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NSF unveils plan to spur workplace flexibility, STEM careers

The National Science Foundation has taken another step toward a more flexible workplace in an initiative that also encourages women’s advancement and interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM.

White House officials announced the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative, which gives researchers more flexibility in the workplace, on Sept. 26. The plan also helps remove some of the hurdles to women’s advancement and retention in STEM careers.

Under the 10-year plan, researchers will be able to delay or suspend their grants for up to one year to take care of young children or fulfill other family responsibilities. STEM researchers who review their peers' grant proposals will also be able to conduct virtual reviews rather than travel to a designated location.

NSF has workplace flexibility policies in place, but this will be the first time a plan is applied across the foundation to help postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty members more easily care for dependents while continuing their careers, according to a statement from the White House.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chairwoman of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Tina Tchen, the council’s executive director, said a lack of work/life balance prevents many employees from reaching their economic potential.

“Today, nearly two-thirds of American families with children are headed by two working parents or by a single parent,” they said. “These parents cannot thrive in a job where they are unable to care for their children. At a time when working men and women across our nation face deep economic uncertainty, it is wrong to ask them to choose between their jobs and their families.”

The NSF announcement also highlights how flexible workplaces contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness, Jarrett and Tchen wrote.

“There is a common misconception that workplace flexibility policies cost businesses money,” they said. In fact, the opposite is true. A study from the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that flexible workplaces often attract the best workers and experience reduced absenteeism, lower turnover and higher productivity.

“As President Obama has said, ‘Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses,’” Jarrett and Tchen wrote.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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