Washington, D.C. – Two strongly bipartisan bills supporting women in science fields passed the House of Representatives on 22 March 2016.
The “INSPIRE Women Act,” sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), calls on NASA to encourage young women and girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers and the “Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act,” sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), calls for improved federal support for women entrepreneurs in STEM fields.
“For the American economy to be successful in the 21st Century, we need to have a skilled labor force that understands innovation and emerging technologies,” Comstock said in a statement.
The two acts follow recently passed bills supporting STEM education, including the Every Child Succeeds Act and the STEM Education Act of 2015, as well as a recently introduced initiative supporting women and minorities in computer science.
INSPIRE Women Act
The H.R.4755 “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act” aims to encourage women to enter STEM fields, especially aerospace, through three of NASA’s mentorship and outreach programs.
First, the act calls for the Administrator of NASA to support the NASA GIRLS and NASA BOYS program. The program matches young students from across the country to NASA engineers and scientists and provides a platform for them to video chat about possible careers in STEM.
Second, the act encourages NASA’s Aspire to Inspire (A2I) program, which engages young girls to think about careers in STEM by introducing them to early career women at NASA. The A2I project created short digital films featuring early career women at NASA and reached out to societies, clubs, and other institutions geared toward a similar goal.
Third, the act calls for NASA to support the Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research (SISTER) at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The institute gives female middle school students the opportunity to meet and mingle with Goddard Space Flight Center women scientists, engineers, mathematicians, technicians, and researchers.
If the act is signed into law, the Administrator of NASA must submit a plan to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The plan would elaborate on NASA’s existing outreach programs and how those programs could expand; propose and describe a program specific to retired astronauts and innovators; and identify any additional authorities.
“The INSPIRE Women Act will help create a climate for young girls and women to be successful in STEM and competitive on the world stage, and be great assets to growing the 21st Century economy,” Comstock said.
Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act
The H.R.4742 “Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act” also encourages women to enter STEM fields by supporting entrepreneurial programs for women. The act expands the mission of the National Science Foundation to include supporting entrepreneurial programs for women in the commercial sphere.
The act emphasizes the fact that women are less likely to study STEM in universities and that only 26 percent of women who achieve degrees in STEM fields work in STEM careers. The act also cites studies that show that women are successful drivers of technology and commercialization ventures.
“The overwhelming, bipartisan passage” of the act “makes clear that helping women break into fields where they have long been underrepresented is a priority for our national economy,” Esty said in a statement.
By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow