#InspireInclusion: Addressing the Undue Service Burden Placed on Women Faculty in Psychology

Dr. Breaux is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on the social, emotional, and academic functioning of children and adolescents, particularly those with ADHD. She is also interested in understanding the role parents play in shaping children and adolescent's social-emotional development, with a focus on emotion regulation. Dr. Breaux is passionate about mentoring students, promoting policies that encourage work-life balance, and helping diversify the psychological sciences.

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Women have been increasingly represented among psychologists and psychological scientists, including in leadership positions. Gender gaps in hiring for tenure-track jobs and receiving promotion to associate professor have closed over the past 20 years (American Psychological Association, Committee on Women in Psychology, 2017; Gruber et al., 2020). These are huge achievements that should be celebrated this International Women’s Day. However, there remains a large gender difference in the undue burden placed on women faculty to perform higher levels of service.

Academic service is a broad category that typically includes service to one’s institution, service to one’s profession, and community service (Pfeofer, 2016). Examples of service range from invited-service such as serving as an Editor for a professional journal or President of a professional organization, which are typically viewed as prestigious and valued by universities, to less noticed services such as coordinating professional development activities for students/junior faculty or serving as a member of a student’s thesis committee. Although formal mentoring and supervision typically are documented on CVs and/or count under teaching, informal mentoring often is viewed as service. This informal mentoring involves “relational work” such as providing emotional or mental health support for students in crisis, career guidance, or life advice regarding decisions around starting a family (Hanasono et al., 2019). Research suggests that people who spend more time in service are also more likely to spend time mentoring (and less time on research; Misra et al., 2012).

Unfortunately, research on service burden within psychology specifically is scarce. As a result, Gruber and colleagues (2020) cited research from other fields to highlight that across academia, women are not only more likely to be asked to provide service (Misra et al., 2011), but are also more likely to say yes when asked (Mitchell & Hesli, 2013). Concerningly, women’s service is typically in positions that are less valued from a promotion and tenure standpoint (Monroe et al., 2008). Specifically, women are more likely to provide service that is internal to the university (e.g., informal mentoring, committee work) rather than more high-profile service to the profession that might also foster collaborations and recognition (Guarino & Borden, 2017; Misra et al., 2012). Additionally, women are more likely to have committee-service, but are less likely to chair committees (Mitchell & Hesli, 2013). Notably, this gender difference in service is particularly pronounced for associate and full professors (but minimal to not present for assistant professors; Guarino & Borden, 2017; Misra et al., 2011). Although much research has supported gender differences in service burden, these findings are not universal, especially after considering other relevant factors such as race and rank (Misra et al, 2012).

There is also research suggesting that this service burden for women extends beyond involvement in traditional service positions. For example, when women do rise to leadership positions (e.g., chairs, deans) they are more likely to have the position devalued and turned into a position that highlights the service components rather than it being seen as a position of status/power (referred to as gender devaluation; Monroe et al., 2008). This devaluation may discourage other women from seeking out leadership positions, particularly in light of “the intractable tension between professional success and family duties” (Monroe et al., 2008). This is concerning, as research suggests that within social sciences (including psychology), women had more departmental services when their chair was male (Guarino & Borden, 2017).

Collectively, this service burden likely contributes to the lower rates of publications and grants, and the significant under representation of women at the full professor level. Specifically, 1/3 of full professors are women relative to 3/4 of graduate students being women in psychology (Odic & Wojcik, 2020). Additionally, it may explain why women in STEM faculty positions report having higher levels of burnout than men (Pederson & Minnotte, 2017).

So where do we go from here to overcome this undue service burden and support advancement of women academics in psychology?

First, we need to gather more data to better understand service burden differences within psychology. Collective efforts through a large organizational body like the Chairs and Heads of Departments of Psychology (COGDOP), may be particularly beneficial. Two additional avenues to #InspireInclusion and address gender differences in service are 1) Increasing transparency around service load and 2) Better reward and support for service.

Transparency in service load such as annual department reports showing which committees all faculty are serving on at the department and university level, or dashboards highlighting various service responsibilities at the department, college, university, and professional level, could raise awareness of unequal burden. These metrics could then be considered for annual evaluations and promotion and tenure considerations. For example, someone carrying a larger service load may be evaluated somewhat less harshly if they were less productive in terms of publications and grants in a given year. Similarly, increasing departmental awareness regarding service burden and implementing policies at the department and university level that value service is also critical. Collectively, by increasing the relative weight service plays in salary raises and promotion and tenure decisions, we may help women rise to the rank of full professor, encourage women to seek out leadership positions, and decrease the gender pay gap. Finally, having chairs and program heads that are mindful of this gender issue, and who use strategies to protect and set limits for women faculty regarding service responsibilities is imperative. This may include assigning or delegating responsibilities equally across faculty, or using a rotation system rather than asking for volunteers or going to someone who they know will say yes.

Psychology as a field, and clinical child and adolescent psychology specifically, is ahead of many other academic areas in terms of gender representation and equality. However, as I and others have highlighted, we still have a way to go to reach true inclusion and equality and undo the burden women face in carrying the academic service load.

NB this blog has been peer-reviewed

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Breaux’s research is currently supported by the American Psychological Foundation and Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. She is a member of the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, an Affiliate Editor for Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and on the Editorial Advisory Board for JCPP Advances.


  • American Psychological Association, Committee on Women in Psychology. (2017). The changing gender composition of psychology: Update and expansion of the 1995 task force report. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/gender-composition/task-force-report.pdf
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