The NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative: A Critical Examination

Barbara Bonnekessen

DOI: 10.2190/WR.16.3-4.c


The 2011 National Science Foundation (NSF) Career-Life Balance Initiative purports to assist women to more successfully combine career and domestic responsibilities, leading to increased retention of women in the STEM (natural and social sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. This policy is a major step toward integrating a work/home balance, but, although the policy addresses all researchers in the STEM fields, women are singled out as needing such a policy to increase their retention in these fields. However, this article argues that instead of increasing women's acceptance, such a policy will more deeply entrench the gendered expectations that hold women more than men responsible for family care, and will not lead to an overall change in sex-typed work/home expectations. Reviewing the essentialist arguments underlying these expectations, the article suggests a more sweeping reform of the interrelationship of STEM stakeholders in universities and grant-giving agencies, a reform that would integrate women more fully into the STEM disciplines while also giving men a more acceptable path to balancing home/work integration.

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