Working from home sabotaged researchers’ ‘thinking time’
Differences in the quality rather than the amount of research time explain why publication declined more for women than for men during the pandemic, a study has found.
A survey of almost 3,500 academics from 14 Australian and Canadian universities found that working from home affected both genders quite equally in terms of the time available for research, with around half of respondents of both genders reporting a drop. .
Nonetheless, the pandemic has disproportionately affected women’s research output, with “large gender differences” in journal submissions, grant applications and publications.
The study team believe that female academics had more difficulty than their male colleagues in devoting the necessary “thinking time” to tasks requiring sustained concentration – namely, applying for grants and writing journal articles – because remote work has blurred the lines between work and home life.
“Norms in the domestic sphere have been…exaggerated during pandemic lockdowns, so female academics in our survey have increased domestic work – including home schooling – more than men,” explains the team in the newspaper. Labor and industry.
“The pandemic has reinforced… the division of labor within the household [where] women do more care and household chores.
This has implications far beyond universities, the team points out. “’Flexibility’ is often presented as a solution to work-life conflict and particularly advantageous for women. But if “flexibility” means more work being done at home…the sustained knowledge work that is essential to career advancement can become particularly problematic for women. »
Lead author David Peetz, professor emeritus of labor relations at Griffith University, said employers need to recognize this as they envision a post-Covid world where more work is done from home. Universities might assume that “people can share desks or shared offices or go to open spaces because they won’t be here that often.”
“But that in itself would reduce the opportunities. For some people – not for everyone, but for some people – the workplace is actually where you have the best time to reflect.
Professor Peetz said the “great diversity” of attitudes towards working from home reflected its disparate impacts. “For some people it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and for others it’s terrible. A lot of women would think this… is going to make life easier to balance [but they are] too many interruptions. It’s too hard to find the time to think.
The article distinguishes between “sustained knowledge work” requiring long periods of concentration – the construction of complex journal articles and funding offers, for example – and “episodic knowledge work” such as teaching. lessons, correction, revision of documents or participation in Zoom meetings.
The latter category “doesn’t require as much cognitive load,” the article explains. “Tasks can… be set aside and then started again, or they can be completed in a shorter time or with less attention.”
This could explain why survey respondents tend to report the largest increases in time spent on teaching, administration and service. “An interpretation is [that] university women, feeling too tired or distracted to devote effort to sustained work of knowledge, responded instead to the immediate demands of teaching, service, and administration; tasks they could tackle in shorter bursts.
“An alternative interpretation is in terms of risk avoidance, with women reducing their time investments in sustained intellectual labor activity that they might have expected to be relatively less fruitful due to their new contextual constraints.”