Winning Ideas Support Dual-Career Couples

December 02, 2014

A dual-career couple employed by the University of Virginia submitted the winning proposal in the first “Tournament of Ideas,” a contest that invited staff, faculty, students and alumni to develop innovative ideas to address the challenges of dual-career hires for faculty and staff.

U.Va. CHARGE – a National Science Foundation-supported program to increase the number of women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and the social, behavioral and economic sciences – sponsored the contest.

The top reason female candidates give for turning down a U.Va. job offer is the scarcity of job opportunities for their partners or spouses, which becomes an issue in smaller cities like Charlottesville that are not part of a bigger urban hub.

Four finalists presented their ideas to improve the University’s ability to support dual-career couples at an event held last month. Hilary Bart-Smith, associate professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Donna Kauffman, recruitment and dual-career manager in Human Resources Consulting Services, served as judges, selecting the winners and runner-up.

A Global Job Market: Telecommuting

Michael Livermore, an associate professor in the School of Law, and Lia Norton, an editor of Darden Business Publishing, which creates case-based classroom content for management education, proposed a “U.Va. Telecommunity” pilot research project.

“Advances in communications and information technology have made telecommuting a viable employment option, but logistical, cultural and other barriers have prevented telecommuting from capturing more than a tiny sliver of the labor market,” Livermore and Norton wrote in their proposal.

Livermore joined the Law School faculty last year, relocating from New York University, where his partner, Norton, had an editing job with the Council on Foreign Relations. Relocating to Charlottesville meant Norton confronted “a substantially smaller job market,” he said. They looked into telecommuting, but it was hard to find employers.

“We’re not experts, but we could provide research,” Livermore said. That would include analyzing barriers to telecommuting, then forming a test group of partners in current and future U.Va. dual-career couples who are interested in pursuing telecommuting opportunities.

There are some specific – but narrow – career opportunities in the area, Livermore pointed out.

The research project would seek to address the barriers through cost-effective interventions that could include career counseling, creation of networking opportunities and creation of workspace options for telecommuters.

The researchers would reach out to large employers and companies located elsewhere to explain how telecommuting works, what its advantages are, and to present the network of professional individuals as a qualified pool of potential employees. Telecommuting employees show increased productivity, Livermore said.

Employers could be gathered in an easy-to-access clearinghouse, expanding the job market to make it global.

Although Norton has a full-time position with Darden, it’s not only the first job in a new place that matters, but also seeing a career path ahead, he added.

“Based on the idea of empowering partners to pursue their own careers, the project would encourage spouses and partners of newly hired faculty members to use their own talents, connections and aspirations, with the support of a U.Va. Telecommunity,” the proposal said.

“It would be attractive because Charlottesville is a great place to live,” he said.

Networking Administrators

U.Va. Ph.D. Alumna Murielle de Wekker was awarded runner-up for her project on “Improving Faculty Retention: A Networking Program for Spouses and Partners Seeking Employment as Administrators at the University of Virginia” that would match newly hired academic couples with dual-career couples currently employed at the University.

“I am really glad the U.Va. CHARGE committee selected my idea,” de Wekker said. “I am happy I was able to give voice to the higher education administrators’ community in this competition, as I was the only administrator among the four finalists – the other three finalists were faculty members.”

A former U.Va. administrator years ago and married to a tenured faculty member, de Wekker, a Curry School Ph.D. alumna, is currently looking for an administrative position again.

Research shows that networking – creating social contacts and personal connections – is a key factor in finding employment. The networking program can be easily implemented and has a high return on investment, she said.

“It gives dual career-couples currently employed at the University the opportunity to share their knowledge and contribute their expertise, which is a powerful way to engage faculty and administrators in solving an institutional problem. It’s also a way to show that the University values them and their experience,” de Wekker said.

“Because we are not new to the University, we already have networks of friends and colleagues, who have been helpful in my job search. I can sympathize with incoming faculty members and their spouses or partners who are new to the community and cannot rely on informal networks,” she said.

The networking program she proposed “would jumpstart the process of getting started and established at U.Va. and in the community at large, which would help with retention.” For instance, a mentoring couple could facilitate the introduction of a new job-seeking spouse to administrators across Grounds for informational interviews.

For an international dual-career couple new to the United States, they might need support targeted toward cultural and institutional norms. The mentoring couple could provide knowledge and guidance about learning different systems.

Next Steps

Because the issue of dual-career couples is so critical to faculty hiring and retention, Ian Baucom, Buckner W. Clay Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, has already met to discuss the proposals with the U.Va. CHARGE team of Gertrude Fraser, associate professor of anthropology and head of the five-year grant; Pam Norris, associate dean of research and graduate programs and the Frederick Tracy Morse Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; and program manager Kelly Feltault.

It will be up to the provost to plan how to implement the projects. John Simon, executive vice president and provost, has asked to review all the proposals submitted.

“Assembling and supporting a distinguished faculty is critical in advancing U.Va.’s mission and addressing dual career issues is important in this work,” Simon said. “I look forward to learning more about the solutions proposed during U.Va. CHARGE’s Tournament of Ideas.”

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications