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STEM Faculty and Parental Leave: Understanding an Institution's Policy within a National Policy Context through Structuration Theory

Corey Schimpf, Marisol Mercado Santiago, Jordana Hoegh, Dina Banerjee, Alice Pawley


Women continue to face barriers and unequal expectations in the academy.  Parental leave policies have been instituted in many countries to help address some of these barriers. Nevertheless, many researchers have found that the presence of such policies is not enough to ensure they are used by those they were intended for.  We conducted an in depth qualitative study of one midwestern university in the United States to better understand difficulties that arise with policy usage. The United States is an interesting case to study as it has a weak national policy for parental leave and some institutions with stronger policies, including the one we studied here. Our results suggest that the policy does not account for many aspects of academic careers and that the policy is under-utilized or undermined by contextual pressures, as other researchers have found around the globe. The results also demonstrate that structuration theory is a useful framework for analyzing how faculty members are constrained by and act within or transform a policy.  Importantly, we find that the lack of a national policy and fragmented policies across institutions further complicates faculty members’ use of parental leave at this institution. This has implications for other national and institutional policy imbalances.


work-family policy; parental leave policy; structuration theory; academic STEM; parenthood and academia; science; engineering

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