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SWE Advocacy Alert: Senate STEM RESTART Act

STEM RESTART Act introduction shows advocacy does work.
2019 Public Policy Highlights & New Opportunities For Advocacy In 2020


Last month, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) demonstrated how long view advocacy can make for real change for women in STEM.  SWE worked with Senate offices to support the bipartisan introduction of the S.4677, the STEM Restoring Employment Skills through Targeted Assistance, Re-entry, and Training (RESTART) Act by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS). The bill incentivizes small and medium-sized businesses to start their own returnship programs in order to hire more women and underrepresented individuals in the STEM professions.

Getting more women back to work safely is a priority for SWE. The organization prioritizes the technical science and engineering fields as the country continues to deal with the pandemic and economic competition from other nations that look to improve their STEM competitiveness. Many stories and SWE’s very own surveys have indicated that women are disproportionately being affected by the need to take care of kids while working and struggling to remain in the workforce; it is vital that programs exist to reengage them when they are ready. According to the Department of Labor statistics issued with the last jobs report (on 10/2/2020), over 800,000 women had left the workforce since August. In the same time period, just over 200,000 men left the workforce.

The one-pager for the bill noted via the Center for Talent Innovation, “while 93 percent of off-ramped women want to resume their careers, only 74 percent manage to get any kind of job at all and just 40 percent successfully return to work full-time.” Returnships, like those promoted by Fortune 500 companies like Apple, General Motors, Merck, Northrop Grumman, and The Procter & Gamble Company help close the gender gap.

In fact, SWE Executive Director and CEO Karen Horting was quoted in Sen. Rosen’s press release expressing that sentiment, noting SWE’s longstanding support of return-to-work programs through its corporate partners and programs such as the SWE/iReLaunch STEM Reentry Task Force that help lessen the skills, opportunity, and access gaps in STEM for women.

This bill shows that advocacy works. SWE started the STEM Reentry Task Force in 2015 and expanded its reach with new corporate partners being added to each successive cohort. Last fall, SWE led a congressional briefing with returnship practitioners from UTC, Medtronic, and Northrop Grumman to speak to staff and members of Congress about the real life benefits of returnships. That briefing featured longtime STEM champions from the House of Representatives such as Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who spoke candidly and one on one with speakers and SWE leadership.

STEM RESTART, group photo from 2020 SWE Capitol Hill Days
Group photo from 2020 SWE Capitol Hill Days

This work built up momentum for Capitol Hill Days in the spring so that while advocates for SWE weathered the early uncertainty of what would become the nation’s worst public health crisis in 100 years to discuss appropriations and SWE’s public policy positions, SWE leadership worked behind the scenes to find support for the first of its kind returnship bill in the Senate. With much credit due to Senator Rosen’s staff, SWE advocates over the years really showed the breadth of their knowledge, continually coming to Capitol Hill to remind legislators that these issues do matter for women. Now, with the introduction of the STEM RESTART Act, SWE members should feel like their voice does matter and their advocacy does work.

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