Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Keeping Talented Women in the STEM Workforce is Good For Us All

    Biologist Kate Jackson is part of a research project tracing the evolutionary history of amphibians, reptiles and their internal parasites in the lowlands of Central Africa. Forests in the Congo Basin are renowned for their immense biodiversity, but the area is plagued by violence, as fighting continues between the government and rebel groups.

    This collaborative research project received NSF funding just as Kate was having a baby. With the demands of her family and the need to do research in a place that had become very dangerous, Kate asked for her field work to be delayed until her son was older and the political situation in the Congo more stable.

    Through NSF’s Career-Life Balance initiative, Kate was able to receive an extension at no cost to NSF, giving her more time to perform the work tied to the grant.

    NSF is using Career-Life Balance to attract and keep talented women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, work force. Research funded by NSF shows that women often leave research positions when family demands take over.

    In addition, many women scientists have scientist spouses and partners. Relocating together can be difficult for these women, a reality that NSF is starting to address through our ADVANCE program.

    “The number one reason women in STEM decline a tenure-track faculty position is that their partners are not offered appropriate employment as well,” says Santa J. Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati (UC).  “We also know that women are more likely to stay in faculty positions if they have a partner in a similar field and employed locally.”

    With NSF funding, the university is laying the groundwork for a dual-career regional network that will help spouses and partners of faculty secure employment at UC or with the area’s other institutions and businesses.

    Putting the best minds together to address the progress of women in STEM was the goal of the third international Gender Summit held in Washington, D.C., this past November, with NSF as a partner.

    Attendee Isabelle Blain of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada noted, “I came out of the GS3 with pride and hope. I will follow the progress of women in science and engineering, both in terms of representation in academia and in terms of inclusion of gender dimension in research.”

    I’m proud of what we’re doing to further the success of women in STEM, with solid research as the foundation of our efforts. One example: Our report, Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities, is an excellent resource for researchers, media, and others to take a deeper look at underrepresented groups, including women, in STEM disciplines.

    I’ll end with another story. Biologist Melia Nafus was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow studying the impact of humans and climate change on desert tortoises’ habitat in the Mojave Desert. Through Career-Life Balance, NSF was able to pay a research assistant to keep Melia’s field work going during her pregnancy, when temperatures in excess of 110 degrees would have been harmful to her. Now, mother and child are doing well. Nafus has completed her Ph.D, and will soon join the research staff of the San Diego Zoo.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the National Science Foundation.

    Cora Marrett is the Acting Director of the National Science Foundation. 

  • A Cornerstone of Our Energy Future: Women

    We are proud of the close relationship between the Department of Energy and the White House Council on Women and Girls and of our united effort to bring more women and girls into energy and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Our country cannot be at its full strength in advancing our energy future without the participation of every talented American. I am committed to engaging all of the Department’s resources to inspire, connect, and train women and girls in STEM.

    One program I’ve championed since working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is C3E, which stands for Clean Energy, Education, and Empowerment. C3E works to advance women leaders in clean energy. Now in its third year, the program’s Ambassadors network, annual Symposium, and C3E Awards program have recognized 12 women for their mid-career leadership and achievement in clean energy, as well as two remarkable women - Millie Dresselhaus and Maxine Savitz – for their lifetime achievement. The next C3E Symposium will be held at MIT in September, with a focus on cities and local-level action on climate and clean energy.

    Following the success of the C3E program, I directed the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity to launch the Minorities in Energy Initiative. This took the ambassadors, awards, and symposium cornerstones of the C3E program and created another collaborating force, bringing government, nonprofits, industry and the public together to talk about engaging underrepresented communities – like women and girls – in STEM and the energy sector. We’ve recruited 30 high-level Ambassadors to be spokespeople for this issue from nonprofits, industry, entertainment, academia and both sides of the political aisle.

    The Department also works to highlight the talented women in our energy workforce as STEM role models for women and girls interested in those fields. Our Women @ Energy series features 150 profiles of women leaders from the Department, and we hosted the First Annual Interagency STEM Volunteer Fair in February to connect federal employees to STEM volunteer opportunities in the Washington, D.C. area. 

    The President and Vice President, along with Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen at the White House Council on Women and Girls and so many others throughout the Administration are driving diversity and inclusion in STEM education and careers. The Department of Energy is supporting these initiatives to expose and incorporate more women and girls into STEM so as to further advance America’s energy future. 

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Department of Energy.

    Ernest Moniz is the Secretary for the Department of Energy. 

  • We the Geeks: Women Role Models

    In order for the United States to continue to lead the world in innovation and reap the health, security, and economic benefits offered by cutting-edge discoveries in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we must engage the Nation’s full talent pool in these growing fields, including America’s girls and women. 

    On Thursday, March 20th at 1:00pm ET, the White House will host another episode of “We the Geeks”, this time focused on “Women Role Models”. Tune in to this Google+ Hangout to hear from women and girl STEM leaders as they share their stories and advice to inspire the next generation of young women to discover their inner geeks and become the inventors and leaders of tomorrow. You’ll hear from an all-star line-up, including:  

    Viewers can join the conversation by asking questions on Twitter using #WeTheGeeks. And you can view the hangout Thursday at 1pm ET by visiting

  • Department of Transportation and Women's History Month

    A couple months ago, my nine-year-old daughter came into my office with a list of priorities, things she would do if she had my job as Secretary of Transportation. (Her first priority, by the way, was to move every seat on the plane into first-class.)

    Besides being one of those moments that every father wants to have on videotape, it was also a small reminder of what we know at the U.S. Department of Transportation: that there are many young girls who dream of a job in transportation – of learning to fly, for instance, or of becoming an engineer that designs a magnificent bridge.

    Supporting these dreams isn’t something we should just do as parents; it’s something we should do as a nation.

    Because from Amelia Earhart, to Emily Roebling, who helped build the Brooklyn Bridge, to my predecessors – Secretaries Elizabeth Dole and Mary Peters – countless women have left their mark on American transportation. They’ve broken barriers, including the sound barrier. And we should be encouraging more women to follow their lead.

    That’s why we’ve developed a career pipeline at DOT – one that, at every step from the classroom to the boardroom, helps women and girls pursue careers in our industry. 

    For example, we’ve worked with the advocacy group, WTS International to launch Transportation YOU, a program that lets young women between the ages of 13 and 18 explore careers from air traffic controlling to running DOT’s Crisis Management Center. More than 600 girls have already taken part in the program, the vast majority of whom say the experience has changed what they want to study when they go to college.

    That’s why, when they reach college, we have resources for them, as well. DOT is now working with 80 colleges and universities across the country to give young women first-hand experience in transportation jobs, including the opportunity to intern.

    We’re also making it easier for them to access those jobs later on in their careers. Our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization has an initiative that helps women-owned firms have a shot at building this country’s infrastructure. In 2012, we awarded more than $130 million to women-owned businesses.

    All told, I’m proud that DOT, in concert with the President’s Council on Women and Girls, is honoring women and the history they make.

    Because, one day, my daughter may have to abandon her dream of moving every seat into first-class, but I never want her – or any girl – to stop dreaming about the difference they can make in our skies and seas, or on our roads and rails.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Transportation.

    Anthony Foxx is the Secretary of the Department of Transportation.

  • NASA Celebrates Its Many Women of Character

    It's appropriate for NASA that the theme of this year's Women's History Month celebration is "Women of Character." The women of our nation's space program have made countless sacrifices to advance our nation, and their expertise and dedication have been crucial to our many successes in exploration.

