Digest No. 02 - March 2017

Family Friendly Policies in STEM Departments: Awareness and Determinants

Su, X. and B. Bozeman. 2016. “Family Friendly Policies in STEM Departments: Awareness and Determinants.” Research in Higher Education, 57, 990–1009.


Xuhong Su and Barry Bozeman evaluate family-friendly policies as mechanisms for equity and inclusion among faculty members. Family-friendly policies work to “level the playing field” in the recruitment and retention of women and minority faculty members. A level playing field is particularly important for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) departments where women and minorities are underrepresented among the faculty ranks.

Su and Bozeman focus on whether the chairpersons of STEM departments at U.S. research-intensive universities are familiar with six family-friendly university policies. Su and Bozeman used data from the 2010 Survey of Academic Chairs/Heads, which was administered to all chairs and department heads (n=1,832) in 149 STEM doctoral degree-granting universities. A response rate of 43 percent coupled with the merging of the responses to the survey with another dataset resulted in a sample of 408 STEM department chairs at 135 research-intensive universities. Su and Bozeman report that little response bias exists in the demographic characteristics of this sample.

The survey evaluated the following six family-friendly policies for faculty members: (1) tenure clock stop, (2) paid family leave, (3) unpaid family leave, (4) onsite childcare, (5) spousal employment assistance, and (6) workload reduction for family reasons. For each of these six policies, department chairs were asked to indicate the existence of the policy at their university (1=yes, 0=No) and their degree of familiarity with the policy (1=not at all familiar to 4=very familiar).


Su and Bozeman report that, based on the survey responses, three of the six family-friendly policies exist at the majority of research-intensive universities of the STEM department chairs/heads who responded to the survey. More specifically, 60 percent of these universities have a stop-the-tenure-clock policy and 55 percent of them have paid and unpaid family leave as university policies. About one-third of chairs and department heads indicate that their university has onsite childcare (34 percent) or spousal employment assistance (33 percent); and 42 percent indicate that their university has a policy for workload reduction for family reasons.

STEM department chairs/heads express familiarity with a stop-the-tenure-clock policy, but less familiarity with the other five family-friendly policies. For the policy of onsite childcare, the respondents expressed the least degree of familiarity with this particular family-friendly policy.


Although this study focused on chairs/heads of STEM departments at research-intensive universities, its findings have clear implications for CIC presidents and chief academic affairs officers. Undergraduate instruction in the STEM fields constitute a marker of distinction for many CIC member colleges and universities. For such STEM departments to maintain their excellence, the recruitment and retention of academic talent is necessary. Accordingly, the rationale for this study and its findings indicate a need for CIC presidents and chief academic affairs officers to formulate family-friendly policies if they do not already exist. These policies level the playing field for women faculty and faculty of color to be successful in their academic careers at the college or university in general and in the STEM department in particular. All six policies warrant consideration, especially those that are relatively uncommon at research-intensive universities such as onsite childcare and spousal employment assistance.


Xuhung Su is assistant professor of political science at the University of South Carolina.

Barry Bozeman is professor and director of the Center of Organizational Research and Design in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University.


The following references are recommended for readers who want to learn more about family-friendly policies for faculty members.

Lewis, S. 1997. “Family Friendly Employment Policies: A Route to Changing Organizational Culture or Playing about at the Margins?” Gender, Work & Organizations, 41(1), 13–23.

Lewis, S. 2001. “Restructuring Workplace Culture: The Ultimate Work-Family Challenge.” Women in Management Review, 16(1), 21–29.

Raabe, P.H. 1997. “Work-Family Policies for Faculty: How ‘Career-and-Family Friendly’ is Academe?” Academic Couples: Problems and Promises, 208–225.

Storm, S. 2006. “Architecture of Inclusion: Advancing Workplace Equity in Higher Education.” Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 29, 247–334.