Blog Equitable Conferencing: Caregivers Perspectives and Prospects

Assessing the Challenges and Barriers to Conference Participation

by Layla Alanazi, Virginia Common Wealth University:

As a mother of an infant and a toddler, a wife, and a Ph.D. student, I took the decision to take my children with me in all of the conferences which I plan to attend. My husband has been of great help to me as he babysits with them at the hotel where we are staying while I present, participant, and enjoy the conferences. While we both as a couple started our family as graduate students and we both have the same career bath, things do not always seem easy as it sounds. 

For me as a mother, planning to attend a conference while having young children is a challenge in many ways. First, there is no space or childcare accommodation in any of the conferences that I have been to except a few that provide nursing or breastfeeding rooms for mothers. Second, the financial difficulties that we undergo to go as a family to attend a conference is always a serious issue. Examples of these costs include purchasing air tickets, providing appropriate accommodations for a family, and childcare Third, I have to lose many conference opportunities or try other ways like coauthoring as a way to opt-out from presenting at conferences to meet my motherhood responsibilities. 

Attending and participating in conferences for a mother like me with young children sometimes feels like a burden. Not a burden in terms of money, but always in terms of time and the expectations for research, work, and the various school duties. While I do not believe it is a healthy thing for our family or others with the same situations to exceed those expectations, the culture of academia needs to change towards mothers with children. At the school level, there must some kind of policies granting incentives for women scholars with children to participate in conferences, most notably graduate students. Examples of those incentives can include reimbursing the student to cover for travel or childcare incurred costs. At the conference level, logistics should not impede the full participation of parents with children. These logistics can include arrangements, such as providing an affordable childcare zone, planning family-friendly activities, allocating nursing rooms for mothers, and organizing special receptions for families traveling with children. 

At the macro level, School policies need to be set fairly to save families in terms of providing an appropriate maternal leave, financial support, and accommodations, so that no student-regardless of his or her gender-is left behind. While no study shows how many women opt out of graduate school to meet their motherhood responsibilities, the current structure of academia has unfairly empowered men and childless women, and participate in systematically marginalizing women and their dependents. To better provide a healthy, non-toxic, and non-stressful School environment for mothers with young children, policymakers need to answer urgent questions: what policies have been made to address this challenge, and what steps have been taken to help remove the barriers to conference participation for this group? 

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About the author:

Layla is a Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy and Administration program at the Wilder School of Government & Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.  She holds a master’s degree in Global Human Resources Management from the Management School at the University of Liverpool. Also, she holds another master’s degree in Industrial Relations and Human Resources from the College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University. Her research interests include human resources management, organizational behavior, performance management, and public management.