September 27, 2011 - New Workplace Flexibility Policies for Scientists Announced

On September 26, 2011, White House Council on Women and Girls Executive Director Tina Tchen, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John P. Holdren, and National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Subra Suresh announced the “NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative,” a 10-year plan to provide greater work-related flexibility to women and men in research careers.   The Initiative will allow researchers to delay or suspend their grants for up to one year in order to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or fulfill other family obligations. 

The new initiative is the first to be applied NSF-wide to help postdoctoral fellows and early career faculty members more easily care for dependents while continuing their careers. The new initiative will offer a set of family-friendly policies and practices to help eliminate some of the barriers to women’s advancement and retention in STEM careers.  The initiative will:

  • Allow postponement of grants for child birth/adoption – Grant recipients can defer their awards for up to one year to care for their newborn or newly adopted children.
  • Allow grant suspension for parental leave – Grant recipients who wish to suspend their grants to take parental leave can extend those grants by a comparable duration at no cost.
  • Provide supplements to cover research technicians – Principal investigators can apply for stipends to pay research technicians or equivalent staff to maintain labs while PIs are on family leave.
  • Publicize the availability of family friendly opportunities – NSF will issue announcements and revise current program solicitations to expressly promote these opportunities to eligible awardees.
  • Promote family friendliness for panel reviewers – STEM researchers who review the grant proposals of their peers will have greater opportunities to conduct virtual reviews rather than travel to a central location, increasing flexibility and reducing dependent-care needs.
  • Support research and evaluation – NSF will continue to encourage the submission of proposals for research that would assess the effectiveness of policies aimed at keeping women in the STEM pipeline.
  • Leverage and Expand Partnerships – NSF will leverage existing relationships with academic institutions to encourage the extension of the tenure clock and allow for dual hiring opportunities.

In addition to the NSF initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at a White House event about the importance of supporting and retaining women and girls in STEM careers.  During the East Room event, the NSF discussed the announcement about retaining women in STEM fields.  Alison O’Brien, past president of the ASM, attended the announcement at the White House. Several independent organizations and academic associations also announced initiatives in coordination with NSF and the White House, adding momentum to a nationwide shift that promises to strengthen the US economy and job security even as it strengthens families across the country.