On 28 February, President Trump signed into law two bipartisan bills passed by Congress with a particular focus on the entry of women into STEM fields and the promotion of entrepreneurship by women STEM professionals. Both bills were part of a package of six tech-related measures advanced by the House in early January.
The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act (H.R. 255), introduced by Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) with support in the Senate by Sen. Amy Klobochar (D-Minn.), would direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to “encourage entrepreneurial programs to recruit and support women to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and into the commercial world.” According to Rep. Esty, the bill encourages NSF “to use its successful entrepreneurial education and training programs, such as the Innovation Corps, known as I-Corps, and Partnerships for Innovation.”
The legislation notes that women make up almost 50 percent of the workforce, but less than 25 percent of the workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions, and that demand for individuals with STEM degrees to extend their focus beyond the laboratory to the commercialization of their discoveries is increasing.
Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), the new chair of the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology, introduced the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act (H.R. 321). Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) championed it in the Senate.
The INSPIRE bill calls on NASA to develop a plan within 90 days on how it can “best facilitate and support both current and retired astronauts, scientists, engineers, and innovators, including early career female astronauts, scientists, engineers, and innovators, to engage with K”12 female STEM students and the next generation of women to consider participating in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to pursue careers in aerospace.”
The legislation puts specific emphasis on leveraging several existing NASA programs: NASA GIRLS and NASA BOYS, Aspire to Inspire, and NASA’s Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Research.
In floor remarks supporting the INSPIRE Act, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) stressed the bipartisan nature of the bill, noting that:
“Inspiring American students to seek science and math careers is a goal shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. Some of the most energizing and exciting moments of my Science Committee chairmanship have been interactions with young people who want to pursue STEM studies and careers.”
The other four House-passed tech measures, still awaiting consideration in the Senate, include the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act (H.R. 288), the Leveraging Emerging Technologies Act (H.R. 240), H.R. 239, the Support for Rapid Innovation Act (H.R. 239) and H.R. 274, the Modernizing Government Travel Act (H.R. 274).