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Hirono Lays Out Legislative Plan to Increase Opportunities for Women and Minorities in STEM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) today rolled out her plan to promote women and minorities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions and careers.

“Supporting a diverse STEM workforce is critical to ensuring that Hawaii workers can compete in today’s global economy,” said Senator Hirono. “By breaking down barriers to advancement, the STEM Opportunities Act and the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act represent a comprehensive approach to addressing factors that limit the progression of women and underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

Senator Hirono’s plan is composed of two key bills that would improve data collection and research on federal programs and grant activities, increase guidance for federal science agencies, federal laboratories, and institutions of higher education, and create competitive grant programs to promote more women and minorities in STEM fields.

STEM Opportunities Act: Introduced with House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the STEM Opportunities Act would help federal science agencies and institutions of higher education identify and share best practices for overcoming barriers that have limited the inclusion of women and other underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The bill provides universities and nonprofits with opportunities to receive competitive grants and recognition for mentoring women and minorities in STEM. Building on the progress made with the enactment of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA), which President Obama signed into law at the beginning of 2017 with several provisions that were championed by Senator Hirono, the bill would also direct the newly-authorized STEM interagency working group to better promote inclusion efforts at federal science agencies and elsewhere.

“The need for full engagement in STEM by women and underrepresented minorities goes beyond enabling individuals to fulfill their dreams of becoming a scientist. Our economic future relies on what we do now to nurture the STEM talent that will be necessary to meet the demands of an increasingly technological and knowledge-based economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that STEM employment is the fastest growing sector, with computer science and engineering jobs among the fastest growing STEM occupations. If things continue as they are now, however, I fear we will be ill equipped to fill these jobs. We are seventeen years into the 21st century and the demographics of the STEM workforce do not reflect the diversity of the nation. We need to leverage all of our human capital if we are to achieve the necessary capacity to innovate and to discover,” said Representative Johnson.

The STEM Opportunities Act was cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-N.Y.) and Jeffery Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.

Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act: Introduced with Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act would authorize the National Science Foundation to award competitive grants for outreach, mentoring, and professional development programs that support recruitment and retention of women and minorities in STEM fields. Additionally, this legislation authorizes funding for STEM education outreach programs at the elementary and secondary school level, including an emphasis on funding for mentoring programs, as well as programs to increase the recruitment and retention of women and minority university faculty.

“STEM fields are the future of our economy, offering new job opportunities as we continue to innovate.” said Representative Maloney. “Today, however, women hold less than a quarter of STEM jobs, and people of color only make up one quarter of this workforce. The STEM Booster Act would shift these trends and help bring more diversity to STEM fields with mentoring, internship, and outreach programs in these underrepresented communities. ”

The Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act was cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) in the Senate.

Senator Hirono introduced similar bills during the 114th Congress (2015-2016), and also highlighted the importance of promoting women and minorities in STEM during her Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee field hearing at Maui High School. The field hearing provided an opportunity to convene national experts and local stakeholders to discuss Hawaii’s STEM pipeline and consider ways of improving opportunities for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups in STEM professions and careers. You can read more about the hearing and view witness testimony online, here.

Education leaders and advocates in Hawaii and nationwide are praising Senator Hirono’s plan to remove barriers and increase opportunities for women and minorities in STEM:

"Today's introduction of the STEM Opportunities and STEM Booster Acts takes an important step toward increasing America’s competitiveness and reducing barriers that deter women and other underrepresented minorities from pursuing STEM fields,” said Lisa Maatz, Vice President of Government Relations and Advocacy at the American Association of University Women. “Any serious attempt to modernize our science and technology workforce must include substantive efforts to broaden participation to fully include women, especially women of color. This will in turn spur innovation as well as economic growth. Yes, this is about equal opportunity, but it's also simply good business. Congress must take action now."

“Women and minorities are lost at every key point along the way in STEM classes and degree programs. Success in mathematics in particular is the most significant barrier to degree completion in both STEM and non-STEM fields,” said Karen Saxe, Director of the Washington Office of the American Mathematical Society. “Knowledge in the mathematical sciences leads to higher-paying career opportunities and can play a profound role in students’ economic mobility. However, by the time our students get to college, huge disparities can exist in math knowledge and this leads to unsatisfactory college completion rates. Thus, it is critically important that we have programs in place — like those promoted by the STEM Opportunities and STEM Booster Acts — that help share best practices for overcoming these barriers and ensure that we are able to retain women and minorities in STEM fields. We appreciate the important efforts of Senator Hirono and her Congressional colleagues pushing for legislation that evens the playing field in STEM fields for women and minorities. Programs such as those in these bills will help women and minorities graduate from college and achieve their career goals, and thereby build a stronger American workforce that mirrors national demographics.”

“Girls Inc. fully supports the STEM Opportunities Act of 2017 and applauds Senator Hirono for her leadership,” said Girls Inc. President and CEO Judy Vredenburgh. “Increasing the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the STEM economy will improve their prospects for economic security and help ensure the success of our nation as a whole. The STEM Opportunities Act would support better research, data collection, training, and the sharing of best practices to improve the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women and minorities in STEM fields.”

"It is projected that by 2018 there will be 2.4 million stem jobs in the US which will go unfilled. We can plug part of that talent gap immediately by ensuring that women who are educated and trained in STEM stay in the workforce. Contrary to popular belief, these women are leaving the workforce largely due to outmoded workplace structures which fail to recognize the value of diversity and inclusion. AWIS research shows that programs which provide mentors, sponsors, unconscious bias training, and role models have significant impact on the retention of women in STEM.  We applaud Senator Hirono for her foresight in crafting legislation that would support these initiatives,” said Janet Koster, Executive Director and CEO of the Association for Women in Science.

"Locally in Hawaii high-paying STEM jobs are spurring growth and boosting our island economy,” said Leslie Wilkins, Vice President, of the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and Director of the Women in Technology Project. “MEDB’s Women in Technology initiative continues to engage girls and women who are underrepresented in technology fields so that we can grow the STEM workforce pipeline and keep up with demand through hands-on STEM curriculum, training, mentoring and internship programs that have had a significant impact statewide. However, these programs still need support. Mahalo to Senator Hirono for introducing the STEM Opportunities Act and the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act to strengthen our efforts and create more opportunities for young women and minorities pursuing STEM careers and professions across the country.”

The STEM Opportunities and Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Acts have been endorsed by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), Girls, Inc., the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), Society for Advancement of Chicano/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Additionally, the STEM Opportunities Act has been endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE), the Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA), the Computing Research Association (CRA), the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMSc), the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE); and the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act has been endorsed by the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC).