The Monthly SWE Newsletter
March 2015
Public Policy

Will the Real Nancy Pelosi Please Stand up?

Last month, Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) was denied a request for a proxy vote in the leadership elections of the House Democratic Party caucus. She was unable to attend the caucus meeting because her doctor determined that it was unsafe for her to fly as she was eight months pregnant (she has since given birth to her daughter, Abigail). Because party caucus rules state that no proxy voting is allowed, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made the decision to reject Rep. Duckworth’s request to cast her vote from home.

I came to D.C. from California to advocate on behalf of women in STEM and am quickly learning about the real issues that impact our success, how things work here in D.C. and who our allies and champions are. Nancy Pelosi has been a rock. She has forcefully promoted “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds”—an economic agenda of the Democratic Party—and has publicly called out gender bias when it occurs (see video). Having Nancy Pelosi in Congress gave me hope. She has been a trusted leader; it is incumbent upon her to help us understand her position in this instance. She has said “the rules of the caucus are the same as the rules of the House. No proxy voting … the fact is that it’s really important to be here, to be in caucus. It’s more important to vote on the floor. If I were to make a fight, I’d vote to have a proxy vote on the floor [rather] than in whatever’s going on in the caucus.”

While we know that no request for a proxy vote has been granted in more than four decades, the argument of precedent is just not good enoughnot when it results in pregnancy discrimination.

There is a lot on the Minority Leader’s plate right now and it is important to pick your battles. But we need to let her know that we expect these rules will be evaluated and updated so they are in alignment with the nation’s values of equity and inclusion. I believe we would all rather hear a plan from Pelosi, instead of her simply saying “If I were to make a fight." When will our elected leaders review their own workplace policies to eliminate bias and overt discrimination?

Yvonne Rodríguez
Government Relations & Public Policy Associate

Final Work Assignment for the 113th Congress: Increase Funding for STEM Research

Congratulations to the European Space Agency (ESA) on reaching an awe-inspiring milestone in its work to understand the origins and evolution of our solar system. After a 10-year journey its orbiter, Rosetta, rendezvoused with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, releasing the small lander Philae onto the surface of the comet. Since then, the world has seen breathtaking images of the scene and the probe has detected organic molecules. The contributions of NASA and other US researchers and engineers to the Rosetta project, ESA’s capstone mission, include instrumentation and electronics.

“Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured a place in the history books: not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now also the first to deliver a lander to a comet’s surface,” noted Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director general.

Upon receiving news of the touchdown, many of us couldn’t help but reminisce about the Apollo Mission Control room—when the U.S. was a global leader in the space race. The U.S. was the first nation to put a human on the moon and we lead the world in the development of new technologies that emerged from the project.

Although NASA and a number of U.S. institutions did make contributions to the Rosetta mission, the world saw the ESA as the leader in this epochal achievement. While the U.S. still maintains a role as the world leader in science and technology, it’s been said that perception trumps reality. So, in the race to lead we may have already lost that first place position in the minds of many.

The reality is that the U.S. investment in research and development as a percentage of GDP lags behind South Korea, Finland, Japan, Taiwan and Germany. U.S. R&D funding is projected to drop even further over the coming years. Meanwhile, China is ramping up their science and technology spending and is on track to surpass the U.S. and the EU.

The 113th Congress has yet another opportunity to take positive action, with the added bonus of not completely wasting their lame duck session. We urge congress to pass an FY15 Omnibus Appropriations bill, rather than playing the same old game and passing another continuing resolution based on FY14 appropriation levels. This needs to be done ASAP and it needs to include increased funding levels that will adequately sustain our research efforts and enable high quality STEM outcomes.

What would it be like to see the 113th Congress move beyond gridlock to get this done? Can we transition to the 114th Congress with a greater sense of hope that things might be different come January? Would the global community then believe the U.S. plans to remain a leader in STEM research and development? Could it be a small step toward energizing STEM professionals at all levels?

