is that knowledge and reality are the result of social construction and social exchange, and thus, are always situated (Levitt & March, 1988; Weick, 1995). Therefore the goal of this research was not to provide a normative diagnosis of good and bad ways to view campus service. Rather, I sought to understand the ways in which individual faculty thought about their campus service, and if there were patterns of gender difference in faculty orientations to service.

Faculty work choices and experiences of organizational practices are influenced by institutional context. Thus, I wanted to hold institutional context constant by choosing a single case study design (Yin, 2009). The single case study method was what Yin (2009) calls “typical” in that the study institution, Land Grant University (hereafter LGU), is in many ways typical of public research universities in the United States. I had unique access to institutional research on faculty service at LGU through my role evaluating institutional efforts to improve the retention and advancement of women faculty. An analysis of annual faculty report data in 2012 and 2013 revealed women reported significantly more total campus service than men. Results from a 2011 and a 2013 work environment survey showed significant gender differences in faculty satisfaction with time spent on campus service, with women faculty less satisfied. Given gender differences were found in both actual time spent in service and satisfaction with time spent on service, I was interested in whether there were differences in how men and women were thinking about their campus service.

The focus of the data collection was qualitative in that I was interested in participant constructions of campus service and decisions regarding service. Interviews have been found to be a particularly effective way to understand how individuals make meaning of phenomena in their work environments (Kezar & Eckel, 2002; Mills, Bettis, Miller, & Nolan, 2005; O’Meara, 2004). Data for this study were obtained from a larger study of faculty career and work environment experiences at LGU. Participants were identified through purposeful (e.g., strategically selecting individuals of different genders, disciplines, races and career stages) and snowball sampling (adding participants as the project evolved) (Creswell, 2007; Merriam, 1998; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). As noted earlier, my point of entry to the project was as evaluator of a campus-wide project attempting to improve work environment experiences for faculty. As part of this experience, I conducted research on the professional growth and work environment experiences of tenure line faculty at LGU. I selected participants purposefully to include men and women faculty at all three career stages and across 12 academic colleges. At the end of interviews participants could identify the names of colleagues for me to invite for an interview. About 60% of invited faculty responded positively to invitations to participate. Faculty who declined participation noted time commitments as reasons for declining interviews. There was no demographic pattern among participants who did not respond or declined participation (e.g., they were not all women, faculty of color, or from STEM disciplines). Although there is the potential for bias in this sampling process, the fact that participants were identified from across LGU disciplines, formally through administrators and informally through participants, and the lack of a pattern in participant response to the invitation (either among those who accepted or declined) suggests that the sample was reflective of the range of perspectives found in these different groups.

My research assistant and I conducted 60–75 minute-long, semistructured interviews with 88 faculty including 34 men and 54 women on their work environment experiences (see Table 1 for demographic information). Interview questions relevant to this study focused on choices that faculty had made over their careers to emphasize different kinds of work (teaching, research, service), balance work priorities, and succeed as faculty. We asked faculty if there was any way of thinking about their career and work that was helpful to them. We asked whether they ever felt stuck or challenged at work and if so what they were thinking during this experience, and what choices they saw, if any. We asked them if there were any organizational practices that they felt supported their ability to be successful at the institution or held them back and whether they believed gender, race/ethnicity, or other aspects of their identity played a role in their work experiences and if so, how. All interviews were transcribed.

Table 1. Demographics of Faculty Participants

















Am. Indian/Alaska Native



Asian/Pacific Islander



Black/African American





























Chemistry & Biochemistry








Criminology & Criminal Justice
















Hearing & Speech








Human Development




Information Studies
















Public Health




Public Policy








Urban Studies




Women’s Studies



Career Stage

Assistant Professor



Associate Professor



Full Professor



Consistent with methodological norms of qualitative inquiry, data analysis included multiple stages of coding. I began by reading and rereading all of the interview transcripts to identify and mark excerpts that related to faculty thinking about service (Merriam, 1998; Miles & Huberman, 1994). I then read the same interviews again and coded those excerpts (Merriam, 1998). As I coded the interview transcripts, the data analysis process was both concept and data driven (Kvale & Brinkman, 2009). Concept-driven coding involves the use of predetermined codes from the literature to guide analysis of the data, whereas data-driven coding allows key codes or themes to emerge from the findings, much as in grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Thus, I used concept codes that came directly from my literature review (e.g., commitments, communal and individualistic orientations, local and cosmopolitan orientations, and gendered organizational practices). However, I also allowed patterns and nuances to emerge directly from the data. For example, a nuance within gendered organizational influences was the practice of senior administrators or colleagues “clearing the way” for male faculty to be individualistic in service choices. This was a nuance within the findings that was not specifically outlined in the literature review, but which emerged within the data as a pattern included in the overall data on gendered organizational practices.

Each interview transcript included between 3 and 7 excerpts regarding faculty thinking about campus service. Each service excerpt was given at least one code, but could be assigned more than one as well. For example, participants discussed prioritizing one’s own research time and writing over what others in their department wanted them to do. This was coded as both individualistic and cosmopolitan because participants noted both their own individual goals and preference for disciplinary, rather than local work activities. After coding each excerpt where service was discussed with one or more orientation codes, a clear pattern emerged. Whenever participants displayed a communal orientation toward campus service they also described local orientations; whenever participants displayed individualistic ways of viewing service, they also displayed cosmopolitan orientations. In this way, faculty who thought about service as a collective responsibility (communal), also had strong local ties on campus and identified with a group on campus (local). Alternatively, faculty who thought about campus service as someone else’s problem to solve and them self as separate from the problem (individualistically), also identified strongly as a scholar who needed to protect time for research and activities with disciplinary colleagues off-campus (cosmopolitan). Because of this pairing, I collapsed these categories and present communal/local orientations together and individualistic/cosmopolitan orientations together in the findings section.

