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UC Berkeley Press Release

New book outlines discrimination against moms

– Three decades after women began breaking into male-dominated professions, their numbers in top academic and corporate echelons remain flat, according to Mary Ann Mason, graduate dean at the University of California, Berkeley.

Largely to blame are family demands and "maternal discrimination," according to "Mothers on the Fast Track: How a New Generation can Balance Family and Careers" (Oxford University Press, 2007), a new book Mason has co-authored with her daughter, Eve Mason Ekman.

Mothers on the Fast Track book cover"Mothers on the Fast Track" is based on longitudinal research that not only tracked Ph. D. students, but also women in such competitive, male-dominated professions as law, medicine, business and journalism. It documents how generations of women have veered off the career fast-lane after having children - while their male counterparts with families flourished - and argues that ambitious women should not have to settle for second-tier jobs just because they took time off to raise kids.

"Society is losing some of its best and brightest," said Mason, UC Berkeley's first female graduate dean. "It's important to have women in major decision-making positions. It makes a difference in medical research, politics, business, and at all levels. Women have to be in more positions of influence."

According to Mason, women make up only 5 percent of managing partners in law firms, less than 20 percent of medical school deans, 9 percent of National Academy of Science members and 8 percent of top managers in Fortune 500 companies.

The book offers strategies for younger women who seek high-level jobs and families, and to older women hoping to resume, after taking a break to raise families, their climb to upper management and break through what Mason calls "the second glass ceiling."

"If they have the opportunity, mothers go back to work in their 40s, but a lot end up in second-tier jobs," Mason said. "They're not players anymore. They've lost their position in the game."

Mary Ann Mason (Peg Skorpinski photo)

During her first year as graduate dean in 2000, Mason assembled a research team to look into how having families affect both men and women in academia. The results led to family-friendly policies at UC Berkeley for faculty and graduate students that have made the campus a tenure-track model for the nation.

Though the number of women entering graduate and professional schools is steadily rising (approximately half of UC Berkeley's graduate students are female), Mason said her research shows that most women drop off the fast track some time between starting their Ph.D. and landing their first tenure-track job.

After all, the "make-it-or-break-it" years, according to Mason, are between ages 30 and 40, when both men and women must make their professional mark. Yet, it is also during these years that women hear their biological clocks ticking most loudly and the pressure to start a family crests.

Another challenge for today's women, Mason says, is a backlash she calls the "new mom-ism" - the push for mothers to devote enormous amounts of time and energy to their children. "In the past, we were never expected to spend this much time with our children," Mason said.

Essentially, "Mothers on the Fast Track" is a sequel to Mason's 2002 research project, "Do Babies Matter?" which documents the effects of family on academic careers. Along with her longtime research collaborator Marc Goulden, Mason analyzed various databases that track women who enter Ph.D. programs, as well as women in law, business, medicine and the media.

For the 2007 book, Ekman, a medical social worker at San Francisco County General Hospital and an aspiring journalist, conducted interviews with dozens of women ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s.

From 1966 to 2000, the book says, the number of women with Ph.D.s rose from 10 percent to more than 40 percent, according to figures provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet, in a 1999 survey of UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory students, 59 percent of the female post-doctorates with children polled cited the concern over how to balance career and family as a main reason for leaving the sciences.

To remedy such trends in both the academic and corporate worlds, employers must provide more flexibility to working mothers through reentry options and upper management training, the authors write. In addition, legislation is needed to prevent maternal discrimination, just as it guards women from sexual harassment and other threats in the workplace, Mason said.

Mason is a former lawyer and an expert on child custody issues. "Mothers on the Fast Track" is largely inspired by her personal struggle to balance family and career, as well as by her interactions with female graduate students who would frequently ask her, "When is the best time to have a baby?"

She is the author of "From Father's Property to Children's Rights," "The Custody Wars," and "The Equality Trap." Last month, Mason received the Berkeley Citation, one of the campus's highest honors, in recognition of her outstanding service to UC Berkeley and its graduate students.

As UC Berkeley's first female graduate dean, Mason said she used her "bully pulpit" to push through family-friendly policies. Her efforts helped secure more than $500,000 in grant money from the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation to help UC Berkeley faculty members balance family and career.

The new campus policies include provisions for new mothers to take off two semesters to care for their babies, and part-time appointments to address family needs. Women's and men's use of these provisions cannot be used against them in their performance reviews. As of this fall, women doctoral students who hold fellowships or posts as graduate-student instructors or researchers at UC Berkeley will be eligible for six weeks' paid maternity leave.

Mason said when she talks with female graduate students about the trends outlined in "Mothers on the Fast Track," they get "glummer and glummer." But she encourages them to keep up the good fight.

"The culture does change, especially when you have women in top positions," she said. "Women can have it all, they just need more support."

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