National Science Foundation (NSF) —which is the leading source of Federal grants for many fields of basic research crucial to US technology development and job creation—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 (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) 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. 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. Now let’s hope universities adopt similar family friendly policies and practices within their own institutions!