National Science Foundation changes workplace to boost women

WASHINGTON Mon Sep 26, 2011 4:55pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Science Foundation (NSF) will give researchers more workplace flexibility in a move to boost women's role in the sciences, the White House said on Monday.

The NSF, the top source of federal money for many fields of basic research, is launching a 10-year plan that will let researchers of either gender suspend grants for up to a year to care for small children or meet family obligations, it said in a statement.

The NSF was also urging universities and research institutes to adopt similar policies, it said.

Women earn 41 percent of PhDs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but make up only 28 percent of tenure-track university faculty in those subjects, it said.

"Reducing the dropout rate of women in STEM careers is especially important ... because women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations, and the wage gap between men and women in STEM jobs is smaller than in other fields," the statement said.

The NSF has an annual budget of about $6.9 billion. It pays for about a fifth of federally backed basic research at U.S. universities.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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