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Press Releases :: March 3, 2011

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson Reintroduces Bill To Promote Gender Parity Among University Engineering And Science Faculty

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) today announced that she has introduced H.R. 889, the Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act, which passed the House in the 111th Congress as part of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.  The legislation promotes gender parity in the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at the university faculty level.  The provisions of H.R. 889 are derived from recommendations of the 2006 National Academies report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering,” which found that women are under-represented in the STEM fields, in part due to gender bias.

Today, women receive only 20 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in engineering and physics.  Women make up a small percentage of science and engineering faculty members at major research universities and tend to receive fewer institutional resources for their research than their male colleagues.  A significant portion of those institutional resources are paid for with taxpayer money—the federal government provides over 60 percent of research funding at institutions of higher education.

“While the situation has improved greatly in the last few decades, female students and professors continue to face obstacles to advancement in many of the STEM disciplines. Gender bias doesn’t just hurt those students and professors,” said Ranking Member Johnson, “it hurts all of us, because it diminishes our global competitiveness in science and technology.”

The Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act of 2011 directs each federal science agency to hold or sponsor workshops on gender bias with members of grant review panels as well as engineering, mathematics, and science chairs at institutions of higher education.  Agencies are directed to collaborate to ensure that they minimize duplication and maximize existing resources to carry out these workshops. 

The legislation also directs all federal science agencies to develop policies for extended research grant support for researchers who have care-giving responsibilities.  Only a few federal science agencies currently have such policies.  It also directs the agencies to provide guidelines for researchers to hire interim technical support during times of family leave.  This policy will help to support all STEM faculty – male and female – who have caregiving responsibilities.

Finally, the bill requires the National Science Foundation to collect detailed demographic data on STEM faculty across the country, in order to help institutions of higher education and federal agencies to better target their efforts to reduce barriers to women pursuing academic STEM careers.

 “This bill will help address many of the remaining obstacles faced by women faculty in STEM disciplines,” said Ranking Member Johnson.  “In addition, by requiring family-friendly policies that benefit both women and men, it will help to make an academic career in STEM a more attractive option for all of our young scientists and engineers.”


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