After each transcript service excerpt was coded, the transcript was coded for its dominant pattern. For example, if 3 out of 4 excerpts were coded as local/communal, the participant’s interview was coded as local/communal being the dominant pattern of thinking for that individual about campus service. Once each individual interview was analyzed, I examined all of the male faculty transcripts together, and all of the female faculty transcripts together. I noted the prevalence of different orientations to campus service in each group and compared them to each other.

Overall trustworthiness of analysis was strengthened in several ways. First, I shared transcripts with participants and gave them an opportunity to correct any part of their initial comments. I received few edits to the transcripts and they were not on the issue of service. Likewise, participants were provided anonymity. I masked the identity of participants by not noting their specific discipline next to their name in the text to strengthen confidentiality. Second, I shared my conclusions and analysis with a peer debriefer who acted as a critical friend in challenging codes and their meaning (Vogt, Gardner, & Haeffele, 2012). Third, I display extended quotes from the participants in order for readers to assess my assignment of codes, the kinds of data collected, and participants’ perspectives. In terms of validity, I aim for theoretical validity as framed by Eisenhardt (1989). The findings from this study are aimed at further understanding faculty perspectives on service, and how perspectives merge and relate to each other (e.g., local and communal) rather than being generalizable to all faculty at research universities.


As with all research there were limitations to this research design. First, campus service experiences described by participants were retrospective reflections ranging from very recent to ten years before. It is possible participants would have given a different account of their thinking immediately after making campus service decisions. Future research might try to capture faculty thinking and decision-making regarding campus service closer to when they made the choices they are describing. Second, the focus of this study was on ways in which faculty framed campus service experiences generally, including all kinds of campus service. There was not sufficient space in this article to outline how faculty thinking was shaped by the kinds of service requests, rank of those requesting service, or the amount of time the service request involved.

A third limitation relates to these findings, race and ethnicity, and discipline. Given orientations to service emerge out of very specific organizational contexts where social identity interacts with that context (e.g., African American woman in a research university), there is reason to believe orientations to campus service constructed by white men, international faculty, women of color, or STEM faculty, as groups, could be different based on the opportunities and constraints that each group uniquely encounters as they navigate work environments. Indeed, research suggests faculty of color, and women of color specifically face unique burdens and sets of expectations regarding service (Turner, Gonzalez, & Wood, 2008). In this study, I chose to make gender the primary unit of analysis. I made this decision because of the national trend in women’s dissatisfaction with fairness in campus service, as well as the fact that institutional research showed LGU women faculty were engaged in more service and more dissatisfied with time spent on service than men. At LGU, similar differences were not found by discipline, or between faculty of color and white faculty. However, this does not mean they did not exist and may have been captured if other data was collected. I recognize my participants came to their thinking about campus service with an intersectionality of identities, which reveal themselves in many of their comments. I acknowledge the nuances, varying histories and different experiences that exist among the men and women participants (Turner et al., 2008). For space reasons, I am unable to analyze each of these intersecting identities in this study. Future research might explore how these important contexts influenced faculty thinking about campus service.


LGU is in many respects a typical public research university. It is highly selective in terms of admissions, serves approximately 40,000 students (roughly 70% undergraduate), and engages in extensive research activity, with over $500 million in research expenditures. Within the tenure-track/tenured faculty, 32% were women faculty. Women faculty made up roughly 47% of the assistant professors, 38% of the associate professors, and 22% of the full professors. At the time of this study, LGU’s academic administration was trying to identify and address challenges in faculty work environments as a way to improve the retention of women and underrepresented minority faculty. These efforts were funded by a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant. There were no university-wide reward system guidelines regarding the amount or kinds of service faculty were expected to perform, or uniform ways across departments of ensuring fair and equitable campus workloads between faculty. These arrangements were made locally in departments (if at all), and between administrators and individual faculty for campus-wide appointments.


There were discernible gender differences in the ways men and women thought about campus service. Overall, more women faculty framed campus service in communal terms and expressed local orientations toward campus service. Overall, more men positioned service as a campus problem, and noted their own interests and priorities to avoid or minimize their involvement in campus service so as not to hurt their career. In a smaller group of cases, (e.g., four men faculty and five women faculty) the faculty member expressed the dominant pattern for the other gender; however, even in these cases participants provided examples of the dominant pattern for their gender as well. In all cases, women and men faculty seemed influenced by gendered ways of thinking about work, and gendered organizational practices that permeated their socialization and work environments. In the next section, I describe communal and local orientations to campus service reflected in the majority of women faculty member’s career narratives. Next, I describe individualistic and cosmopolitan orientations to campus service reflected in the majority of male career narratives. Finally, I describe gendered ways of thinking about work and gendered organizational practices that influenced all participants and their campus service experiences.


For the majority of women participants in this study (49 of 54), campus service was something they experienced as a communal role and local commitment. Women repeatedly said that they enjoyed making a “contribution” and “having an impact” for specific issues and people. This played out in several ways. First, women repeatedly framed the “problem” of the request for their participation as a problem that “we” had. By “we” women meant their department, college, or university community. Women explained that they had to say yes to requests for service, or volunteer, because there was no one else to do the task, or do it well. Furthermore, women framed many of their service activities as important tasks for their institution, college, or department—places where they were heavily invested. Women noted that they “had to” complete campus service, in order for some collective or specific community to accomplish its goals, and/or to protect more junior faculty in this community from this work. For example, Andrea, a full professor said:

Well I said no, repeatedly. Over and over and over again. The problem is I'm the only full professor left in the department. We have two associates. One is a brand new associate professor, she absolutely shouldn't do it. The other is one is actually up for promotion to full professor and she doesn't want to do it at this point in time either. And the dean feels that he doesn't want to put the funds behind it, and he thinks it's better to [get someone from their department]. I'm between a rock and a hard place.