SWE Advocacy Ramps up for Transition to 114th Congress

The outcome of the midterm elections is that both the House and the Senate will be under Republican leadership in the new term beginning in January. Until then, congress is in a lame duck session during which new committee leadership is being elected and new member and staff orientations are taking place. Some members and staff are working on their exit strategies and both parties are beginning to strategically position themselves for the 2016 presidential campaign.

In these final days of the 113th congress, we hope that someone is paying attention to the federal budget. The 113th congress did not pass a FY15 budget, voting instead to pass a continuing resolution (CR). The CR provides funding to the federal agencies at the FY 2014 rate until Dec. 11, 2014 unless legislation is passed stipulating otherwise. Federal agencies (now in FY15) are operating under the FY14 rates and the possibility of a government shutdown in December again threatens to negatively impact federally funded research and critical programs.

This is another example of the gridlock we have come to expect. If the 113th Congress does not pass a budget, it will fall upon the 114th to take it up. A post-election Pew survey revealed that only 18% of the survey participants think that relations between the Democrats and Republicans will get better. Most people expect the new congress will be the same as the 113th. And you know what Einstein said about doing the same things over and over and expecting different results—it is insane. In fact, other than impacting judicial decisions, it is unclear how anything will be different.

That’s why SWE advocacy is ramping up! We will let them know that the gender wage gap needs to be fixed. And we will keep fighting for funding for basic research, awareness on the impact of climate change, broadening participation in STEM and funding biomedical research and STEM educations. But we can only be effective if you are involved. With that in mind, we'll be providing avenues for you to get engaged. We want to hear from you and know what is affecting your lives, your work and your families. So, what are your top federal policy priorities for 2015?

SWE Voices Needed in Major Policy Debate Over Net Neutrality

Now that the midterm elections are over, all eyes in D.C. are on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as it considers new net neutrality rules. This discussion was brought to center stage this week when President Obama issued a statement putting pressure on the FCC to protect net neutrality. Influential in eliciting the president’s statement were the more than three million public comments received by the FCC regarding stricter rules for network management. If the FCC adopts President Obama’s recommendations, internet service providers (ISPs) would have to treat all internet traffic equally and would be prohibited from blocking any legal content or from intentionally slowing down or speeding up content for their own preferences. Additionally, to avoid special treatment, more transparency will be needed and a ban on paid prioritization will be required. However, the President also stated that there should be forbearance on rate regulation.

If the FCC is to design these types of rules, consumer broadband service will need to be reclassified under title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which makes it unlawful for “any common carrier to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.” Other vital services, such as telephone services, fall under this classification.

Those against net neutrality claim that treating the internet like a public utility will stifle innovation and believe that the management of the network should be left to network engineers. In February, republicans introduced H.R. 4070, The Internet Freedom Act, which is designed to prohibit the FCC from regulating certain network management practices of broadband internet access service providers.

Those in favor of network neutrality consider the stakes of this debate to be nothing short of maintaining equal access to information and opportunities. In June, democrats introduced HR 4880/S2476, the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2014, which directs the FCC to promulgate regulations that prohibit certain preferential treatment or prioritization of internet traffic.

While many communities are already experiencing unequal access to what technology and the internet can offer in terms of information, services and educational opportunities on the consumer side (which calls into question the forbearance on rate regulation), there is also unequal access on the business side, be it storefront or online. As more underrepresented minorities and women in STEM seek to bring their products to market and to create their own businesses, it will be harder for them to compete if they have to pay more to reach their clients at the same rate as larger companies, who can afford high priority access. An uneven playing field is an environment that not only impedes innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, but also effectively eliminates diverse contributions. Net neutrality, therefore, will enable a dynamic online marketplace. Would this debate be raging if it were not for the millions of public comments that the FCC received? Despite the gridlock that occurs in D.C., our voices can still be heard when we amplify them by joining the public conversation. Women in STEM have the opportunity to drive this conversation and influence public opinion. Please comment below and share your views. Also, contact your elected officials and share your expertise and opinions.

