At this year’s Grace Hopper Celebration, the Policy & Engagement team was thrilled to host professional staff members from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (often referred to as the House Science Committee). Representing Committee members from both sides of the aisle, Cate Johnson and Dr. Sara Barber served on a panel titled “Opportunities to Lead – Women’s Voices in Today’s Tech Policy Landscape,” which was moderated by AnitaB.org Vice President for Policy & Engagement Dr. Stephanie Rodriguez.
During the panel, Barber and Johnson shared their backgrounds and how they found themselves at the intersections of public policy and science. Johnson’s career began in policy, working both for personal offices on the Hill as well as for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she advocated for the importance of federal research. Barber arrived in Washington, D.C. as an AAAS Science & Tech Policy fellow after having started her career as a physicist studying planetary systems around dead stars.
The panelists spoke about the work that has been a priority of late in the House Science Committee, which is currently chaired by Rep. Eddie Bernice Jonson (D-TX)—the first woman and first person of color to ever chair the committee. The ranking member (leading Republican) on the committee is Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), who has been a strong bipartisan ally to the chairwoman.
Under this leadership, according to Barber and Johnson, the House Science Committee has been able to produce many pieces of bipartisan legislation, including the STEM Opportunities Act and the Building Blocks of STEM Act, both of which address barriers to historically underrepresented minorities and women and girls entering STEM fields.
Both Barber and Johnson emphasized the importance of scientists and technologists engaging with Congressional offices to inform legislation with their expertise and perspective. Engagement options range from sending your policymakers correspondence, visiting offices through advocacy groups’ or associations’ Hill days, or by participating on panels convened by the National Academies of Sciences or think tanks to inform public discourse.
While presenting to a room full of women technologists interested in getting more involved with the policymaking process, they spoke about the power of using personal stories and experiences to leave an impact on lawmakers.
“If you get an opportunity to be in front of your Congress member, tell them one story about how you got into tech,” Johnson said. “They hear facts all day, but if you can tell a compelling story, that will stick.”
Johnson and Barber both emphasized how women in technical roles have a role to play in policymaking, whether that relates to science policy, or other issues that impact their lives.