In this example, Andrea rationalizes her decision in relationship to other faculty in her department and what would happen to them if she says no. In this positioning Andrea takes on the problem of finding someone to complete this task as “our” task. When there was no one else in her department Andrea thought was eligible, she decided she “had” to do it. Likewise, Amy, an associate professor said:

At the time we were working on an accreditation for the specialization, so I had to take that. I felt the whole of my third year was lost . . . but I knew I was the only one who could do it. . . . I was the only faculty member teaching in that specialization who kind of knew all the parts of it and was able to do it, but it really caught me that year. I thought this was something I ought to do. I have to do it for my institution, you know, to make sure it’s running right.

In this framing, which was common among women participants, Amy positions herself as problem solver acting on behalf of her department. She also positions herself as not having many choices. Another faculty member might have viewed the same situation and considered letting someone else take this project on and do it less well. It is hard to ignore that at times women positioned themselves as heroes and other times as victims. Regardless, women faculty tended to explain their service as part of a collective responsibility and endeavor. The service activities were an attempt to solve community (e.g., departmental, programmatic, or institutional) problems. These service activities were embedded in communities where women participants felt membership, ownership, and collective responsibility.

A second way the local and communal orientation to campus service exhibited was in how women faculty described specific commitments as the reasons they engaged in campus service. Engaging in efforts that serve these commitments gave women great satisfaction. Gertrude, a full professor noted that while she took on more than her fair share of campus service it was “a sense of mission as a woman leader that kind of keeps you going sometimes.” Ginny, a full professor observed that she was proud of having advocated on a campus committee for teaching and undergraduate mentoring to “count more” for promotion. Because of her work on that committee she was able to get the dean to email faculty in her college to emphasize the importance of teaching and mentoring and said: “So that’s a big win for me.”

Women faculty expressed commitments to their programs, to students and mentoring, the strategic direction of the university, and gender and race issues that their service served. Although these commitments often went beyond their university (e.g., a more general commitment to social justice), they were enacted and brought into view as local orientations and affiliations (e.g. we are advancing diversity at LGU). For example, Andrea, a full professor said: “And sometimes you do things because you say [to yourself] this is my effective change.” Senior women also said that they discouraged junior women from protecting themselves entirely from service. Senior women said they felt their orientation as citizens with strong commitments to specific issues was something they hoped to pass on to the newest generation of faculty. For example, Carmella, a full professor said she mentored junior faculty not to “dig in their heels” and refuse to do service because it is important to “being part of the community, being a good civic member.” Alexandra, a full professor said:

And so I worry about people who say ‘no, no, no, all I need to do is focus on my research, I’m going to do the minimum of teaching and service’, because that kind of an attitude ends up being what they continue in, even after they get tenure, and that’s not what true leadership and citizenship is about. . . . But the chair used to tease me, whenever there was a committee obligation that was identified in the department, guess whose hand goes up first. (Laughs) So I have to blame myself for that.  

Although women faculty felt strongly and positively about their campus service, they realized it came at a cost. Melissa, a full professor observed:

I know that the men in my fields have advanced quicker and now do a lot more consulting and have served on more university committees. Whereas many of the women have kind of helped run the department. And I felt that happened to me. I figured that out about five years ago . . . and this continues today because I am here taking care of business, which I am pretty good at, and I’m not at the college level and I’m not a university player.

Considering both sides of this issue—the good and the bad of such commitments, Alexandra, a full professor said:

A “mistake” that I made is by the time that I came up for tenure I was involved in 33 different committees. And these weren’t light committees. Committees that involved searches for new faculty. I was in fact the co-chair for a search committee from the third year on, as assistant professor, which is pretty rare. And I say mistake in quotes because for sure it took a lot of time and a lot of people told me that kind of investment in service takes away from your research. One of my favorite quotes is from one of my former deans at my first institution, where he said "in order to get tenure you need to excel in at least two of the three dimensions of research, teaching, and service, and service doesn't count." That said, I say mistake in quotes because I do think one of the things that has been the hallmark of my success is that I got engaged in service, both external and internal, early and often. I think that while research is definitely your transferable ticket to be viable in external labor markets and it is critical for successful careers, I think that teaching and service are very important complements, and they are not necessarily substitutes. I averaged about 16 or 17 hours a day, many of the days of my assistant professorship I remember. But I loved what I did; I had great fun doing it.

A third way the local and communal orientation to campus service was apparent was in how women participants described what they had gained professionally from campus service, even if sometimes at the expense of time for research. As has been found in other studies of campus service, women talked about having been particularly effective in these roles, and taking satisfaction in having learned something from their experience in them (Neumann & Terosky, 2007). For example, Andrea, said:

And later on when we had other kinds of conferences, I learned how to be a conference organizer, a real logistics person. . . . I can do a conference like blinking. Small ones, little ones, one thousand people, two thousand people, I can do it. I can do it in a day. So I learned how to do that. So again, all types of learning experiences.

