Jenny Baker
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Work–Family Conflict and Professional Conferences: Do We Walk the Talk?

H. Kristl Davison, Appalachian State University; Vipanchi Mishra and Sarah Blose, West Chester University of Pennsylvania; and Emily Ferrise, Appalachian State University

“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.”

--Nelson Mandela

Over the last year and a half so many aspects of our lives have changed due to the global pandemic. And one of the things that many of us have missed is the opportunity to convene with our fellow SIOPers at the annual conferences. SIOP conferences are wonderful experiences; we go there to learn about the latest research and practice, network with others who share our passions for the field, visit with old friends and make new ones, and of course, enjoy the great venues (New Orleans, Austin, DC, Chicago, Orlando, Honolulu!, to name a few). The virtual conferences of 2020 and 2021 have continued to serve the SIOP community in many of these respects, but many of us still miss the in-person aspects.

But over the last year and a half, many of us have probably considered how some aspects of a virtual conference (no flight, hotel, or meal costs; convenience) actually are better. When conferences are in person at great venues, one of the selling points is the exciting activities outside of the conference. Wouldn’t it be fun to bring the family along, so they can go to the museums, zoos, theme parks, and so on while we attend sessions? One of the authors recalls her father (breadwinner) attending sessions at a conference (not SIOP) while she (preschooler) and her mother (homemaker) toured New Orleans. But is this stereotype still true? Here are some more modern scenarios as SIOPers contemplate attending the annual conference in person:

  • Hooray, SIOP in person! Oh, wait—it’ll be in April, and the kids are still in school. They’ll have to stay home with my spouse/partner. I’ll have to check out Seattle without them.
  • Darn it—we’re a dual-career couple and both of us want to attend SIOP. Guess we’ll do rock-paper-scissors again to see who gets to go.
  • Ugh—I’m a single parent. I better go beg a relative to watch the kids so I can go to SIOP.
  • Help!—I just had a baby and am still nursing. At least there’s a nursing mothers’ room, but can I actually attend sessions with my infant, or will I spend all of SIOP wandering around the posters?

Unfortunately, this kind of work–family conflict is all too common in many professional fields. But in the field of industrial-organizational psychology, work–family issues are a core research topic. So, when it comes to promoting work–family balance for our members, do we walk the talk?

A Very Brief Overview of Work–Family Conflict

Over the last 40 years, a great deal of research has focused on issues of work–family (or work–life) balance (e.g., Eby et al., 2005; Shockley et al., 2017). Much of this research has dealt with gender-related issues, given women’s greater participation in the workforce throughout the latter part of the 20th century (e.g., increasing from 29.6% in 1950 to 46.8% by 2016; Department of Labor, 2021), as well as changing gender roles within the family. In particular, as more families involve dual-earner partners who both work and share childcare responsibilities (see Greenhaus et al., 2000), or a working single parent, research interest in the work–family experiences of parents is likely to continue.

Work–family balance may be viewed as having different dimensions; for example, Frone (2003) suggested that work-to-family as well as family-to-work effects are possible and that one can help or hinder performance in the other (i.e., facilitation and conflict, respectively). Here we are focusing on the work–family-conflict dimension given the harmful health and organizational consequences of such conflict (see Frone, 2003). Although empirical research on whether women do experience more work–family conflict than men has found mixed results, a recent meta-analysis by Shockley et al. (2017) found that mothers reported greater family interference with work than fathers did. Additionally, in dual-earner couples, women reported greater family interference with work than men did.

One area that has often been overlooked in terms of work–family conflict is professional conferences. In many fields, attendance at professional conferences is considered important not only for maintaining credentials but also learning about the latest research. Additionally, conferences provide opportunities for networking with other professionals, research collaborations, contacts for jobs for oneself or one’s students, connections with funders, as well as provide skill-building opportunities (Mata et al., 2010). Thus, although attendance at conferences may be viewed by some as a “boondoggle,” there are valuable career-related reasons why attendance at conferences is valuable (Mata et al., 2010). Moreover, conference attendance is particularly important for those early in their careers, but that presents a challenge for individuals who are trying to balance careers and childrearing (Calisi, 2018). Parental responsibilities such as breastfeeding and childcare may affect women more than men, and when women choose not to attend professional conferences for childrearing reasons, their careers may pay the “baby penalty” (see Mason, 2013).

