Last Tuesday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hosted the fifth “The Time is Now: Advancing Equity in Science & Technology” roundtable. 

The session, entitled “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Overlapping Crises for Women and People with Gender Expansive Identities in STEM” focused on the structural barriers women, people with gender-expansive identities, and those with multiply marginalized identities, like women of color, have long faced in their pursuit of STEM careers, as evidenced by persistent underrepresentation in science and technology, pay inequities, higher rates of sexual harassment, and lower rates of tenure and promotion. Nearly 20 months into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are now facing the overlapping crises of pandemic-related negative outcomes to their career trajectories and productivity, workforce participation, and for some, caretaking responsibilities.

The goal of this roundtable was to understand the institutional and structural inequities exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, identify critical failure points, and discuss the interventions that have reduced these inequities and could represent best practices for advancing equity in science and technology.

During this meeting, OSTP Director, Eric Lander, and OSTP Deputy Director for Science and Society, Alondra Nelson, engaged with the participants about their expertise and experiences navigating careers in science and technology, evaluating existing datasets that assess the health of these fields for women and people with gender-expansive identities, and opportunities to deploy and scale programs, practices, and policies that have shown significant promise during the COVID-19 pandemic, including flexible working environments, fungible deadlines, affordable care-giving options, and mental health support.

Participants discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing barriers that women and people with gender-expansive identities were already facing in their science and technology careers. They emphasized that robust and intersectional data collection would provide more insight on how COVID-19 has impacted gender-diverse people and also provide more informative resources for the future. Participants also highlighted the need to address the complex issues of equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility as an iterative process that moves us toward the kind of innovation that will be necessary to build a STEM ecosystem that is designed for all to succeed and strengthens the national science and technology workforce.

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been alarming increases in the unemployment rates for women and people with gender-expansive identities. The time to act truly is now, or we as a Nation will face consequences that will take decades to undo. Addressing these issues will strengthen the STEM workforce and increase U.S. innovation and competitiveness.

This was the fifth session of OSTP’s “The Time is Now” series. This series was designed to foster candid and robust conversation with researchers, thought leaders, and advocates on themes related to STEM equity, and to gather valuable feedback that can assist OSTP in assuring that our national STEM ecosystem is preeminent, equitable, and inclusive. More information about our previous roundtables, Honoring Disability Pride Month; Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism; Emerging Models and Pathways for Success in a) Institutional and Academic Contexts, and b) Community-centered Research, Participation, and Engagement can be found in their respective readouts.

For the next phase of the “Time is Now” campaign, OSTP will be soliciting ideas about advancing equity in science and technology directly from the public. This is your chance to share evidence-based best practices, highlight equity champions, and provide suggestions that may help inform OSTP policy recommendations. Stay tuned to this space and the OSTP twitter account, @WHOSTP, for more information about how you can contribute to this ongoing effort. If you have ideas you want to share in the meantime, please email us at equity@ostp.eop.gov.

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