Undine pointed me to the latest not-surprising news about women and administrative service. One of the studies cited in the IHE article focused on the the three years immediately following tenure -- in which 16 of 20 women found themselves with "significant increases in their service obligations" but only 5 of 20 men did. I haven't read the actual study to know how the samples were selected (from the same discipline? from related ones?) but the numbers certainly aren't surprising to me. Especially since I'd have been one of the 16 of 20.
I'm in an English department, which means we have almost equal numbers of tenured women and men. (14 tenured women and 15 men in literary studies by my count; the numbers in the other areas are roughly similar). In the 10 years that I've been in the department, we've had two chairs: both men. All the other administrative positions in the department, ranging from advising positions that give you 1 course reduction, to full-time administrative roles like directing the graduate program, have been held by women. The chair's position is the only administrative post in my department that also comes with a salary increase.
Was I invited, encouraged, pressured, or exhorted to take on the administrative job I did? yes, to all of the above. I did, however, go into it knowing at least some of what it would entail. I figured I had the organizational skills to handle it and that I could take advantage of the partial teaching reduction to try and develop a new research agenda. (Which I did, but only after the first year which was mostly spent figuring out all of what was required.) I also went into it wanting to find out whether administrative work was something I'd be interested in as a career path, since that's one route to more geographic mobility and financial compensation.
I discovered that although I'm capable enough for such work, even good at many parts of it, it's NOT AT ALL what I'd want to spend the rest of my career doing. And that was really, really, useful to find out now, when I'm still early enough in my midcareer to make adjustments.
But it's still sobering to find oneself so clearly described by a statistical trend. I'd attribute at least half of my organizational ability to my personality type (INTJ). But probably about half of it is due to cultural conditioning. I know for a fact that at least two other female colleagues and myself worked as secretaries in the distant past of our student years; I seriously doubt any of my male colleagues did. And although good administrators don't necessarily have to have good clerical skills (witness my chair, who has a secretary who actually types his correspondence), it doesn't hurt. For instance: I know how to make a graph, a pie chart and a spreadsheet -- and I also know how to make an argument to our upper administration based on the information contained in them. Filing information and retrieving it is second nature to me. Many of my male colleagues have made a virtue of their incompetence in such areas as email, photocopying, agenda setting, meeting planning, and other basic organizational skills that I honed in my years as a clerical assistant. If you are perceived as disorganized or inept, you don't get asked to serve in administrative roles; that rules out about half of my male colleagues right away.
The other way to be ruled out from consideration for administrative service is to be perceived as socially disruptive, personally vindictive, or just kind of insane. I have both male and female colleagues who are exempted from service for this reason. But again, cultural conditioning tends to reward women for good social skills, for thinking of the impact of their behavior on the community, and for diplomacy. It's not that we're necessarily happier with how things are going, but we're less likely to bang our shoes on the table and storm off in a huff.
The worst part about leaving my administrative job is that too many of my colleagues seem to think that I'm just taking a break for a little while and then they'll get me into some other such position. This is not going to happen, since they can't actually make me.
I can't hide my knowledge of email and Excel, but I've decided to try and channel one of my male colleagues who doesn't ever do anything he doesn't want to do. He'll serve on certain committees for the department or university when he thinks it's important. But most of the time? he comes to campus only when he feels like it, he teaches his classes and meets with his students, and he writes. I do care about the functioning and the future of the department, but not at the expense of my own intellectual development and my own career (both of which were slowed, but not stopped). This fall I'm on leave -- and it feels freeing and full of possibilities, but also like I'm playing catch up. And that's a bit disheartening.