Anne, a full professor said she liked learning how the university works “at a high level” and “making an impact.” Anne felt satisfaction in learning about campus problems and working with others to solve them. Darla, a full professor said:

Whenever I'm asked to participate in committee work at the college level and the campus level I have done so. And those have been a lot of work and great learning experiences too. You get to know more people and if something happens and you need advice from somebody, then after being on a committee with some of these folks you feel more comfortable in contacting them and things like that.

Darla went on to explain that because she served on the promotion and tenure committee she got to know the LGU associate provosts. When she wanted to get a program approved, she had someone to call for help and advice. Likewise, she spent time on a LGU research council and learned about several possible foundations that were interested in funding areas relevant to her research. Darla concluded: “So, these things help to make me be a better faculty member. Even though it does take my time away from other things I like doing.”In a similar vein, Elinor, an associate professor, said a female professor took her aside and told her not to engage in so much departmental service. Elinor said: “And I kind of ignored her.” Elinor explained that the service she was doing was getting her access to good doctoral students she was otherwise precluded from working with because of two senior male faculty in her program. This campus service excused Elinor from having to attend meetings with those same two colleagues, who she felt demeaned or ignored her and other women in the room.

Overall, women faculty framed campus service as a communal responsibility necessary for the good of their programs or the university. Women noted it was something they often “had to do,” did more than they wished, but which allowed them to contribute to local issues in their university in important ways, and grow professionally through new contacts and knowledge.


The majority of male participants in this study (30 of 34) explained their campus service experiences in cosmopolitan and individualistic terms. Common repeated phrases used by male faculty to describe their thinking about campus service were “setting boundaries,” and “taking care of oneself.” There were three ways in which cosmopolitan orientations and individualistic strategies to avoid service were most evident. First, male faculty consistently described campus service as a distraction or burden that could hurt your ability to do the “real work” of research, which was the thing that would advance faculty in their careers and “give them options.” Male faculty talked more than female faculty about making choices to minimize their involvement in service in order to achieve research goals. Second, campus service was primarily positioned by men as a problem that belonged to others to solve. Third, male faculty were more likely than female participants to describe other colleagues having “cleared the way” for them to focus on their research and not engage in campus service, or help them to negotiate other supports for service that off-set the potential drain on time for research.

Consistently describing campus service as a distraction or burden, male faculty tended to think more strategically than women about how campus service would benefit their career interests. Male faculty were also more likely than women faculty to present the problem of service as something outside of their own responsibility. In their descriptions of concrete situations where they were approached to engage in service, male faculty tended to position department chairs as individuals with a “problem” of getting people to do service. Male faculty positioned themselves as smart if they could not become a “solution” to the administrator’s problem. Male faculty provided more instances than women faculty of refusing service requests, and negotiating other supports to offset it (course release, summer funding). Despite the fact that several of the male full professor participants rotated in and out as department chair, more of the examples men provided were of requests for service rather than their having volunteered. For example, Nelson, a full professor, explained that he minimized his campus service in order to maintain his research agenda at levels that would give him “options.” By options, Nelson meant opportunities to leave LGU for other, better academic positions. Nelson, said:

Well, I kept in mind that the whole thing for me, was to continue to have options. I wouldn’t have my options if I did not deal with reality, as far as promotional expectations. I had to make decisions at times that ran counter to administrators’ desires. In fact I had a department chair who did not speak to me for a year. Poignantly made it very apparent, because I refused to go on a position in the department that I did not think was productive, or was fair as far as where I was in my career. So, his needs conflicted with my own needs and at that point I just had to accept that we had different needs. And, if that’s how he chose to react then that would be what I would have to bear. I knew that if I accepted and went his way that I was set for disaster, and that was not an option I would consider. So, better to give myself a chance rather than go for sure disaster.

As Nelson considered this service request, he thought about himself as separate from the problem. He had individual interests, and the department had interests, and they were not compatible, so he had a decision to make. His individual interests were distinctly cosmopolitan in nature, emphasizing time for disciplinary work. This outlook is very different than explaining that “we” as a department or college have a problem that “we” (including the participant) need to solve, as was common in women’s career narratives.

A further illustration of individualistic thinking was that male faculty repeatedly described “setting boundaries” and making sure that campus service did not take away from their research time. Eugene, a full professor noted this took the form of “separating from everything that was going on,” walking upstairs and closing the door.  Likewise, Nelson said: “It’s been a case where I think that if you come in with a sincere desire to make contributions to research and put the boundaries on others trying to take away that time, then you should be able to do it.” Nelson went on to explain that he had seen women faculty who had not set boundaries and not been promoted. He felt junior faculty often did not realize administrators are temporary. He said administrators will always want more service than you can give; and it is up to you to protect your career by staying focused on research. In a similar way, Bradley, a full professor, emphasized the importance of “self-reliance” and “taking care of your own standards and achievement” in making decisions about all aspects of work. Guy, a full professor, talked about “getting to do your own work” and “getting out of the trap” of committee work and other service roles. This kind of framing was common in male faculty responses and positioned men as acting against a series of organizational practices or constraints that were working against them—trying to get them to focus on the wrong things. This framing of the “wrong things,” was shaped almost entirely by a cosmopolitan orientation to faculty roles that prioritized recognition in fields and disciplinary communities, not local, campus service (Gouldner, 1957; Rhoades et al., 2008). /

It is important to underscore however, that both men and women faculty displayed cosmopolitan orientations in how they defined “real work,” noting research was what was rewarded and encouraged by mentors at LGU. Women faculty also had strong identities as scholars in their disciplines. The difference was that male faculty tended to employ their cosmopolitan orientations and disciplinary priorities in their thinking and decisions about campus service. Women faculty allowed their more local, and communal orientations to outweigh their cosmopolitan orientations in how they thought about campus service.

