Funding For Science Outreach Programs = Gender Balance In The Workplace

Gayatri Phadke/ May 18, 2017/ Education, Policy, Science/ 1 comments

Funding For Science Outreach Programs 
= Gender Balance In The Workplace

With women spending five hours extra on service compared to men, unpaid outreach work and consequently slower career development can accentuate gender imbalance in STEM research institutions

President Trump, surrounded by the First Lady and all women (for a change), signed the (INSPIRE) Women Act on February, 28th. Prima facie, it’s an aspirational bill, designed to continue encouraging more girls and women to join the science and technology fields through NASA’s outreach programs, such as NASA Girls and NASA Boys or Aspire to Inspire.

The bill essentially asks NASA to submit a plan to “to engage with K-12 female STEM students and inspire the next generation of women to consider participating in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to pursue careers in aerospace.”

With no funding commitment attached, however, it reads to me like little more than a PR stunt, as data from Labor department shows the majority of volunteers at outreach programs are women. In fact, Women@NASA group, a volunteer organization aimed at highlighting contributions of women in NASA, founded both of the above programs.

It’s no wonder that this trend is echoed in Academia — women scientists spend 5 hours/week more on service work than men scientists do, throughout the progression of their careers. My experience as a graduate student tells me that this gender-gap in service work would be similar or even larger at the undergraduate or graduate student level.


The current institutional push to involve more women in outreach and mentorship programs may exacerbate this gap. Essentially, women work more for same or less pay than men. I would not be surprised, if you looked around (no matter your profession) and found this to be true!

A direct result of this unpaid work spent on activities other than research is longer time for career advancement, or even lower attainment at leadership positions. Women now earn more higher education degrees than men do at all levels, including PhDs. A 2016 report by the American Council on Education confirms, however, that women have lower representation as you go up the academic employment ladder, with only 31% women gaining full tenure.


It would be a disservice to not mention that women scientists are more likely to be the primary caregivers of the family, possibly preventing them from spending extra time on their research. This can mean time spent on outreach will be at the expense of research.

Paying for service work can allow women scientists to spend less time on family obligations — hire a maid service, eat out more often than spend time cooking, hire a part-time assistant to file paperwork! This free time could now be spent on activities that will improve research output or encourage professional development, rectifying the gaps in opportunity.

With the cuts in spending of every research institution proposed by the current administration, federal funding for outreach programs may be precarious. But if gender balance and diversity is important in academic and research institutions, these institutions need to ensure women are adequately compensated for their service work. If financial compensation is not possible, there’s always added services, such as child-care, professional development, grant writing programs.

Dedicated monetary investment in outreach programs is essential in truly empowering women in the workplace.

1 Comment

  1. Gayatri, please follow this up with comments pointing out successes, risks taken giving success, and risks taken providing lessons learned.
    Historical data should have dates and error bars to reveal true relevance. Yet I believe the trends you are portraying are clearly valid.
    Please note the example of the recently retired secretary of the Air Force, first woman to lead a military branch.

    Thanks for writing– keep it up.

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