We already know that working moms have a lot to juggle and meeting career goals while caring for a young child has a unique set of challenges. Being the primary caretaker of my child since my husband is often away on duty, my ability to travel for work-related conferences or even client projects is very limited. Having to find additional childcare arrangements is complicated and adds a financial burden that my company is not responsible for. This means I forgo many opportunities or opt for internet-based conferences or local events with daycare-friendly hours.
Today I’m sharing an interview with Chapman University’s Patricia C. Lopes, Ph.D. Dr. Lopes is a working mother in academia who has faced the challenge of participating in conferences due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, and being the caretaker of a baby.
Dr. Lopes is part of a group called “Working Group of Mothers in Science,” which has researched the “baby penalty” many working mothers face as they try to do it all. The group published an opinion piece titled How to tackle the childcare-conference conundrum, which states:
The bottom line is this: Primary caretakers of dependent children face inequitable hurdles to fully attending and participating in conference activities because of responsibilities related to pregnancy, breastfeeding, and caretaking. It’s a serious problem because it creates a culture of inequity for parents, with mothers generally experiencing greater disadvantages than fathers because of biological, prejudicial, and often socially driven childcare demands. With solutions seemingly elusive, many women, and occasionally men, make a calculated decision to forego conference attendance and suffer the career consequences.
The article suggests many ideas for how to support working mothers and why the institutions and businesses hosting the conference would benefit, also. Some suggestions include:
- Offer financial support for individually arranged childcare at smaller conferences or onsite childcare for larger conferences to allow regular check-ins with parents and support breastfeeding.
- Offer discounted registration to parents who can attend only a portion of the conference.
- Allow babywearing in the conference halls, seminar rooms, and poster areas.
- Consider family-friendly dates and venues (as it is challenging to find daycares open on weekends and holidays).
You can find the full opinion article here: How to tackle the childcare-conference conundrum.
Here is my interview with Dr. Patricia Lopes:
We understand you have a Ph.D. and are a researcher in the field of biology and behavior. What drew you to that field of study?
I love animals and I really like understanding how nature functions.
Tell us about your children. Are they in daycare or are they school-aged now?
I only have one child. He is a little over one year old and he just started walking! He goes to daycare.
Did you anticipate the hurdles in being a mother in academia and conference participation before becoming a mom?
No, I hadn’t considered the specific difficulties related to my job. I just figured that in general, for most jobs, certain hurdles would be there as a new mother.
You have been a speaker at conferences all over the world, how did you manage that balance of family responsibilities and career goals during those essential events?
I have yet to attend a conference since my baby was born. I was invited to give a seminar at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, when my baby was about 6 months old. My partner had to accompany me on that trip and watch the baby while I went to the university for the seminar and other meetings.
Has your institution intervened to help ease those challenges?
I haven’t yet had to ask my current institution for help with these types of challenges. I’m happy to be at an institution that understands how important it is to spend time with your newborn baby and has a wonderful parental leave policy.
How have you found ways to overcome the challenges and continue participating in academic conferences after having a child?
Well, I guess I am not a good example in that sense. I never overcame the challenges – I simply disappeared from the social aspect of the academic world (conferences) once my baby was born. Now that my baby is less physically dependent on me, I am considering attending conferences again. It always involves coordinating with my partner, who is also an academic, to make sure one of us is not traveling and that the daycare is not closed that week!
What other struggles do you face as a working mom in today’s busy society?
The same as I imagine most parents do: wanting to be really good at my job and simultaneously wanting to be really good and present as a parent.
Dr. Lopes is interested in understanding the causes and consequences of animal social behavior, with an emphasis on disease transmission. Her research integrates several levels of biological organization, including genes, hormones, the brain, the individual, and ultimately the dynamics of a whole social group. In her work, Dr. Lopes combines field and laboratory manipulations, and makes use of behavioral sensors and tracking technology, as well as a range of molecular and histological techniques.
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