This morning Michael Austin posted his analysis of the percentage of faculty, administration, and staff at BYU, BYU-Idaho, and BYU-Hawaii over at BCC. It seems that nationwide the average number of faculty is around 40%, but BYU languishes behind at around 20%, BYU-H at about 15%, and BYU-I at around 11%. He went on to compare our numbers to other similarly conservative christian institutions with similar teachings on gender roles. (It’s a good post, go read it). What is instructive is that it isn’t specifically our belief that women should be in the home that feed into these numbers, because he shows how we hire women in droves to fill our support staff positions (which are less flexible and family friendly than faculty positions). Since I’ve worked full-time as support staff in the administration building at BYUI, I thought I’d share one experience I had that helps to explain the disparity.

I began at Ricks College as a student in the late 90s. I had a 32 on my ACT score and a 3.9 GPA and would have been able to get into my pick of schools, including BYU. My test scores earned me recruitment material from Tulane and the University of Chicago, and I would have brief daydreams of what my life would be if I chose to attend there. Those daydreams were set aside promptly, though, because I’d internalized my only purpose in life was to be a Mother in Ziontm and education was (at most) just a back-up plan in case my husband died. I chose Ricks College and enrolled with a major in Office Systems Management (a perfect back-up!). As a student in office systems management I took many classes with business majors and watched many of the OSM students (all female) have most of the top scores. As part of our degree we were placed as student secretaries in campus departments. I was hired in Public Relations as a student. After graduation a secretarial position opened up in the Executive Office. I applied and interviewed with the whole RC President’s Council as well as all of their secretaries. I was hired and worked there for almost two years.

I was fully orthodox and traditional in belief and practice at the time. When our area president Elder C. Scott Grow gave a devotional and talked about how grateful he was to have his wife bless their family by choosing to keep the commandment of being a stay-at-home mother, there were many women working full-time in the admin building who turned off their radios and shut their office doors so they wouldn’t have to listen to the rest of the devotional. I was shocked. My personal response to them was more along the lines of “the guilty taketh the truth to be hard.” So you can see why I didn’t have any personal issues or objections to the instructions I received during faculty interviews.

Ah yes, we can hire this women, she’s not wearing pants.

As part of my position I welcomed interviewing faculty to the office and was in charge of preparing a folder for each candidate that had their resume, a printed out picture I was to take when they arrived, and an area to take notes. I delivered each portfolio to the President’s Council members before the interviewees were called back. I had been instructed that when a male faculty interviewee came, I was to take their picture from the shoulders up. When the interviewee was female, I was to step back and take a picture from head to toe so the President’s Council could remember how the woman was dressed. I was told that if a woman arrived to interview for faculty wearing pants their portfolio would go immediately in the trash as soon as they left. People hiring were making sure only a certain kind of woman was allowed to work at BYU-Idaho (not the pants-wearing-to-interview kind).

This is just one example of some of the cultural dynamics that are playing into these numbers. There are a lot of layers of issues; from how we discourage women from pursuing education for education’s sake, to how they’re sometimes pressured into “easier” fields that don’t match their interests because they’d be family friendly (not always bad counsel, but it would be nice to encourage women to follow and develop their talents, interests in STEM, etc.), to how we can’t seem to develop a narrative that you can be a good mother AND _________. There is a lot going on here. Women who are in these positions also experience awful treatment and discrimination that could easily be reported to law enforcement. I’ve heard stories that would make your face melt off, but those are not my stories to share.

I also understand that these issues are not unique to LDS schools, gender imbalances exist in hiring practices due to discrimination AND choices of women (speaking as a stay-at-home-mother who is off-tracking during my kids’ younger years and currently planning on completing an MA around the time they graduate). I think the strength of Michael Austin’s thesis is that even amongst other conservative christian institutions who preach gender roles, we lag far behind.

P.S. this experience is one of the reasons wearing pants to church (in Rexburg) has become symbolically so meaningful to me.

P.P.S. for a more in depth treatment of these dynamics and treatment of female students and employees at BYU-Idaho, I invite you to read “Supporting our Women Students and Faculty” by a current female faculty member at BYUI published 2009 in their faculty journal.