By Karen Horting, Executive Director & CEO, Society of Women Engineers
Times of change and transition are never easy or smooth, whether in industry, within government, or even in our own families. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Washington, D.C., as we transitioned to a new administration.
SWE is a nonpartisan organization with members from all sides of the political landscape. To fulfill our mission, we work with the new administration, as well as those with whom we have existing relationships — in Congress, the federal agencies, and the executive branch — on issues of importance to our organization, our members, and other stakeholders.
Our public policy and advocacy efforts remain focused on application and enforcement of Title IX across the STEM fields; adequate funding for STEM education, STEM basic research, and the development of a diverse STEM workforce that will be required to meet the growing demand for STEM professions; and, lastly, on work/life issues faced by women in STEM such as equal pay and family-friendly workplace policies. So what does that mean at this time?
FY18 Budget Request and Recent Actions
The FY18 budget request released in May was of concern to SWE and many other STEM organizations because it poses major cuts to funding for scientific research and STEM education. And even though the proposed FY18 federal budget is likely to change as it is considered and amended by the U.S. House and Senate, the proposed cuts signal alarm for women in engineering and technology.
If passed unaltered, the proposed FY18 federal budget will negatively impact the pipeline of engineering talent that is critical to increasing access to jobs to strengthen the U.S. economy. The proposed budget also cut or significantly reduced funding to dozens of agencies that provide critical research. For example, the total FY18 budget proposed for the National Science Foundation is $6.65 billion — a decrease of $840.5 million from FY17. In addition to funding critical research, NSF funds programs that strive to increase the participation of individuals who are traditionally underrepresented within the STEM profession.
To address these concerns, SWE issued a call to action asking members to contact their elected officials to advocate against the cuts proposed in the FY18 budget, using templates in SWE’s Legislative Action Center found on www.swe.org. We also signed on to recommendations from the STEM Education Coalition, of which SWE is a member.
Next, we continued to support Title IX implementation. SWE signed on in support of the Patsy T. Mink Gender Equity in Education Act (GEEA). Introduced by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, J.D. (D-Hawaii), on the 45th anniversary of the enactment of Title IX, the GEEA seeks to provide more resources for educational institutions to implement Title IX.
Originally passed in 1972, Title IX prohibits discrimination by federally funded education programs based on sex. Despite being passed more than three decades ago, the need to fully implement Title IX still remains urgent to ensure equality for women, especially in engineering and technology education programs where women are underrepresented. According to Hirono’s office, the GEEA legislation would “provide resources, training, and technical assistance to fully implement Title IX and reduce and prevent sex discrimination in all areas of education” along with specific recommendations for how this can be accomplished.
White House Meeting
Most recently, we had the opportunity to meet with the policy team at the White House working to implement the agenda championed by Ivanka Trump. I was able to share details of SWE’s STEM Re-Entry Task Force. The returnship concept was of great interest. This, hopefully, will lead to collaboration as they look for creative ways to drive forward the Working Families Agenda, which aims to keep more women in the workforce through family-friendly policies and return more easily after a career break.
In addition, the team was eager to engage with our K-12 outreach work, including SWENext and “Invent It. Build It.” A STEM event for girls is planned for later this year at the White House, and SWE may have the opportunity to nominate members as role models. I left the meeting feeling positive about the opportunity for SWE to help influence meaningful change for girls and women in STEM through collaborative efforts with Ivanka Trump’s team.
If you are looking to stay up-to-date on all of SWE’s public policy efforts, you can now do so through text alerts. Text SWE Advocate to 56512 to sign up. Time of transition? Yes. But it is also a time of great opportunity by remaining a consistent, credible voice for women and girls in engineering.