Impact of Federal Agencies: Leading by Example39
Lauren Van Wazer, representing the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the White House, spoke to the importance to our nation’s engines of discovery, economy, and stability of understanding the issues and proven solutions concerning the inclusion of talented women of color in academia and in the scientific and technological workforce. OSTP advises on a broad array of policy issues ranging from energy and manufacturing to space policy, engages the federal government and the wider technical community in discussions of research and development budgets, and promotes interagency collaboration on science and technology policy issues. She emphasized that the U.S. must cultivate a workforce that corresponds to the diversity, creativity, and talent of the U.S. population as a whole.
Van Wazer described the Obama administration’s emphasis on increasing the participation of women, girls, and underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. President Obama has called for “all hands on deck,” and First Lady Michelle Obama has urged universities, federal agencies, and corporations to help clear the barriers for women navigating careers in the STEM disciplines. Van Wazer noted that the President and Michelle Obama understand that the government cannot single-handedly develop a comprehensive solution and remove all barriers in science and engineering, but they are committed to leading by example. President Obama has elevated the visibility of accomplished female scientists of color, by appointing Lisa Jackson, an engineer, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Regina Benjamin as Surgeon General; Peggy Hamburg as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Cora Marrett as deputy director of the National Science Foundation.
Federal agencies are actively promoting women of color in the sciences and engineering through investments that bolster institutional reform and pave the way for advancing outstanding women of color in U.S. universities. Examples include the National Science Foundation’s distribution of more than 1,000 new awards to women under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the NIH’s Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers’ formation of a Women of Color Research Network to provide networking, mentoring, and career development activities.
Van Wazer discussed the role of Title IX in universities’ efforts to create more hospitable climates for female students and faculty. Science- and technology-related federal agencies are assisting universities in preparing for their Title IX compliance reviews, helping the leadership at these institutions to understand best practices for creating institutional cultures that promote equal access for female students in STEM disciplines and provide supportive climates for women faculty. She noted that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) compliance review process revealed a number of best practices in US universities, and NASA
39 This session was moderated by Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor, University of Kansas.
has released a compendium, Title IX & STEM: Promising Practices for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics,40 which presents best practices for universities in improving outreach, admissions, and retention of women in tenure-track positions.
Van Wazer called on the academic community to commit to working with federal agencies and the private sector to identify and deploy the most effective solutions, ensuring that women scientists and engineers have the flexibility and support to enter and remain in the highest levels of research careers. She called on senior women, and senior women of color in particular, to step forward and mentor the next generation of girls who will be those who advance future U.S. scientific and technological innovation. Van Wazer emphasized the need to recognize accomplished women of color in science and technology. She asked the audience to submit nominations for Presidential awards of outstanding scientists who are women of color, noting that Presidential awards are given for accomplishments at many points along STEM career pathways and for a variety of types of achievement.
After Van Wazer’s opening talk, Bernadette Gray-Little introduced the session noting that in the United States, diversity in the general population is increasing and will continue. By 2050, ethnic/racial minorities will make up 54 percent of the population. Universities are seeing the trend reflected in their enrollment; however, scientific and academic communities do not show corresponding levels of diversity. Thus, students see too few role models and have difficulty envisioning success. In large numbers they are choosing not to pursue science and technology or to leave those paths early.
Gray-Little expressed her concern that the nation is not taking full advantage of all citizens, and she reiterated the comment offered earlier that the country needs “all hands on deck.” Given that the country is currently missing out on the knowledge, experience, and contributions of many of our citizens, she posed the question of how we maximize the talents of a wider range of citizens for the benefit of the nation and the world.
She noted that the salient question is not about diversity for diversity’s sake, but rather about utilizing the unique experiences and perspectives that women of color bring, and making sure that opportunities are available for their full participation and contribution to science and society.
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
Jeri Buchholz, NASA’s chief human capital officer, introduced NASA’s mission as being to ask and answer the most difficult scientific and technical questions ever asked by humankind, find solutions to those problems, make it possible for the resulting technologies to be turned over to the commercial sector, and promote new industries in the private sector. She described how diversity and inclusion permeate every management and program decision at NASA and noted that NASA plays a leadership role within the federal government regarding the employment of people in STEM fields.
At NASA, 89 percent of the workforce is in the fields of aerospace technology and engineering. Women of color make up 5.6 percent of NASA’s workforce, a percentage that NASA is working to increase and which Buchholz noted is more than twice that of the relevant civilian labor force, at 2.3 percent. To “move the needle” and substantially increase the
40 NASA. 2009. Title IX & STEM: Promising Practices for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Accessed October 21, 2013 online: http://odeo.hq.nasa.gov/documents/71900_HI-RES.8-4-09.pdf
representation of women of color among its workforce, NASA sponsors programs focused on strengthening the educational pathways in STEM disciplines through education and outreach programs for science and math teachers and middle-school girls, and through grants programs that include internships and scholarships.
Buchholz emphasized the importance of first-line supervisors in increasing the numbers of talented women of color at NASA, given these supervisors’ key roles in hiring, promoting, mentoring, and distributing work assignments. One strategy employed by NASA that has been successful is to increase division leaders’ awareness of the diversity (or lack thereof) in NASA’s workforce and to create a structure whereby they are accountable for their specific efforts to increase it. To this end, NASA launched its “State of the People” report, a short, visual report documenting the diversity of the NASA workforce throughout the organization, and division leaders are regularly convened to discuss the state of their divisions and their plans for improvement.
