Career flexibility and family-friendly policies: an NIH-funded study to enhance women's careers in biomedical sciences

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2011 Oct;20(10):1485-96. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2011.2737. Epub 2011 Aug 22.


Background: Although women receive nearly half of all doctoral degrees and show a high interest in academic careers, the pipeline is leaky. The challenge of balancing life course events with career trajectory is an important determinant leading to premature dropout or slower career advancement. This report describes the findings of the first phase of a National Institute of Health Office of Research on Women's Health (NIH ORWH)-funded study using survey and academic data for exploring satisfaction and awareness of/intent to use specific career flexibility options at the University of California, Davis (UCD).

Methods: All men and women faculty in the UCD's Schools of Medicine (SOM) and Veterinary Medicine (SVM) and College of Biological Science (CBS) were surveyed. Data also were obtained from deans' offices on use of family-friendly benefits by faculty.

Results: Three hundred twenty-five total survey responses were received from the SOM, 83 from SVM, and 64 from CBS, representing 42%, 46%, and 52% of their total faculty, respectively. In each school, large percentages of men (32%-60%) and women (46%-53%) faculty have children under 18 and a moderately high level of demand of family care responsibilities. Women were significantly more likely to be childless, particularly in the SOM (35% vs. 14%, p<0.001). For all schools, documented use of any family-friendly policy was low (0%-11.5%), as was awareness of policies, although both were significantly higher for women than for men. Significantly more women than men wanted to use policies or chose not to, particularly in the SOM (51% vs. 28%, p<0.001, and 37% vs. 23%, p=0.016, respectively), because of multiple barriers. Faculty in all schools agreed/highly agreed that policies were important to recruitment, retention, and career advancement.

Conclusions: Family-friendly policies are pertinent to men and women, as both demonstrate interest and need, linked to increased career satisfaction. A family-friendly policy is important, particularly for women in the biomedical sciences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biological Science Disciplines*
  • Career Mobility*
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)*
  • United States
  • Women, Working*
  • Workforce