The National Science Foundation has recently announced the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative largely in hopes of retaining women in the sciences past their the dissertation years. Most notably, the Initiative allows a year long pause in awarded grants to new parents. This pause matches the pause in the tenure process that most universities offer (but few faculty know about). In addition, parents can apply for supplemental funds to keep their labs running while on leave. In addition, NSF promises to advertise its new help for families, continue researching new methods of keeping women in the sciences, and continue to promote tenure pauses and spousal hires in its partner academic institutions.
Thinking about ways to make the academic environment more friendly to families is a topic that fascinates me both as a sociologist and as a person who will likely benefit from this initiative. According to the White House announcement for the program, the Initiative emphasizes the need for women in the sciences in order to maintain creativity and leadership. Language like “parental leave” instead of maternity leave also signifies that NSF is leading the way to a new kind of workplace, recognizing both men and women’s desires to balance work and family in an equitable way – not to put the burden of that balancing act on the mother. Kudos to NSF.