As previously mentioned, male faculty were also more likely than female participants to describe other colleagues having “cleared the way” for them to focus on their research. Male participants described having negotiated compensation for “taking on” new campus service roles. In some cases, they praised colleagues who had made it possible for them to avoid campus service to focus on their research. For example, Darren, a full professor said:

They got out of my way. I have the most creatively constructed teaching load you have ever seen. That met all the requirements, but it was just—it was right off at the edge of what was allowed. So that I could concentrate on my research.

Darren went on to explain his colleagues viewed him as a star researcher and so they made sure his campus service roles were few so that he had time for his research. Likewise, Tom, a full professor said:

Initially I had a very good chair who went out of his way to make sure that your life as an assistant professor at least, was as focused as possible. He kept you out of having to do things. Kept you away from people who would distract you, and kept you off committee assignments that were going to distract you. So you know, he was really very supportive.

Such stories of colleagues sheltering male faculty from service or faculty negotiating benefits to offset costs of service time were absent from the majority of women’s campus service experiences and thinking about service. Overall, campus service was positioned by the majority of male faculty participants as something to avoid if possible, complete as little as possible, be compensated for, and not to distract you from real faculty work (e.g., research).

Mixed Views. As mentioned earlier, in a smaller group of cases, (e.g., four men faculty and five women faculty) the faculty member expressed the dominant pattern for the other gender. Yet even in these cases participants provided examples of the dominant pattern for their gender as well. For example, Joseph said:

If your department chair asks you to do something, you do it. Because the fact of the matter is if you are in an institution, and you’re buying into the concept of shared governance, and you understand how academia works, then you should be prepared to contribute. Because, academia is not just an individual pursuit—it’s a society. I mean I think a lot of people think of their career as an individual pursuit, and I think that’s entirely appropriate, because obviously there are parts of your career which are very individualistic and your pursuit I legitimate. But some people pursue their individual agenda and do nothing else and then are surprised when people don’t view them as a good citizen when they go up for full professor.

In this excerpt Joseph communicates local orientations toward campus service in that he feels a responsibility to serve as part of a collective. He secondarily affirms the legitimacy of the opposite view, that faculty should take care of themselves first. He also notes individualism can come at a cost in terms of how one is viewed when going up for promotion by colleagues. In another part of the interview, Joseph notes that career advancement is really about politics and playing the game and that he learned early on to prioritize work that would get him promoted. Thus, we see Joseph has a strong communitarian ethic as an academic, but this way of thinking merges with his own strategic actions to move up within what he considers a cosmopolitan field.

Likewise, Stephanie, a full professor said: “You know I knew the only thing that really mattered at the end were publications so I just kept my eye on publishing, getting grants, writing, submitting papers, writing books . . . you know . . . that always took priority . . . after my kids of course.” Stephanie says that she attributes much of her own success to prioritizing work in her discipline over her institution. Yet later on in the same interview, she admits she “lost a year in publications and writing” when she “had to” jump in to save her graduate program when someone else left and it felt like the administration was going to close it down. Thus her primary way of thinking was cosmopolitan, but her actions and reasons for those actions of wanting and needing to save her program, as opposed to find another job, were local. There was not a disciplinary or racial pattern in the nine mixed faculty cases (e.g., these women did not tend to be STEM and the men were not also all underrepresented minorities).


There were many ways in which gendered organizational practices and cultures shaped thinking about campus service. The first and most direct way was the explicit valuing of research over teaching, mentoring, and service in LGU’s reward system. Acker (1990, 2006) observes that gender inequality manifests itself in organizational logic linked to job evaluations that favor male characteristics and preferences for work roles. Women described commitments to program development, their department and university, mentoring and specific local colleagues that they were living out through campus service roles. Yet LGU’s reward system, like most research universities, did not prioritize these activities through promotion and tenure, and merit pay. As a consequence, the organizational logic of faculty rejecting campus service whenever possible permeated the organizational culture. This was evident in women faculty noting they blamed themselves for “raising their hand” and “saying yes” too often. It was assumed that they should have known better. Marcie, an assistant professor said she noticed more women on committees but wasn’t sure if it was because they were asked more often or volunteered more often. The assumption, embedded in organizational logic used widely at LGU, was that if women volunteered more often it was their own fault, not that of the organization—or a reflection of historically embedded patterns related to the gendered division of labor.

A related gendered influence was the intermingling of dominance and submission and related feelings of obligation (Acker, 2006). Male faculty positioned themselves individually as strong and smart when warding off requests from department chairs making requests; whereas women faculty positioned themselves in a much weaker position of “having to” engage in some service roles because of being part of a collective that had needs. Interestingly, as in other studies, women faculty often noted early in their interviews that they did not necessarily feel their gender influenced their work environment experiences. Yet the more women reflected, they went on to note experiences that were explicitly different or unfair because of their gender. For example, Doreen, a full professor said she did not think gender influenced her experiences too much but then said: “One thing I do see is because the need to balance race and gender, I end up getting asked to serve on a lot of committees. . . . Which is a drain on my time.” She said: “I’m often encouraged by other people “you’ve got to say yes we need you to do this.” Similarly, Janet, a full professor said:

You know, first let me just say that I don’t think I’ve been disadvantaged in any way because of my gender . . . except in the following two ways.  So I think, first of all I think service expectations tend to be higher for women, at least in my experience, and I have not been very good at saying no, so one way in which I’ve been trying to take perspective is to say okay the next service assignment that comes my way I’m going to say no. . . . The second is, and this is not really a way of being disadvantaged, but just an observation, that you know being a woman in a technical field which is not hugely populated by women, I find myself becoming a poster child for you know lots of campus-wide activities and initiatives . . . I get roped into a lot of activities just because of that and the fact that I’m [an ethnic minority] also makes it, you know . . . double. . . . So, you know, [ethnicity] woman in a technical field, okay, so that’s not so surprising anymore, but you know still it’s enough to say you would be a good representative for a lot of people. So I get asked to do a lot of stuff as a result of that. I have an active conscience and I feel like you know I believe I am a very good organizational citizen, so I have to, I keep telling myself okay, you know there’s {X} faculty in the school and there are others who can also contribute. So today I got invited to be on another school-wide task force which is going to have to do a lot of work, so I just went, (laughs), it’s okay, I said yes, but beyond telling myself that I have to learn to say no, I’m, not doing anything specifically.

In Janet’s reflections, it is clear she often feels overwhelmed, even dominated by service requests. Janet is trying to navigate responses that are true to her desire to contribute but not become overwhelmed. In a similar way, junior women faculty noted that they felt “taxed” by university, college, and department organizational practices and cultures. Lisa, an assistant professor noted that on campus she was “more conscious of being a female in a way that I hadn’t been in my previous job . . . but I feel it is sort of remarked on or I was put on committees for that reason.” Lisa went on to explain that she felt she paid an extra tax by being female and a minority in a STEM field: “You know you’re paying this extra tax because of who you are and not getting work done which you need in order to stay here (she laughs).” Janet and Lisa’s experiences stand in sharp contrast to male career experiences of having service cleared away and their decision not to participate affirmed by such actions.  

In addition, women described exposure to sexist comments related to women and service. For example, Darla, a full professor said:

I guess I came in and was doing my thing and at one point he said to me, “[name], if I had you as my secretary, I could do great things”. . . . What am I gonna say? I'm like here for a year. I'm 27, or 28. I said, “oh thanks.” I don't know, and “goodbye.” But that is how we were treated for a long time around here. . . . And of course, over time, often when I've served on committees at the college level and the campus level, I look around and I'm the only woman on the committee. Now it's changed. Now there's more. It's not 50%, but I suspect over time, there will be more. But, there’s still that dynamic of how men and women behave in committees, where the men dominate.

Even though the secretary reference happened earlier in Darla’s career, LGU women and men faculty lived in a culture where vestiges of sexism still lived and had a long-term effect on faculty careers and choices. Many women faculty seemed to try to laugh off inequality they faced in everyday interactions as a sort of coping mechanism.

Third, and importantly, women seemed to be gaining strategic career advantages through service that male faculty either already felt they had or did not need. For example, women faculty felt they gained a stronger peer network and stronger allies in administration through their campus service. They felt as if they learned more about how the campus worked and gained insider information that was useful for their research. They felt less isolated, and like they had more power in decision-making. It is useful to consider Acker’s (2006) observations about gendered divisions of labor in interpreting why women faculty may have felt they gained more from campus service than men. Women faculty seemed to be approaching these campus service experiences from a deficit position in networks, insider knowledge, and power in decision-making. Men did not reflect the same sense of deficits. Instead, university structures and cultures seemed to work in their favor. Likewise, women faculty seemed to take more satisfaction in being “good” at this work; they received positive feedback about being able to “do a conference like blinking” and “taking care of business” in departments. The positive feedback women faculty received for being good at campus service was set against a backdrop where they may have received less constant, positive attention for their research.  Male faculty framed service as a “trap” to get ought of. Yet women faculty used campus service to get out of, or somewhat escape, the trap of isolation, lack of insider knowledge, fewer senior women role models, and low evaluation of them and their work.

Faculty thinking about campus service was also influenced by insider knowledge and a tendency to negotiate [or not] resources and compensation to support service. Chandra, a full professor observed that she had been in many situations where she was asked to take on a substantial service role with no compensation and learned that “everyone else has it in their contract that they will have this benefit” for doing the position. Likewise Amy, an associate professor observed that there were junior faculty who knew how to “play the game” and those who did not. Not coincidentally, as more women faculty entered LGU’s faculty, there were more who did not know or understand the service “game.”


Recent discussions of campus service inequality argue that it is not fair to “blame the woman” for saying yes more often than men to requests for campus service. In fact, it is likely a woman is asked more often, for a variety of reasons, and that she may choose to say yes to serve individuals and issues that are meaningful to her. Nor will it be effective to retrain her to “just say no” because there are structural inequities in place that make her saying no difficult (Mitchell & Hesli, 2013; Pyke, 2011). Likewise, many national disciplinary associations (see Fouad et al., 2000; National Women’s Studies Association, 2013) and scholars writing on gender equity reform in higher education institutions (Bird, 2011; Park, 1996) have called for a revaluing of campus service in faculty evaluation systems.  

Such observations are important in bringing awareness to the problem of campus service inequality and appropriately focus on necessary reform of university structures. However, it is also important to scrutinize the thinking that is shaping how men and women faculty make choices about their work activities, especially in places where we know different choices are being made. In this study, I revealed faculty thinking about campus service, and how it differed by gender in an institution where differences in campus service behavior were identified. By marking gendered ways of thinking about campus service, and gendered organizational practices shaping thinking and behavior, space can be created for faculty and academic leaders to change organizational inequality. In this section I consider the relationship between faculty thinking about campus service, and gendered socialization practices within the university. I draw implications for reform of the organization of campus service, and efforts to advance women faculty in research universities.

