White House and National Science Foundation Announce New Workplace Flexibility Policies to Support America’s Scientists and Their Families

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 26, 2011.  Today, White House Council on Women and Girls Executive Director Tina Tchen, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John P. Holdren, and National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Subra Suresh announced the “NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative,” a 10-year plan to provide greater work-related flexibility to women and men in research careers.  Among the best practices that NSF will expand  Foundation-wide, are ones that will allow researchers to delay or suspend their grants for up to one year in order to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or fulfill other family obligations. — maximizing current policy to facilitate scientists’ reentry into their professions with minimal loss of momentum.
“Jump-starting girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math—the so-called STEM subjects — and boosting the percentage of women employed in science and engineering is not just the right thing to do but is also the smart thing to do for America’s future and the economy,” said Tina Tchen.

“Too many young women scientists and engineers get sidetracked or drop their promising careers because they find it too difficult to balance the needs of those careers and the needs of their families,” said Subra Suresh. “This new initiative aims to change that, so that the country can benefit from the full range and diversity of its talent.”
Later today, First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at a White House event about the importance of supporting and retaining women and girls in STEM careers.  At this East Room event, the NSF will discuss today’s announcement about retaining women in STEM fields. Tune in to to join the event live at 4 pm EDT.
“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone,” said Mrs. Obama.  “We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
NSF—which is the leading source of Federal grants for many fields of basic research crucial to US technology development and job creation, including computer science, mathematics, and the social sciences—is also calling upon universities and research institutes to adopt similar policies for their employees and grantees.
Women today currently earn 41% of PhD’s in STEM fields, but make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty in those fields.  Reducing the dropout rate of women in STEM careers is especially important in the quest for gender equality because women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and the wage gap between men and women in STEM jobs is smaller than in other fields.
NSF has launched targeted workplace flexibility efforts in the past, but the new initiative is the first to be applied Foundation-wide to help postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty members more easily care for dependents while continuing their careers. The new initiative will offer a coherent and consistent set of family-friendly policies and practices to help eliminate some of the barriers to women’s advancement and retention in STEM careers. It will: 

  • Allow postponement of grants for child birth/adoption – Grant recipients can defer their awards for up to one year to care for their newborn or newly adopted children.
  • Allow grant suspension for parental leave – Grant recipients who wish to suspend their grants to take parental leave can extend those grants by a comparable duration at no cost.
  • Provide supplements to cover research technicians – Principal investigators can apply for stipends to pay research technicians or equivalent staff to maintain labs while PIs are on family leave.
  • Publicize the availability of family friendly opportunities – NSF will issue announcements and revise current program solicitations to expressly promote these opportunities to eligible awardees.
  • Promote family friendliness for panel reviewers – STEM researchers who review the grant proposals of their peers will have greater opportunities to conduct virtual reviews rather than travel to a central location, increasing flexibility and reducing dependent-care needs.
  • Support research and evaluation – NSF will continue to encourage the submission of proposals for research that would asses the effectiveness of policies aimed at keeping women in the STEM pipeline.
  • Leverage and Expand Partnerships — NSF will leverage existing relationships with academic institutions to encourage the extension of the tenure clock and allow for dual hiring opportunities.

The Administration has been highly focused on the goal of increasing the participation of women and girls in STEM fields. The White House has encouraged and celebrated the participation of girls and women in STEM fields through initiatives like Educate to Innovate, which, among other goals, focuses on improving STEM education for underrepresented groups, including girls, and the President’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition, which rewards states that develop strategies to broaden the participation of women and girls and others underrepresented in science and engineering. To achieve this, states applying for these funds receive competitive preference if they demonstrate efforts to address barriers to full participation of women and girls in these fields.

The President has appointed a strong team of women leaders to his Cabinet and White House staff, including several female scientists including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (an engineer), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco (a marine scientist), US Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt (a geophysicist), and Director of the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Regina Dugan (a mechanical engineer).

The White House has also been committed to making the government a model employer in the area of workplace flexibility. In March of 2010, The President’s Council of Economic Advisors issued its first ever report on the economic benefits of workplace flexibility, concluding that it strengthens a company’s bottom line while helping workers meet the needs of their families and stay in the workforce. The President hosted a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility and the Department of Labor led subsequent efforts around the country to promote workplace flexibility and generate best practices in the private sector. To strengthen the government’s position as a model employer in this area, the President signed the Telework Enhancement Act, which requires Federal agencies to take a number of significant steps to promote the use of telework, including appointing a senior telework managing officer in each Federal agency.

Several independent organizations and academic associations today announced initiatives in coordination with NSF and the White House, adding momentum to a nationwide shift that promises to strengthen the US economy and job security even as it strengthens families across the country. Among them:

  • The White House Council on Women and Girls and Office of Science and Technology Policy are launching a “Women in STEM Speakers Bureau.” Designed to spark the interest of girls in grades 6-12 through engagement with women-scientist role models at the top of their fields, the Speakers Bureau will deploy top Administration female STEM specialists to roundtables with students across the country.
  • The National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity will announce an expansion of its signature initiative, the STEM Equity Pipeline, to provide professional development training for high-school and community college faculty and staff in STEM fields.
  • The Association for Women in Science is launching a new initiative that brings together representatives from government, industry, and academia with the goal of improving STEM workplaces to promote gender equality and retention, re-entry, and re-training for women.
  • The National Girls Collaborative Project will announce the FabFems Project to promote career development for young female STEM students through an online networking platform that will include female educators and professionals in STEM fields.
  • The American Association of University Women will announce the expansion of successful regional programs aimed at engaging girls in STEM subjects to a national level.
  • The Association of American Universities and the Association of Public Land-grant Universities will commit to looking for ways that the many institutions they represent can do more to develop, support, and promote more flexible work and learning environments for those in STEM and other disciplines.