    I was fortunate to fly to space twice with the distinguished Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator, and we formed a bond that we will share all our lives. The addition of women to our astronaut corps has only enhanced and strengthened what we can accomplish.  Our latest group of astronaut candidates is 50% women, the highest percentage ever, and we look forward to continuing to raise these numbers. It is no secret that the requirement that our earliest astronauts be military test pilots essentially precluded applications from women.  It was not until 1983 that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space as part of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L mission to deploy communications satellites. Since then, there have been 43 NASA women astronauts who have taken that leap and proven, as Amelia Earhart once said, that men and women were equal “in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”

    At NASA, women are not only astronauts, they are principal investigators of science missions, engineers on our many spacecraft, program managers, budget analysts and communicators.  They serve in every capacity and provide their unique insights and perspective, helping to shape and improve the aerospace field, which has been historically male-centric. Aerospace careers are not easy, not in the training, nor in the actual day-to-day work, and it takes character to stick with it.

    NASA is a major employer of women in STEM fields and one of our priorities is inspiring young women to pursue an education and career in the STEM pipeline.  From 1993 to 2013, our agency experienced a ten percent increase in the proportion of women in our workforce. In that same time frame, the proportion of women in senior positions increased by 380 percent.  Right now in the ranks of senior leadership, among many others throughout the agency, our Chief Financial Officer, Chief Scientist, and the directors of two of our field centers are all women.

    The women of NASA to me represent character of the highest order. From those who lost their lives in the cause of exploration, to those who are working on tomorrow's missions and training to travel to new destinations where we've never been, our future in space depends on them.

    One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity to talk to young men and women, boys and girls about empowering themselves to break barriers, follow their dreams and push themselves to possibly do something no one has ever done. We are committed to nurturing and celebrating women of character, and continuing to break barriers of possibility on Earth and in the sky.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

    Charles Bolden is the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

  • Ensuring Opportunities for Women

    The month of March is an opportunity for all of us in government to reflect on what we are doing to provide opportunities to the next generation of women and girls. In 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Order to create the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the U.S. General Services Administration has supported the Council’s efforts through our mission and our work with our agency partners. I am proud that GSA has a role in the Council’s work, and that Julia Hudson, Regional Administrator for the National Capital Region, serves as our representative. 

    GSA partners with the private-sector to provide federal agencies the tools they need to serve the American people. Through these partnerships we are working with women entrepreneurs across the country and providing them with important opportunities to compete and grow their businesses in the Federal marketplace. In the past two years GSA has exceeded its goals for contracts awarded to women-owned small business and more than $500 million was awarded to these companies.  The federal government provides an important and stable business partner for these businesses, and they provide the government with important value and services. Without their innovation and hard work, we would not be able to conduct day-to-day functions such as responding to emergencies, caring for veterans, and preserving our National Parks.

    As an employer, GSA relies on the talent women bring the workforce. Women are in core leadership positions within the agency making up nearly half of senior executives and leadership positions. Many of these positions include roles such as technology and finance.

    GSA is also committed to supporting working women and families throughout the country by providing space for more than 100 childcare centers at Federal workplaces nationwide. These centers provide women in the workforce and those re-entering the workforce access to high quality care options for their children. GSA child care centers also participate in the First Lady’s Let’s Move Child Care program, which focuses on the importance of nutritious meals and fun physical activities to ensure the next generation starts off healthy and strong.

    In addition, our telework efforts reflect our commitment to enhancing work-life balance for all of  GSA employees. The ability to work from home affords employees an opportunity to better manage the demands of work and family obligations in a flexible manner. GSA was one the federal government’s Telework pioneers, and 80 percent of our employees are able to telework. 

    Through this initiative, agencies throughout the Federal Government have redoubled their commitments to initiatives that support equality. Extending opportunities to women is a top priority for GSA. As a father of two teenage girls, I particularly understand the importance of this responsibility. An equal, open marketplace is not only the right thing to do, but also creates the very best value for the American people. During the month of March and beyond, GSA will continue to do our part to ensure women have access to the resources and support that they need to excel and prosper. 

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the General Services Administration.

    Dan Tangherlini is the Administrator for the General Services Administration.