In this study, gender inequality was maintained and reproduced by men and women’s gendered thinking about their work activities and all of the forces that shaped that thinking. As noted earlier, social role theorists have found that women are socialized to think about themselves in relationship to others, while men are socialized to have a more independent self of self and set of priorities (Cross & Madsen, 1997). In this study, I found this tendency merged with corresponding professional orientations toward work activities. Male faculty thought more individualistically about campus service and prioritized cosmopolitan, disciplinary research; and women faculty thought and acted more communally and prioritized local relationships and concerns. This study was conducted in a research university where both male and female faculty subscribed to cosmopolitan orientations to faculty work such as prioritizing research and becoming known in one’s field (Gonzales, 2014; Gouldner, 1957; Rhoades et al., 2008). Nonetheless, more women than men described commitments to local issues, programs, colleagues, and students on their campus. Women thought about themselves more often as part of local groups, with work that needed to be done by these groups on campus. Women faculty took satisfaction in being able to contribute to local programs and issues that mattered to them. Yet women faculty also resented uneven campus service loads. Women knew the time they were spending on service, time not spent on research, hurt their career progress. Women felt that male colleagues benefitted from the service women provided by virtue of well run “houses,” without contributing their fair share. This experience was especially acute because of the setting. Within research universities, empirical studies show workload is one of the most stressful aspects of faculty careers (Barnes, Agago, & Coombs, 1998; Wilke & Gmelch, 1988), and time for research is a faculty member’s greatest resource for advancement (Winslow, 2010). In this setting, gender inequality was reproduced because women’s thinking about campus service prioritized communal obligations and local priorities. Such thinking went against disciplinary and academic reward system norms; whereas men’s thinking about campus service matched the institution’s cosmopolitan reward system priorities.

In interpreting these different ways of thinking, it is important to be cautious and recognize that men may have held similar commitments to their programs, students and colleagues but did not associate campus service decisions with these commitments, which they enacted in other ways. It is likely both men and women faculty had commitments to local and cosmopolitan work activities. However, men placed more individualistic and cosmopolitan concerns above the local when thinking about campus service. Also, although cosmopolitan interests of furthering oneself as a researcher and scholar were typically framed by faculty in individualistic terms, the more status male faculty acquired individually in their fields, the greater status their institution enjoyed by virtue of their success. Thus there was a collective, university benefit to individualism in this case. Though fully aware of the priority given to research in the reward system, women were more likely to bring local concerns fully into view and allow those local concerns to sway decisions in favor of choosing to say yes and engage in campus service. Women had a persistent tendency to frame campus service in collective terms (e.g., our problem or our work) and men to frame campus service as a contest between their own individual interests and those of others more distant from them.

In a similar vein, gender inequality was reinforced as women’s thinking about priorities for their time did not conform to norms for the “ideal worker” at their institution. The ideal faculty worker in a university is one who puts time for research above all else, including teaching and service (Benschop & Doorewaard, 2012). By spending time on “institutional housework,” women faculty were outside this ideal worker norm. Also, when engaging in campus service, women were engaged in “unskilled labor” with few measurable outputs, whereas their male colleagues were involved in more skilled labor activities (e.g., research, grant writing, presenting), which has greater status because it is more easily assessed (Blackmore & Sachs, 2007). Ironically, but importantly, the reason many men were able to spend bountiful hours unencumbered by campus service is someone else was doing this work for them. Within gendered organizations the ideal worker is always bolstered by others who do organizational housekeeping for them (Acker, 1990; Benschop & Doorewaard, 2012). Male faculty in this study provided examples where department chairs, peers, and mentors “cleared the way” for them to focus more clearly on their research. This reinforcement sent male faculty messages that their way of thinking about campus service was appropriate; it also helped men in their career advancement. Women faculty were surprised to learn that other colleagues had received institutional stipends or course releases for the same campus service jobs they had taken on “for free.” Thus campus service inequality was reproduced through gendered practices that devalued women’s campus service while simultaneously rewarding male faculty rejection of campus service as appropriate to the norms of valued, ideal workers in the same institution. This created a cycle of cumulative disadvantage for women faculty that has been found elsewhere (Bird, Litt, & Wang, 2004; Fox & Colatrella, 2006; Park, 1996).

Importantly, men and women’s thinking about campus service was influenced by the organization of campus service work in their university and by their own relative standing within their organization, both of which reflected gendered practices. Although a few faculty noted peers and mentors that they had sometimes discussed service with, more faculty realized they had never engaged in sustained reflection on campus service in their careers. LGU faculty had no sense of the amount of campus service that was “above average”; no one monitored who was asked, how many times, and there was little consensus within departments about appropriate levels of service. Absent information regarding average department loads, and left to individual discretion, faculty made decisions based on gender socialization, perceived expectations, professional orientations, reward system influences and interactions with others within gendered department contexts (Acker & Armenti, 2004; Blackburn & Lawrence, 1995). Thus the organization of campus service work created an opportunity for inequities to develop in ways that were invisible, even to those who might have wanted to advance equity. In addition, the relative standing of women within their research universities and the relative standing of men seemed to influence their thinking in at least two ways. Research has shown women, particularly those in STEM fields, are often isolated from other faculty, have less daily contact about their work and less satisfaction with professional relationships than male peers (Gibson, 2006; Trower, 2012). Yet professional networks transfer insider information and social capital, including information that could help a faculty member negotiate resources when they are asked to take on significant campus service (Niehaus & O’Meara, 2014). Although deeply connected to their programs, women did not mention colleagues who helped clear the way for them to concentrate on research or helped them to negotiate resources when asked to engage in additional service. Second, I have noted the potential cumulative disadvantage to women’s careers when they spent less time on research. Alternatively, these women had become very successful in many different kinds of service. As such, each time women were asked to engage in another round of campus service part of their thinking was influenced by a cumulative sense of past success, and self-efficacy regarding the role or project. In other words, women in this study had been socialized to know they could play this role well; which meant they were likely to be asked more. It also meant that women may have been more likely than men to frame the request in positive terms, at least for kinds of campus service they had enjoyed.

