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‘Career-Life’ initiative benefits women in STEM

Published: Monday, October 3, 2011

Updated: Monday, October 3, 2011 01:10

Fewer women than men hold careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

According to a White House press release, women hold only 41 percent of Ph.D.'s in STEM fields and comprise only 28 percent of tenure-track faculty. While the gender gap is not new, the White House Council and National Science Foundation believe it's time for a change.

The White House Council on Women and Girls presented the "Career-Life Balance Initiative" on Sept. 26. The 10-year initiative strives to support America's scientists and their families, while also encouraging women to enter STEM-related fields. It is a step in the right direction for women in STEM professions, but the U.S. still has a long way to go.

According to Bloomberg, the U.S. is now the only remaining developed nation that does not offer paid maternity leave, with some exceptions by company or state.

While the U.S. has yet to offer that option to mothers, the Career-Life Balance Initiative aims to help parents in STEM fields maintain promising careers, rather than drop them to take care of their children. One promising aspect of the initiative is grant postponement and suspension after parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. This allows grant recipients to extend or defer grant money until they return from maternity leave.

The initiative also works to encourage young girls' interests in these subjects, the "smart thing to do for the economy," said Tina Tchen, the White House council's director, in a press release.

Programs such as "Educate to Innovate" and the National Girl's Collaborative Project's "FabFems Project," aim to open more resources to girls.

According to Live Science, boys are twice as likely as girls to be interested in a STEM career by eighth grade. Much of this is due to the way girls are educated. Teachers often encourage boys to figure out problems on their own, while experiments are instead demonstrated for girls, leaving many girls discouraged from STEM fields, according to Live Science.

It's time for the government to stop leaving women with no choice but to "opt out" of science-related careers, choosing to leave work to raise their families. What many fail to realize is that there are few resources, such as childcare or paid maternity or paternity leave, that can help women stay on track with their demanding careers after having children.

While paid maternity and paternity leave are still not national initiatives, allowing and encouraging researchers to continue working after leave is important.

It is high time that female scientists receive such recognition from the government for their work and progress. Next, the White House should make it possible for them to balance work and family by joining the rest of the developed world with paid maternity leave.

Jessica Schoenfeld is a sophomore majoring in women's studies and sociology.

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