For parents, the options for childcare during conferences may be limited. One parent may choose to leave children at home with the other parent or another relative (e.g., grandparent). Such options may not be very viable if both parents wish to attend the conference or if relatives are not in close proximity to the parents (as is often the case in our geographically mobile society). Moreover, it may not be possible for aging relatives to care for the children, as increasing numbers of Americans find themselves in the “sandwich generation,” caring for both younger children and elderly parents (Parker & Patten, 2013). Some parents may choose to take the children with them to the conference, especially infants who are nursing. However, whether conferences in the field of psychology and management are providing sufficient resources for parents is the primary question addressed in this research project. Specifically, we looked at whether conferences mentioned providing resources listed below on their websites:

  • Lactation room availability
  • Childcare availability
  • Childcare grants
  • Children allowed to attend the conference
  • Family networking opportunities
     

Method

Inclusion Criteria

For the purpose of this study, we only focused on major professional conferences in the field of psychology and management held between 2017–2019, as the pandemic dramatically changed conferences in 2020–2021. We focused on larger and more prominent associations with 500 or more members because they were considered more likely to have resources to address the work–family issues in comparison to smaller associations. We also focused on conferences conducted at the national/regional level, as attendees at local conferences may not face the same kind of childcare issues, if, for example, attendees can easily commute to the venue and attendance does not require an overnight stay (however, attendees at local conferences may still face work–family issues).

For psychology conferences, we identified the various divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA) that had more than 500 members listed on the APA website, resulting in a total of 38 divisions. Next, we identified major national conferences for each division from the division websites. In addition, 12 additional national associations in the field of psychology were identified through a Google search. Many of the APA divisions listed the APA Convention as their division’s primary conference; this reduced the number of psychology conferences to 26. To identify management conferences, a list of management associations was obtained via Wikipedia. We followed the same inclusion criteria, in terms of the association having 500 or more members, and the primary conference conducted at the national or regional level. A total of 17 management associations and associated conferences were identified that met our criteria. Thus, a total of 43 conferences were coded for childcare-related information provided on their websites for 2017, 2018, and 2019 meetings. Where possible, the month of the conference, mean age of the members, and the gender balance of the membership were also coded.

Coding of Childcare-Related Services at Conferences

Each conference website was coded for the availability of the following childcare-related information: lactation/nursing-mother’s room; children provided with guest badges; children allowed to attend sessions; family-friendly activities in the venue mentioned; parent lounge or children’s play area; family networking opportunities; childcare on site; list of childcare providers; childcare availability; pricing of childcare; and childcare grants. Descriptive information such as examples of family networking or family-friendly activities were also compiled.

Results

A review of data published on conference websites of 43 major conferences held in 2019 indicated that eight (18.60%) of the conferences listed availability of a nursing-mother’s room, and only four (9.30%) of the conferences mentioned childcare on their website (see Table 1). A list of childcare providers was provided on four conference websites; of these, three conferences mentioned availability of childcare services on-site, three provided information about day/night childcare availability, and three listed information on pricing for childcare. Two conferences provided parent lounge areas at the conference venue, and two provided opportunities for family networking. In addition, only two conferences mentioned providing guest badges for children, two conferences allowed children to attend conference sessions, and five conferences advertised family-friendly activities in the venue.

 

Table 1

Summary of Childcare Services Offered by Psychology and Management Conferences

Held Between 2017–2019

Childcare services

2019

2018

2017

 

(out of 43)

(out of 21)

(out of 14)

Lactation/nursing-mother’s room

18.60% (8)

33.33% (7)

42.86% (6)

Children get guest badge

4.65% (2)

0% (0)

0% (0)

Children attend sessions

4.65% (2)

9.52% (2)

7.14% (1)

Family-friendly activities in the venue described

13.95% (6)

4.76% (1)

7.14% (1)

Parent lounge or play area for children

4.65% (2)

0% (0)

0% (0)

Family-networking opportunities

4.65% (2)

0% (0)

0% (0)

Mentions childcare

9.3% (4)

9.52% (2)

21.43% (3)

Childcare on-site

6.98% (3)

0% (0)

7.14% (1)

Childcare provider list

9.3% (4)

4.76% (1)

14.29% (2)

Childcare availability

6.98% (3)

0% (0)

7.14% (1)