Successful Scientists and Engineers in Leadership

President Obama has appointed Megan Smith as the new chief technology officer for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). She is an internationally recognized and award-winning entrepreneur, engineer and tech evangelist. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. The new CISE director at the National Science Foundation, Dr. Lynne Parker is also an engineer.  In fact, Fortune Magazine just named their 10 most powerful women in business—9 out of 10 of them have STEM degrees. Though women in STEM have recently been selected for or identified in high-level, influential positions, we remain underrepresented at the executive leadership level.

Scientists and engineers at all levels have the ability to influence. There is a history of participation in defining the direction of social and scientific change. As women in this arena, we are poised to speak on the issues that impact our productivity and success.  We have a responsibility to speak out about our experiences and to lead the conversations and work that will result in solutions and persuade our legislators to make these issues a priority.

Women make up 17 percent of the congress and many are introducing bills that will address gender disparities—they need our support, diligence and our voices. As we approach midterm elections, ask your candidates where they stand on family-friendly work policies, equal pay, equal rights and research funding.

In the coming weeks, SWE and AWIS will provide education and engagement opportunities so that our members and associates can participate and advocate for women in STEM at the federal and state levels. Stay tuned.

Data and Accountability to Address Gender Bias in STEM Fields

A recent study published by the American Psychological Association analyzed nine years of data and found that 23 percent of black female freshman between 1990 and 1999 said they planned to major in STEM fields compared to 16 percent of white women. Data from the National Science Foundation demonstrates that in 2010, 8 percent of black women earned degrees in a STEM field, compared to 10 percent of white women. These studies are critical in identifying and defining the issues that lead to the underrepresentation of women in STEM. They also facilitate the creation of interventions and policy changes that can lead to system transformation.

Data is critical to this work. Recently, Congresswomen Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calling for a study to examine federal agency efforts to address gender discrimination in STEM. They recognize that talented women are dropping out of the STEM fields and are seeking remedies for the loss. Some of the issues under study are:

  • Title IX compliance
  • Pay equity
  • Gender equity in the tenure promotion system
  • Inclusion of women in leadership roles
  • Federal grant funding differences in STEM fields between male and female investigators
  • Gender disparities in federal agency reviews
  • What data about disparities is collected and how is such data monitored.

Both SWE and AWIS have participated in these discussions with the GAO.

The plight of women in STEM has caught the attention of many different groups who are launching studies to better identify where the issues exist. The No Ceilings Project at the Clinton Foundation seeks to evaluate the progress of women and girls over the past 20 years. The foundation hopes this study will help set a new agenda to advance women globally. It is imperative for women in the STEM fields to include their voices in this study by participating in their survey, which can be found on their website.

Current Congressional Bills that Impact Engineers and Scientists

SWE is committed to transforming the STEM workforce in order to maximize contributions from women. We are tracking the following list of bills that will enable family-friendly policies, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, create safe work environments and provide women in STEM with resources to start their own businesses.

  • Family and Medical Leave Act of 2013 (S.1810, H.R. 3712): Provides paid family and medical leave benefits to certain individuals.
  • Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199, H.R. 377): Amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex.
  • Women’s Small Business Ownership Act (S.2693, H.R.5584): Reauthorizes the women's business center program of the Small Business Administration. (This will provide women with the opportunity to obtain business loans and government contracts).
  • Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 (S.1752): Reforms procedures that determine which cases go to trial by court-martial for certain offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Currently, women cannot take sexual assault cases to trial without chain-of-command approval.
  • Campus Accountability and Safety Act (H.R.5354): Amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act to combat campus sexual violence.
  • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) (S.J. Res. 10): Proposes an amendment to the constitutions that prohibits denying or abridging equality of rights under the law by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

The ERA, an umbrella of equality under the law, could prove to be the most effective of all the bills listed. It would provide supporters of women’s rights to use the full force of the constitution when addressing the wide array of issues that currently impact women. Women in the 1970s worked tirelessly but couldn’t get a constitutional amendment ratified. Since then, the ERA has been reintroduced multiple times. Currently, the only right specifically outlined for women in the constitution is the right to vote. According to Justice Scalia, the constitution does not prohibit sex discrimination. Until it does, we will continue to have long, bulleted lists of much needed legislation designed to eliminate gender disparities one item at a time.

