Creating equitable academic workloads – lessons from the US

It will come as no surprise that the same inequities in workload allocation we found in our analysis of the SAGE Bronze Award applications are replicated internationally – women academics spend more time on teaching and service than men do. Not apparent in our analysis, but also of no surprise is that underrepresented minorities do more diversity and mentoring work than their majority counterparts. And, as we all know, these inequities have real consequences for progression and retention of women and other underrepresented groups.

The Faculty Workload and Rewards Project (FWRP) at the University of Maryland was a five-year action research project, working with 51 academic units across 20 US universities, to establish equity-minded reforms to workload.

The Project identified six conditions that support equitable workloads and suggested ways to promote these.

ConditionExamples of ways to promote this condition
Transparency – data on workload is visible to everyoneDashboards
Transparent policies & practices for assigning work
Clarity – expectations of workload are clearPublished expectations guidelines
Compensation for key roles
Credit – the full range of work activities are recognised & rewardedCredit systems policy
Credit swap system
Norms – workload equity is normalised and reinforcedPlanned rotation of roles and tasks
Context – workloads respond to individual strengths, interests and demandsDifferentiated workload policy with options for negotiated deviations
Accountability – mechanisms are in place to ensure staff fulfill their workload obligationsReduced & restructured committees
Statement of expectations
Table 1. Conditions and corresponding practices that support equitable academic workloads, as identified by the Faculty Workload and Rewards Project.

They then worked with individual academic units to drive systemic change to reform their workload allocation through training on workload inequity, creating a department workload dashboard, and developing an equity action plan. They supplemented this with voluntary, individual professional development on assignment and uptake of, and reward for, work activities.

A report on the project has been published, with many of the supporting tools also being made available. Additionally, a webinar on the Project is available, providing an overview of the Project from the Principal Investigator, and also reflections from two Heads of Department involved.