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Muriel Poston, director of the Human Resource Development Division of the Education Directorate at NSF, discussed initiatives at the agency, which is devoted to research and innovation through funding basic science. Regarding NSF’s workforce, Poston described the Committee on Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering and NSF’s biennial report with data on the participation of people from underrepresented minorities in its proposal pool and workforce. In NSF’s temporary and permanent scientific and professional staff, women of color made up 8.6 percent in 2007 and 10.3 percent in 2010 (30 and 50 individuals, respectively). Regarding principal investigators on NSF awards, women of color constituted less than 5 percent in 2004 and 2010, compared to white women, who constituted 17.5 percent.
NSF’s premier program supporting all women is the ADVANCE program (Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers), the discussion of which she deferred to the next panel on successful practices.
Poston discussed NSF’s Career-Life Balance Initiative, which grew out of the ADVANCE program. This initiative offers an opportunity for all women to look at how their funding can support dependent care or personal concerns that require them to step away from their research for a short period of time. The Career-Life Balance Initiative is also linked to NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development award (CAREER program) for pre-tenured faculty, as it provides additional funding for technical research support for women who choose to take dependent care leave.
Poston described NSF’s Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program, which sponsors formal and informal educational initiatives supporting women and girls from diverse populations. This program also invests in fundamental research on the types of barriers that arise for women in STEM careers and the theoretical frameworks for addressing those barriers.
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
Janine Clayton, director of Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH, introduced the agency and its mission to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature of the behavior of living systems and to apply that knowledge to improve human health. Among NIH employees at the GS13-15 levels in science and engineering fields, women of color make up 5.83 percent, of
which 4.61 percent are African American, 1.41 percent are Hispanic, and 0.21 percent are American Indian/Alaskan Native. Among NIH trainees, 6 to 7 percent are women of color (a percentage that does not include Asian women). While women constitute one-fourth to one-third of NIH grantees, women of color constitute just 1.4 percent.
Clayton described the activities of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, which was formed after the release of Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering in 2006. The current NIH director, Elias Zerhouni, and Vivian Pinn, the first full-time director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, sought to develop innovative strategies and identify tangible actions to address the concerns of women in NIH’s intramural and extramural communities.
The Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers includes several committees, each of which was charged with considering the impact on women of color in its area of focus. The Working Group includes the Women of Color Committee and the Women of Color Research Network (www.wocrn.nih.gov). The Women of Color Research Network’s website is a clearinghouse and a forum where scholars share information about role models, resources, and research on women of color in science and technology. The Research Network is open to all people concerned about diversity in academia.
Clayton outlined activities of the Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, which include:
• Increasing the family leave period for the NIH National Research Service Award
• Being a founding member of the mid-Atlantic Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, which helps dual-academic-career couples (www.midatlanticherc.org)
• Developing frequently asked questions that outline ways that child care can be achieved through NIH policies
• Developing a modification to the NIH biosketch that provides a place for a researcher to justify and explain gaps in his or her publication record
• Creating a “leave bank,” where intramural NIH researchers can donate unused leave time to others
• Co-sponsoring mentoring and career development conferences
• Expanding the eligibility for NIH re-entry supplements to include postdoctoral fellows
• Creating the three-year Back-Up Care program, which provides short-term care for children, elders, and adult dependents
• Establishing the “Keep the Thread” program, a re-entry program for intramural postdoctoral fellows that includes flexible scheduling options, part-time work options, and position-holding during extended leaves
• Planning the construction of additional onsite child care
Clayton described NIH’s commitment to informing future initiatives by funding research that identifies the factors behind the success of talented women in academic research programs—aspects of mentoring, aspects of interventions, and elements of barriers and obstacles. NIH released a request for proposals titled “Research on Causal Factors and Interventions that Promote and Support the Careers of Women in Biomedical and Behavioral Science and Engineering,” with one of the grants focused on women of color. Also, the director of the NIH has two advisory committees on the biomedical workforce and on diversity.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Jim Johnson, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Center for Environmental Research, indicated that there is about a 50-50 split between female and male program officers at the center. However, minority composition at the program officer level is only 10 percent. The center is working to create a comfortable environment that is similar to academic institutions but with less pressure. Johnson noted that there are various outreach programs at the EPA to encourage more minority students to study STEM; however, within the agency there are no differentiating programs for underrepresented minorities. Regarding its grants programs, Johnson noted that the EPA tracks the output such as publications and conference papers from principal investigators, trainees, and students funded by the grants. He concurred with other panel members that finding a way to increase principal investigators’ accountability and responsibility to better mentor young researchers is critical. Mentoring has been a key component of various EPA programs that target different groups, including undergraduate students, graduate students, and early-career researchers within the agency.
Responding to Joseph DeSimone’s question regarding challenges for universities to be in compliance with Title IX, Johnson noted that the impact of Title IX has been overlooked by academic institutions; however, it is a key component for success, and changes will be made, perhaps at a slower pace, in academic institutions.