Congress in Action: Maintaining the Gender Pay Gap

Congress returned from their August recess on September 8 and was adjourned by September 19th. While in session, the Paycheck Fairness Act was discussed in the Senate. It died there.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199) in April 2014. It seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to more effectively eliminate the gender gap in wages created by discrimination on the basis of sex. In it, employers are required to provide “bona fide” proof that a disparity in pay is not due to sex discrimination. Also included is a no retaliation provision that protects employees who file complaints, penalties for violations and an establishment of a national award for pay equity in the workplace.

The passage of this amendment is long overdue. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that women are making 78 cents for every dollar that men make for the same work. The percentages are even lower for women of color as African American women are making 64 cents, American Indian women make 59 cents and Hispanic women make 54 cents on the dollar when compared to Caucasian males. NSF data reveals that the median annual salary of scientists and engineers in 2010 was $83K for men and $69K for women. The Paycheck Fairness Act would create a safer environment for women to contest pay equity issues and in the long run help to close the wage gap.

Though this topic was discussed on the floor of the Senate, no decision was reached as Senate Republicans effectively blocked a vote on the bill via a strategic filibuster and Democrats were unable to get the three-fifths votes needed to end the filibuster (cloture). The cloture rule is the only formal procedure for breaking a filibuster. Making no progress, the Senate moved on to other matters. A cloture motion was previously rejected back in April, 2014, making this the second time that the Paycheck Fairness Act was killed on the Senate floor.  The House of Representatives will be back in session on Nov. 12 and the Senate will be back on Oct. 15t.

SWE and AWIS Amplify Message with Strategic Public Partnership

The Society of Women Engineers and the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) are pleased to announce a partnership uniting 50,000 voices to advocate on behalf of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The two organizations will collaborate on timely public policy initiatives designed to better the lives of the roughly 1.8 million women working in these fields while working for a positive shift in the public consciousness concerning equality in STEM workplaces.

Since 1971, AWIS has tirelessly advocated for equality for women in all areas of STEM. Most recently, AWIS has focused on key issues of equality including the expansion of Title IX, pay equity and expanding the representation of women in leadership roles.

SWE continues to spearhead initiatives designed to improve the lives of both women in engineering and the STEM community as a whole. This year alone, the Society has organized the "Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM" Capitol Hill Day, exhibited at Women's Policy Inc's (WPI) STEM Fair on Capitol Hill and participated in the White House Summit on Working Families.

Through their respective efforts and decades of work, SWE and AWIS have each made great strides in the quest to establish equality and encourage gender diversity in STEM workplaces. In uniting their efforts, the two groups are now poised to become the definitive voice of advocacy for women in STEM.

National Science Foundation Toolkit Highlights Impact of NSF Investments

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released a robust toolkit that includes new videos, infographics, fact sheets and brochures that describe NSF investments in fundamental research and how they contribute to the nation's science and engineering enterprise.

Part of the toolkit package is an animated, NSF-produced video that describes the agency's rigorous merit review process. The agency also developed an infographic series titled "Data by Design: Snapshot of NSF's Programs, Processes, Funding & Impact." The charts within showcase the Foundation's role in building tomorrow's workforce, driving innovation, influencing national and international discoveries and facilitating interdisciplinary collaborations.

In addition, NSF has developed brochures that highlight each directorate's contribution to pushing the frontiers of science, engineering and education. These contributions include the fundamental research that led to self-driving cars, the artificial retina, modeling seismic waves, an increase in accuracy of GPS devices, equipment that relays real-time emergency information to emergency workers and residents, unraveling cancer, rescue robots, building a diverse STEM workforce, and more.

The toolkit may be viewed here.

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