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October 4th, 2011

NSF launches new Career-Life Balance Initiative, workplace flexibility policies

Published on October 4th, 2011 | By: Kristen Brosnan

Credit: P. Wray; ACerS

Last Monday the White House and National Science Foundation announced a new 10-year plan to increase workplace flexibilities to support American scientists and their families. One of the benefits discussed in this announcement is being able to delay or suspend grants for up to one year after a birth or adoption of a child. More details about this announcement can be found on the White House website.

Among the statistics quoted in the press announcement:

Women today currently earn 41 percent of PhD’s in STEM fields, but make up only 28 percent 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.

Perhaps we will hear more details from NSF Director Subra Suresh at his plenary talk at MS&T’11 later this month.

The plan sounds like a step in the right direction because any woman in a STEM career can attest that sometimes we have trouble navigating our careers while balancing work and family needs. When I read The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering and Technology (published by the Harvard Business Review in 2008) I realized I was not alone. I was also shocked at the statistics for how many women leave STEM careers mid-career (52 percent!).

I think it is great that the NSF is addressing these issues and hopefully more funding agencies/universities will follow trend to help retain more women in science. For more on this topic, check out my recent blog post on “Navigating the Glass Maze.”

Brosnan is a writer and an editor of the Edison’s Desk blog, and a material scientist at GE Global Research.


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