Last week, the White House announced new policies and initiatives aimed at making the lives of people with families in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields a little bit easier. While the policies focus on balancing family and work, women’s issues are explicitly mentioned ““ and I find myself a little torn on that.
The policies, as presented, are gender-neutral. Among other things, people who’ve received grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) can postpone grants for up to a year for childbirth/adoption, allow grant suspension for parental leave, and receive supplements to cover research technicians that would run the research and labs while the grant recipients take family leave. All of these are important steps forward that will allow many more people to pursue careers in research and academia.
However, the justification for these policy changes, at least how it’s reported in the press release, come down heavily on the side of making these careers more accessible to women. And honestly, when faced with the facts that 41% of doctoral graduate students in STEM fields are women but only 28% of tenure-track faculty are, one has to wonder about the causes for the drop-off and work to change it. Changing the culture around families and children is incredibly important and valuable, but it is only one of the many steps we need to take to see more gender equality in academia.
And this is where I run into an issue: when I write about “women in academia” and family planning or people create new policy with “women in academia” in mind that focuses on the family, are we tacitly upholding the bullshit status quo that dictates that women must run the family, or are we responding the reality of our situation? Are we creating safe spaces, or are we reinforcing the very issues that make those safe spaces feel valuable? I completely support the new National Science Foundation policies and the initiatives run through the White House to encourage a more family-friendly academia, but I sometimes worry about the context of the discussion.
Anyway, I don’t have an answer for that, but I welcome any and all comments on the subject.