Pricing of childcare mentioned

6.98% (3)

0% (0)

7.14% (1)

Childcare grants

2.33% (1)

0% (0)

0% (0)

 

At the time of this review, data for only 21 conference websites were available for the year 2018, as information about conferences prior to the current year often had been removed from the websites. A review of data published on these websites indicated that 7 (33.33%) of these 21 conferences listed the availability of a nursing-mother’s room. Only one conference listed family-friendly activities in the venue such as availability of theme parks, and so forth. Two conferences allowed children to attend sessions, and only one conference mentioned childcare on their website. For the year 2017, data for only 14 conferences were still available on the websites. Six (42.85%) of these conference websites listed the availability of a nursing-mother’s room at the conference venue. One conference allowed children to attend sessions as well as listed the availability of family-friendly activities at the conference venue. Three conferences mentioned childcare on their websites, with one listing on-site childcare and two listing childcare providers in the area.

Moderators

We also looked at factors that may influence childcare services offered by conferences, including percentage of women in the association, management versus psychology conference, and whether the conference was held during the school year (see Table 2). Findings suggested that psychology conferences were more likely to mention providing childcare-related services, conferences were more likely to mention childcare-related services when they were held during the school year, and more services were offered if the primary association had more than 50% female members. However, given the very small sample sizes here, the differences are generally nonsignificant, so further research is warranted.

 

Table 2

Childcare Services by Type of Conference, Timing of Conference, and Gender Proportion of Membership

 

Type of conference

Timing of

conference

Gender proportion of primary association

 

 

Management
­­(N = 17)

Psychology
(N = 26)

Not during school year (N = 9)

During school year (N = 30)

< 50% Female (N = 8)

> 50% Female (N = 35)

Nursing-
mothers' room

1

7

2

6

4

4

 

Children get guest badge

1

1

1

1

0

2

 

Children attend sessions

1

1

0

2

1

1

 

Family-friendly activities in venue

3

3

1

5

0

6

 

Parent lounge/ play area

0

2

1

1

0

2

 

Family networking

0

2

1

1

0

2

 

Mentions childcare

0

4

1

3

1

3

 

Childcare on-site

0

3

1

2

0

3

 

Childcare provider list

0

4

1

2

1

3

 

Care available

0

3

0

3

0

3

 

Pricing

0

3

1

2

0

3

 

Grants

0

1

0

1

1

0

 

                         

 

Discussion

In this preliminary investigation of support for parents at professional conferences in psychology and management, we found to our surprise that very little information was publicly available on the current conference websites or in the past conference programs. The majority of websites did not mention childcare availability, children’s access to the conference, or family networking, and few conferences noted even having a lactation/nursing-mothers’ room. We find this lack of attention to an important work–family issue particularly troubling in light of the fact that these conferences were selected from the fields of management (including human resources) and psychology (including psychology of children and women), two fields that seemingly should be well-versed in work–family issues. Moreover, the field of psychology has a relatively balanced gender composition (e.g., APA membership in 2017 was 57.8% female), and thus women’s work–family issues would not be unfamiliar to the field. We should note, however, that many of the psychology divisions listed the APA Convention as their primary conference and that the APA website did provide detail as to children’s conference activities and childcare providers, with a section on “Information for Families” on their conference website.

Additionally, although a few conferences did occur during the summer, when attendees might bring their families, 69.77% of these conferences occurred during the school year. This may be one reason why very little information was provided about childcare; there may be an implicit assumption among conference organizers that attendees will not be bringing children (as the latter will be in school). In support of this proposition, SIOP has typically not provided information about childcare in recent conferences, but when the conference was in Hawaii in May 2014, detail was provided about childcare (although this information has since been removed from the website). Thus, it is plausible that there is an expectation that childcare is not an issue that needs attention for professional conferences that occur during the school year. However, it is interesting to contrast two major conferences—the APA Convention and the Academy of Management Annual Meeting—both of which occur in August and regularly attract over 10,000 attendees. Whereas the APA Convention website addressed various childcare issues such as providing a list of childcare providers in the area, highlighting family-friendly activities in the venue, and providing play areas for children, the Academy of Management Annual Meeting only listed the availability of a nursing-mother’s room at the conference on its website.

