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This week my wife (a medical school professor) will attend early morning meetings, and meetings that often run well past 6:00 p.m. This schedule of being expected to be at meetings before 8:00 a.m. and after 5:00 p.m. has been consistent throughout her academic medical career.

For the past two decades, my wife has been able to go to early and late meetings because of how she and I divided our parenting duties. I was responsible for getting the kids to school, and for picking them up. Daycare would be a bit more flexible, open to 6:00 p.m. The after-school program would end at 5:30. Once the kids aged out of the after-school program, they would need to be picked up from their sports and other programs at the end of the day.

Nowadays, the only family member that I need to get home to is the dog.

Both of our girls are off at college. We are empty nesters. Early morning meetings, or meetings that start after 5 are fine with me.

The question I’m hoping that we can discuss together is if meetings should ever be scheduled before 8 or after 5?

These early morning and evening meetings seem to be more common in academic life, and particularly common for those in leadership positions. Early mornings and evenings are often the only times when people can reliably get together, as commitments and meetings during the “normal” workday make it impossible to schedule meetings.

What I’m wondering is if early morning and evening meetings are a form of structural bias against employees with family obligations?

Attending pre-8 or post-5 meetings for parents with school-age children presents real challenges. As the primary parent for my kids, I was responsible for the before school and after school times. This involved not only pickups, but getting dinner ready and being available to help with homework.

In my family we made the choice that my wife would have a job that required her to work extended hours, and that I would have a job that allowed regular work hours.  My work teaching college and working in online education also allowed flexibility when the kids were sick, and for teacher in-service days or school holidays. We were lucky that we we’re able to make this tradeoff.

What does it mean for employees who desire leadership roles, but who are unable to work the hours that leadership often requires? There are large numbers of talented people on our campuses who are either single parents or who don’t have a partner that can fill the role of primary (flexible) parent.

What would it mean if a school simply said - no more meetings before 8 or after 5? Would the work of the university really stop?

Could it be that a policy that recognizes that employees have commitments outside of work would be a terrific recruiting and retention tool?

Do early and late meetings represent a form of institutional bias against employees with school-age children?

How many early morning or evening work commitments do you end up having?

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