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Womxn are Carrying the Weight of The Great Recession: Inclusive, Meaningful Policy Could Help Lighten the Load

Womxn in Student Affairs
July 20, 2022 Natalie Brown, Ph.D. Truckee Meadows Community College

As we close out another academic year and move through the summer, for many womxn in student affairs, our work ramps up as we prepare to welcome new students and create programming for the upcoming year.  I reflect on colleagues who have expressed burnout, taken on more responsibilities due to vacancies, or departed higher education altogether.  Pew Research found the Great Resignation is set to continue with “lack of opportunities and burnout rising to the top of the list of drivers for those who had left or were actively considering leaving their employers.” The levels of burnout hitting womxn, working parents and BIPOC/LGBT communities particularly hard (Parker & Horowitz, 2022).

 

Deloitte’s recent Women @ Work report (2022), surveyed 5,000 womxn across 10 countries to understand their experiences in the workplace.  Deloitte found the pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on womxn driving alarmingly high levels of burnout leading to more womxn looking for a new role than in the previous year.  Flexible-working policies are still not the norm with just ⅓ of respondents saying their employer offers a policy at all and 94% fear utilizing such a policy may negatively impact future promotion or career growth.  In a hybrid-work environment, 60% of respondents feel they have been excluded from important meetings and decision-making opportunities while working remotely.  And even more distressing, Deloitte’s report found that harassment and microaggressions are on the rise, being experienced by a majority of respondents and often unreported due to fear of retaliation or that their employers won’t take action if the harassment or microaggression is reported.

 

From a policy standpoint, higher education faces perennial issues: access, affordability, safety, student wellness (to name a few) with inadequate funding divvied up by such metrics as percent Pell receivers, retention/persistence, or graduation rates.  We race to enroll and graduate students, with fewer resources in people and dollars than ever before, compounding the burnout felt by employees.  We tend not to link working environments and leadership quality as a measure of employee retention leading to student achievement, as research demonstrates in the K-12 sector (Burić & Kim, 2021; Madigan & Kim, 2021)

 

The Key with Inside Higher Ed podcast recently featured Kevin McClure, associate professor of higher education at the UNC at Wilmington, where he raises distinctions between turnover, burnout, and demoralization (Lederman, 2022).  Burnout may be partially attributable to many of the stresses faced during the pandemic, but that demoralization occurs when the espoused values of our institutions do not match the enacted values through actions, policy, or procedures.  He continues:

 

[D]emoralization is really about people not being able to enact the values that brought them to the work. If you say, I’m coming to this work with a strong ethic of care—I want to care for students, I want to care for my colleagues and I expect the same from my employer, but I’m seeing decisions in response to the pandemic that placed me in harm’s way or do not necessarily reveal or show that there’s a true ethic of care when it comes to our custodial staff,” it raises that question of, what is this place all about? What truly are the values guiding this institution?” (Lederman, 2022, 24:49)

 

As leaders in higher education and womxn in the profession, we are at a critical juncture.  We must lean into values-based governance, return to the basics, and take some time to self-reflect.  What are we about as individuals and as members of our institutions? Can I bring my whole self to the workplace? Are decisions being made that reflect my values and the espoused values of my institution?  

 

We have a complex situation ahead of us but we can make progress to positively impact womxn in higher education, the culture of the workplace, and our institutions overall.  We must actively engage in localized policy-making that recognizes and embraces how we have all been changed by the chaos and uncertainty of the COVID years, yet still maintain focus on supporting our institutions and the students we serve.  

 

Some suggestions on where we can each start is:

  • Get involved in Faculty or Staff Senate to advocate for yourself and others.

  • Address the burnout and demoralization head on with your student services teams.  Have honest, open conversations about how people are feeling and what they need and expect from leadership and the institution. 

  • Advocate for workplace policies that structure jobs and expectations that provide greater flexibility.

  • Collect data around what your employees are experiencing to ensure that policies and practices are localized and meaningful.

  • Instill a truly inclusive culture.  This involves two-way communication between leadership and employees.  All employees should feel heard, valued, and feedback used in the decision-making process.

 

For womxn in higher education, it has been a difficult couple of years.  If we do not focus on the public policy impacts close to home and enact change now, we will likely continue to see good employees departing in our desire to “get back to normal.”  We have all been changed and challenged by the pandemic; our policies and practices must reflect that change as well.

 

Natalie Brown, Ph.D. (she/her) has worked in higher education for over twenty years. She currently oversees Academic Advisement International Student Services and provides supervisory oversight for Recruitment and Access Services as well as the Financial Aid Office at Truckee Meadows Community College. She completed her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Utah.

 

References

 

Burić, I., & Kim, L. E. (2021). Job satisfaction predicts teacher self-efficacy and the association is invariant: Examinations using TALIS 2018 data and longitudinal Croatian data. Teaching and Teacher Education, 105, 103406. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103406

Deloitte (2022). “Women at work 2022.” Retrieved June 13, 2022https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/women-at-work-global-outlook.html

Lederman, Doug. (Host). (2022, April 14). Ep.77: Turnover, Burnout and Demoralization in Higher Ed (No. 77). [Audio Podcast Episode]. In The Key Podcast with Inside Higher Ed. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/audio/2022/04/14/ep77-turnover-burnout-and-demoralization-higher-ed

Madigan, D. J., & Kim, L. E. (2021). Does teacher burnout affect students? A systematic review of its association with academic achievement and student-reported outcomes. International Journal of Educational Research, 105, 101714. Retrieved June 13, 2022 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101714

Parker, K., & Menasce Horowitz, J. (2022, March 9). Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected. Pew Research Center. Retrieved June 13, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/09/majority-of-workers-who-quit-a-job-in-2021-cite-low-pay-no-opportunities-for-advancement-feeling-disrespected/