The purpose of this study was not to generalize to all higher education organizations, or to understand disciplinary or cross-national differences in gendered orientations to campus service. However, it is interesting to consider the findings alongside related work. For example, this study showed marked gender differences in thinking about campus service in a research university, which is the institutional type where there are significant pay gaps between men and women and lower percentages of women full professors (Valian, 2005; Xu, 2012). It is likely the experiences and consequences of gendered divisions of labor in campus service may be worse in research universities in comparison to institutions more focused on teaching and service. Likewise, the heavy emphasis on research within American four-year universities, and presence of gendered patterns in American workplaces may make gendered orientations to campus service more prominent in the United States than in some other contexts. Purvanova and Muros (2010) analyzed 183 different studies spanning 15 countries and dozens of occupations and found women were significantly more likely to feel emotionally exhausted at work. Although the pattern prevailed across nations, the authors found larger gender differences in the United States compared to EU in emotional exhaustion, which is related to work overload. Likewise, in this study I did not find a pattern of differences in thinking among women in more male-dominated fields or men in more female dominated fields. Although research has shown critical mass of women in a discipline predicts time spent on research versus teaching and service, with men and women faculty in male-dominated disciplines spending more time on research, the research also shows women in male-dominated disciplines spend more time on teaching and service than male colleagues (Carrigan et al., 2011; Xu, 2012). Purvanova & Muros (2010) found no differences in emotional exhaustion from workers in male typed and female-typed occupations. The findings of this study, alongside this previous work emphasize the powerful way in which gender operates, even within disciplines, to shape and constrain thinking, behaviors, preferences, and choice (Risman, 2004; Winslow, 2010).

The practical implications of such findings are obviously complicated and political. However, I offer several recommendations that might address structures that reproduce gendered differences in thinking that lead to differing behaviors. Specifically, gender inequality in campus service might benefit from challenges to organizational logic, from greater transparency and accountability regarding campus service, and from training on unconscious bias for department faculty as it relates to faculty workload. First, there should be greater awareness of service obligations by transparently publishing faculty campus service workloads each year within departments. Data can be a powerful lever for awareness, recognition, and dialogue on inequality in work environments (Bensimon, 2004). Second, at the beginning of each year department faculties could discuss the kinds of campus service faculty will take on for the department and why. Department chairs could lead such discussions to cultivate collective accountability for department, college and university service roles. Such collective understandings would be reinforced by department, college and university merit pay and evaluation criteria that register a common valuation for involvement in campus service. More collective ownership and understandings of campus service could also help create accountability for fair assignments, and new agreed upon rotation of and resources assigned to key campus service roles. Third, new modules might be developed to train department chairs and faculty on the specific ways unconscious bias influences faculty requests for service and responses. Programs such as WAGES-Academic from Penn State have shown success in randomized trials in increasing participant awareness of the effects of unconscious bias on both formal (e.g., tenure evaluation) and informal (e.g., information networks) dimensions of academic life (Shields, Zawadzki, & Johnson, 2011; Zawadzki, Shields, Danube, & Swim, 2014). However, there have been limited attempts to increase faculty awareness of how organizational practices inside gendered organizations might influence women and men to think about and respond to requests for service differently, negotiate resources to participate in service at different rates, and avoid the trap of asking women and under-represented minority faculty more often to serve. Unconscious bias training on workload issues in faculty careers is important to culture change.

In terms of future research there was much this one paper could not address, such as differences by race and ethnicity, generation and career stage, and discipline. Future research should consider how each of these characteristics is intersecting with faculty orientations to on-campus service. Previous research suggests that under-represented minority faculty are more likely to express a collectivist orientation and commitments to teaching and service than their white peers (Antonio, 2002; Baez, 2000; Rhoades et al., 2008; Umbach, 2006), which is important to study alongside gender as an influence on orientations to campus service.

In conclusion, addressing the complex issue of inequality in campus service is not only about counting the numbers of activities, amount of hours spent on them, or perceptions of inequitable workload, although all of these are important. It is also critical to understand how faculty may be approaching the issue, the forces shaping their thinking, and the consequences of their thinking for individual faculty careers and the future of academic community. Faculty will not be full partners in university life until men and women feel equally responsible for the quality of their academic homes and are equally able to balance their teaching, research and service commitments in ways that allow them to advance within academe.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 8, 2016, p. 1-38
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  • KerryAnn O’Meara
    University of Maryland, College Park
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    DR. KERRYANN O'MEARA serves as Professor of Higher Education and the Director of the ADVANCE Program for Inclusive Excellence at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. O'Meara received her BA in English Literature from Loyola University in Maryland, her MA in Higher Education from The Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of Maryland. Dr. O'Meara's research examines organizational practices that support and limit the full participation of diverse faculty and the legitimacy of diverse scholarship in the academy. Recent publications include: “A Career with a View: Agentic Perspectives of Women Faculty” in the Journal of Higher Education, and “Half-way Out: How Requiring Outside Offers to Raise Salaries Influences Faculty Retention and Organizational Commitment” in Research in Higher Education.
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