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Society of Women Engineers Questions to the 2020 Presidential Candidates

As a vehicle for greater discussion on issues important to women in engineering and STEM, SWE posed several questions to the presidential campaigns of current President Donald Trump, Republican, and former Vice President Joe Biden, Democrat. This is in keeping with previous presidential elections in which the Society approached the presidential campaigns seeking greater clarity and insight on positions relevant to women engineers and the engineering profession. While SWE reached out to both campaigns repeatedly, by press time only the Biden campaign had responded with an op-ed, reproduced verbatim here. Should there be a late response from the Trump campaign, it will be posted verbatim on the Society’s website, alongside the Biden campaign’s response, to enable direct comparison.
Your Voice Matters!

1 Currently, women represent 12% of the engineering workforce, and of this small percentage, even fewer are women of color. At the same time, research indicates that diverse teams produce better results, making this lack of representation a serious disadvantage in terms of innovation and creative results. Given the business case for diversity, and the importance of engineering and the STEM professions to driving innovation and the economy, how would you address the problem of underrepresentation of women and minorities in engineering and computer science, and the physical sciences? 

2 Studies have consistently shown that, collectively, K-12 students in the United States fall behind their peers in other countries in terms of math and science performance. As these subjects form the basis of STEM fields, how would you promote and nurture interest in and preparedness in these subjects to ensure a healthy STEM pipeline? 

3 Historically, federally funded research and development efforts have resulted in key innovations and technological breakthroughs. What do you think is the appropriate role of the federal government in supporting research? Would you expand federally funded research and development efforts, and if so, how? 

4 Women who take time off from work because of family caregiving responsibilities frequently find it difficult to return to the workforce, despite their abilities and education. What types of programs, private/public collaborations, or partnerships would your administration put in place to make re-entry to the workforce more attainable?

5 Would your administration support some form of paid family leave — which would begin to put the United States on par with most other western nations? 

6 Title IX encompasses more than athletics and college education. Less known is the fact that federal agencies are required to uphold the law through a variety of policies and practices. A 2020 GAO report concluded that two federal agencies, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, lack finalized procedures for complaints, thus making it impossible to consistently handle them. The National Science Foundation, which received the majority of complaints shown in the GAO report, only recently started requiring reports of Title IX violations and Title IX-related suspensions from institutions receiving funding. As President, how would you increase enforcement on the agency level?

Response from the Biden Campaign

By Rep. Elaine Luria, Op-ed for SWE, Magazine of the Society of Women Engineers

The engineering industry is filled with possibilities as we work to analyze, design, create, and adapt to an ever-evolving world. We make things happen, we push the limits, and we move our nation and the world forward. 

I am a proud member of the engineering community. It was the honor of my life to serve in the Navy for two decades as a Surface Warfare Officer and engineer who operated nuclear reactors on aircraft carriers and complex Aegis weapons systems on cruisers and destroyers, deploying the latest innovation and technology in defense of our nation. 

Like the rest of the world, the engineering industry has been upended by the health and economic crises of 2020 – made worse by this Administration’s rejection of facts and science. Nearly a year since COVID-19 was first discovered, our national response remains grossly inadequate, and so many are struggling to get by. Women, and especially women of color, are having an even harder time – shouldering the burden of this pandemic for their families and spending many nights wondering how we’re going to get through this. We are essential workers on the frontlines. We are remote workers struggling to manage kids, elderly parents, piles of housework, and isolation. We are students navigating uncharted waters made worse because there is no captain at the helm of our nation’s response. 

On November 3 we have a choice to take our country in a different direction — to defeat this pandemic and build back better. I hope you’ll join me in voting for change, and here’s why.

First, we need leaders who will lead, who will care about what’s happening in our communities, listen to science, and take action to get this virus under control, deliver immediate relief to working families, and reopen our schools and businesses safely.

Vice President Biden will get us through this crisis by listening to the experts and letting science lead the way — and then he’ll build back an America that is better for women and their families on the other side of this. He has laid out a comprehensive agenda to support America’s women, to move us closer toward equality and inclusion, and to expand opportunity. And he has partners in Congress, like me, ready to work with him to enact it.

Investing in Job Creation

Vice President Biden will invest in manufacturing and innovation to create millions of new, well-paying jobs. As engineers, we know that if the government is a partner in providing workers and businesses with the tools they need to compete, we can innovate and make it in America. Rather than give huge tax breaks to corporations that take jobs overseas, Vice President Biden wants to invest here in the United States. He has a comprehensive strategy to remake American manufacturing and innovation that includes supporting manufacturers, particularly those owned by women and people of color. He will also make a bold Research and Development investment that could help create more than three million jobs and will increase our competitiveness globally at a time when China is on track to surpass us in R&D. This funding would spur innovation at our nation’s premier research facilities, colleges, and universities, lead to breakthroughs in 5G, artificial intelligence, clean energy, and other technologies that are crucial to America’s competitiveness and security, and grow small businesses by providing the capital financing to encourage R&D commercialization. It would create new partnerships to empower a generation of entrepreneurs, engineers, and skilled trade workers. Biden will also make a historic investment in procurement, providing a strong, stable source of demand for American products, and the ingenuity of the workers who envision, design, engineer, and manufacture them.

Innovating in All of America

The economic opportunities from investment in innovation have not been shared throughout the U.S. The lion’s share of venture capital goes to just three states, and women entrepreneurs only receive 16% of all venture capital dollars. Vice President Biden will ensure major research and public investment goes to all parts of America, benefitting women and people of color, ensuring sustainable small business growth, and supporting the formation of regional ecosystems of innovation and manufacturing.