A substantial problem in doing this research was the lack of information available on the conference websites. In many cases, information about prior conferences had been removed from the websites, and thus only the conference program was available to examine, if anything at all was available. For this initial investigation, we did not contact the conference organizers to obtain additional information because we believe that websites and programs are the primary source of information for most conference attendees. If the website does not post such information prominently, it suggests that conference organizers might not have attended to such issues. Given today’s technology, it seems to be an unnecessary step to force attendees to contact the conference organizers to obtain information about childcare.

Another particularly troubling finding from this investigation is that psychology and management may be lagging behind other fields that are more proactive in providing support for families to attend conferences. Several recent popular press articles have discussed the issue of childcare at conferences focused on the STEM fields (see Grens, 2017; Langin et al., 2018). For example, in an examination of 18 conferences, Langin et al. (2018) noted that a lower percentage of conferences in the life and social science fields (which had larger proportions of women) offered childcare accommodations. This is consistent with the pattern of results obtained here, that so little detail about childcare was mentioned in the psychology and management conferences (i.e., part of the social sciences). It may be that the STEM fields have become more cognizant in recent years of the need to retain women in the field and are taking proactive steps to do so. Thus, future research should examine other social science conferences, as well as arts and humanities, and STEM fields, which may have different gender proportions in their membership.

From a practical perspective, more attention is needed by conference organizers on enhancing work–life balance for their attendees. Calisi (2018) recommends making conferences family friendly by including affordable childcare, “babywearing,” family-friendly dates and venues, lockers and refrigeration to support lactating mothers, and parental social networking. Further, such social networking could be used to help parents arrange for babysitting with other parents or students. Conference organizers should also be aware that care is needed during daytime sessions as well as at night for social functions. Additionally, providing the option for presenters to hold sessions via web conferencing might be a reasonable option for new parents.

We should note that as a step in this direction, SIOP recently instituted a Family Care Grant for caregiving support to facilitate conference attendance for up to 20 members (graduate students and early career professionals; see Gaskins et al., 2021; https://www.siop.org/Foundation/Awards/Conference-Awards). However, just as employers have begun to more sincerely attend to work–family balance, professional associations should also begin to make their conferences more inclusive for families. We see this as a priority for the fields of psychology and management to “walk the talk” when it comes to the work–family balance of their members.

References

Calisi, R. M., & a Working Group of Mothers in Science (2018). Opinion: How to tackle the childcare–conference conundrum. Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(12), 2845–2849. Downloaded from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5866621/.

Eby, L. Casper, W., Lockwood, A., Bordeaux, C., & Brinley, A. (2005). Work and family research in IO/OB: Content analysis and review of the literature (19802002). Journal of Vocational Behavior, 66, 124–197.

Frone, M. R. (2003). Work–family balance. In J. C. Quick & L. E. Tetrick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 143–162). American Psychological Association. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/10474-007

Gaskins, V., Van Egdom, D., Davison, K., Mishra, V., Thompson, R., Brady, J., Filipkowski, J., & Zelin, A. (2021). Supporting caregivers at the SIOP conference. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 58(4).

Greenhaus, J. H., Callanan, G. A., & Godshalk, V. M. (2000). Career management. Dryden Press.

Grens, K. (2017, September 1). Baby on board. The Scientist. Retrieved from https://www.the-scientist.com/careers/baby-on-board-30991

Langin, K., Hu, J. C., His, M., Manzar, G., & Langin, K. (2018, December 19). Are conferences providing enough childcare support? We decided to find out. Science. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/12/are-conferences-providing-enough-child-care-support-we-decided-find-out

Mason, M. A. (2013). The baby penalty. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Downloaded from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Baby-Penalty/140813

Mata, H., Latham, T. P., & Ransome, Y. (2010). Benefits of professional organization membership and participation in national conferences: Considerations for students and new professionals. Health Promotion Practice, 11(4), 450–453.

Parker, K., & Patten, E. (2013). The sandwich generation. Pew Research: Social and Demographic Trends. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/

Shockley, K. M., Shen, W., DeNunzio, M. M., Arvan, M. L., & Knudsen, E. A. (2017). Disentangling the relationship between gender and work–family conflict: An integration of theoretical perspectives using meta-analytic methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102, 1601–1635.

U. S. Department of Labor. (2021). Facts over time—women in the labor force. Downloaded from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/wb/data/facts-over-time/women-in-the-labor-force#civilian-labor-force-by-sex


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