SWE’s 2019 congressional outreach effort advocated key issues toward creating a more diverse and inclusive engineering and technology workforce. Participants gathered in Washington, D.C., March 27-28, spending the first day preparing for the visits. With nearly two-thirds of the participants being “first-timers,” the training proved especially valuable, encompassing background information and details on specific policies and legislation, role-playing, and small group meetings organized on a state-by-state basis.
This year’s training day also covered perspectives from Capitol Hill. With the opening of the new Congress in January, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, became the first African-American and first female chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. A longtime supporter of gender equity in STEM, Johnson was the first recipient of SWE’s President’s Award. Therefore, it was particularly meaningful to have a committee staff member, Sara Barber, Ph.D. (physics), speak on various issues. Dr. Barber was joined by Kelly Riddle, a legislative assistant for Jacky Rosen, a new Democratic senator from Nevada. Both Dr. Barber and Riddle emphasized the importance of women engineers discussing their own experiences regarding gender bias with House and Senate staff, and stressing the importance of science and STEM research and careers overall.
At the close of the afternoon, the energized group made its way to the Rayburn House Office Building for an evening reception. Stopping by to share a few words was Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill. Lipinski is one of the few STEM professionals in Congress and also a long-time supporter of SWE’s efforts.
In addition to introducing the legislators and their staffs to SWE’s efforts and positions, sharing personal stories, and addressing specific requests on pending bills, participants left behind copies of the State of Women in Engineering issue of SWE Magazine. Released in conjunction with the visits, the magazine covered research that provides the underpinning of SWE’s advocacy positions. Alongside the annual review of the social science literature on women in engineering and, more broadly, STEM fields, the magazine addressed the importance of male allies, exploring the question, “What Motivates Men to Champion Gender Diversity?” Insights from research on diversity training and the status of Title IX were also covered, along with a report on SWE’s recent research on gender bias in India.
Actual proof of the importance of sustained advocacy became apparent while SWE members were in D.C. when the Senate unanimously passed S.590, the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act. Pending approval in the House of Representatives, this act will award Congressional Gold Medals to Katherine Johnson; Christine Darden, Ph.D.; Dorothy Vaughan (posthumously); and Mary Jackson (posthumously). SWE endorsed this legislation last year, and continued to support it this year.
Additionally, shortly after SWE’s congressional outreach event, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019, legislation aimed at examining policies to reduce harassment in the STEM fields. That legislation was co-sponsored by Senators Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and was also endorsed by SWE.