Fixing the STEM Pipeline

I also know that a Biden-Harris Administration will make the investments in the engineering field that are needed. Women, particularly women of color, are underrepresented in our field. These are well-paying, in-demand jobs, and we ought to ensure that women can access the opportunities necessary to fill them — not to mention the benefits that diversity of perspectives and life experiences brings to a field like this. Vice President Biden has a plan for that, too.

A Biden-Harris Administration would expand educational opportunities in the STEM fields and encourage more women to pursue them. The Vice President has committed to creating vocational training and partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and employers that allow students to earn an industry credential and become career-ready out of high school. He will also fund state-of-the-art technical training programs around digital, statistical, and technology skills and expand work-based learning programs like apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, expanding pathways for women into STEM jobs that pay well. Vice President Biden will take on the student debt crisis, making it easier for women to pursue their degrees in this field.

Balancing Work and Family with Paid Leave and Child Care 

Vice President Biden will make it easier for Americans to navigate work and family responsibilities. He knows what it’s like to be a single parent and care for aging parents, and he’s committed to making it easier for families to balance those responsibilities with our careers.  The Vice President will create a national paid family and medical leave program to give all workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave, which is long past due. He also has a plan that would make substantial investments in the infrastructure of care in our country, making high-quality childcare more affordable and accessible for working parents. His plan incentivizes childcare providers to operate in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, expanding the availability of care. And for school-aged children, his plan will ensure after-school, weekend, and summer care is available for those of us who need it.

Increasing Safety for Women at Work, at Home, and on Campus 

Expanding economic and educational opportunities for women is key for our country, but a Biden-Harris Administration would also focus on the safety and security of women so that we can focus on our jobs without fear of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Vice President Biden has a long track record of standing with survivors against sexual assault and harassment, from writing and championing the Violence Against Women Act to leading a national effort to change the culture around sexual assault on college campuses. The Obama-Biden administration strengthened Title IX, but President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have rolled back civil rights protections of survivors on college campuses. Vice President Biden has always stood with survivors, and he will enforce Title IX on campuses and in the federal government to ensure claims are addressed and the rights of survivors are protected.

In the private sector, he will take additional steps to end harassment and discrimination in the workplace, which we know is all too commonplace and rarely addressed because workers are often forced to waive their rights through contracts and nondisclosure agreements. Vice President Biden wants to put an end to that; he’s committed to signing the Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace (BE HEARD) Act, a bill I am proud to co-sponsor in Congress to help businesses prevent harassment, strengthen protections for workers, and empower women to come forward. He has also committed to enacting the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which I recently voted for in the House, to end discrimination against pregnant and nursing workers. It’s long overdue to ensure that pregnant workers aren’t forced to choose between their work and the health of their pregnancy.

With Vice President Biden and Senator Harris in the White House, women will finally have a fair shot to get ahead. When I think of the possibilities for women and families, for our field, and for our country with a Biden-Harris administration, it gives me hope that we won’t just get through this crisis, but we’ll be able to design, develop, and build a more secure and prosperous future for ourselves and our families. 

But first we have to do the work to get there, so I urge you to visit today and make a plan to vote for Vice President Biden and Senator Harris. They are the proven leaders we need to move forward.

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria represents Virginia’s Second Congressional District. Prior to her election in 2018, Luria served two decades in the Navy, retiring at the rank of commander. Luria served at sea on six ships as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer, deployed to the Middle East and Western Pacific, and culminated her Navy career by commanding a combat-ready unit of 400 sailors. A member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Luria was one of the first women in the Navy’s nuclear power program and among the first women to serve the entirety of her career in combatant ships. She leads the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, and is vice chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. Of all members in the House Democratic Caucus, she served the longest on active duty, having completed 20 years of active military service with the U.S. Navy. Luria graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received a master’s in engineering management from Old Dominion University.

Advocacy Resources

Engaging members in policy issues that impact the advancement of women in engineering is one of many ways to support the Society’s mission. SWE concentrates on four key areas related to public policy. They include:

• Strengthening America’s schools as presented in SWE’s general position statement, “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education and the Need for a Technologically Literate Workforce.” 

• How Title IX can be applied to STEM fields as presented in SWE’s general position statement, “The Application of Title IX to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Fields.” 

• Strengthen the STEM workforce by ensuring equal opportunity for women in STEM education and careers as stated in SWE’s general position statement, “SWE General Position Statement on Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.” 

• Women need to be able to integrate the various aspects of their lives to be successful on their own terms, for both career and family, as presented in SWE’s general position statement, “The Need for Work & Life Integration Policies to Retain Women in STEM.” 

Learn more about SWE’s positions at, on the All Together blog, and through articles in SWE Magazine.

State-level resources

Many issues important to women in engineering and technology, however, are also decided on the state level of government. SWE is pleased to share resources for state-level advocacy, provided by organizations that share SWE’s commitment to advance STEM education.

State Policy and Advocacy Resources from the STEM Education Coalition:

STEM & Vital Signs (STEM stats by state) by the Education Commission of the States: 

Advocating for Science and STEM Education Created by BOSE Washington Partners for the National Science Teachers Association: 

Full toolkit: STEM Learning Ecosystems Advocacy Toolkit from the STEM Education Coalition: