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Career-Life Balance Fair continues to promote flexible workplaces for America’s Scientists and engineers

Wanda E. Ward, Senior Advisor to the Director of the National Science Foundation, discusses ensuring career-life balance for women working in science and engineering.

In order to maintain global leadership in science and engineering (S&E), as well as promote economic prosperity and national security, America must develop its own domestic scientific talent at a pace similar to other nations worldwide.

In science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, women are earning an ever-larger share of doctoral degrees- 41 percent in 2009, compared to 38 percent in 2004. Yet, their representation in full-time tenured faculty positions - only 29 percent in 2008 - is not keeping pace. For women of color, the proportion is even lower, constituting only 6 percent of tenured faculty. Family characteristics – including marital status and presence of children – are directly related to this diminished chance of earning tenure, with unmarried women making significant gains over their married female colleagues throughout the last four decades.

To address these challenges the National Science Foundation’s Career-Life Balance (CLB) Initiative—an ambitious, ten-year initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and NSF Director Dr. Subra Suresh in September—will build on the best of family-friendly practices among individual NSF programs to expand them to activities NSF-wide. By the end of this ten-year initiative (2021), it is expected that women will represent 41 percent of newly tenured doctoral S&E faculty, and that women of color will compromise 17 percent of newly tenured faculty, the same percentage of their PhD production rate in 2009.

As part of this comprehensive effort to move forward as OneNSF, the Foundation hosted a Career-Life Balance Fair during the week of January 16 for its employees, highlighting many programs and activities NSF currently offers in support of family-friendliness. Information and activities at the fair included how to become a teleworker; communication tools to support virtual meetings; health unit programs (including blood pressure screenings); and fitness center programs (including nutrition information), to name a few.

The fair was accompanied by a series of week-long events intended to kick-off an on-going campaign supporting career-life balance for all NSF employees. Events included a discussion where NSF employees served as panelists, sharing their personal experiences of juggling personal and career commitments with their colleagues, and the launch of an effort enabling employees to openly share ideas about how NSF can further promote an agency culture that supports career-life balance.

And these efforts are just the beginning. Coming up in spring 2012, the Career-Life Balance Initiative will bring together young scientists and engineers, leading national experts, higher education leaders, and professional associations and societies to address key research, policy, and practice on career-life balance issues.

Under NSF leadership, these communities are heeding the President’s call to fill our Nation’s shortage of innovators, tinkerers, and dreamers by creating environments in which they can thrive.

Wanda E. Ward is a Senior Advisor to the Director of the National Science Foundation.