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Zonta USA Advocacy Action Center

Zonta International is a global organization of women and men dedicated to empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. The Zonta USA Advocacy Action Center is a tool for our members in the United States and other individuals who share our commitment to gender equality to take action to improve the lives of women and girls. With your help, we can make a difference. In addition to the actions below, click here to support our joint efforts with UNICEF USA to end child marriage in the United States.


Help close the gender and skills gap in STEM
Nearly one in four women take a break in their career; this past year, four times more women than men dropped out of the workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While 93% of off-ramped women want to resume their careers, only 74% manage to get any work, and just 40% successfully return to work full-time, according to research published by The Harvard Business Review. Additionally, a Pew study found that 62% of Black science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) workers have faced discrimination in hiring or promotion at their jobs, compared to just 13% of white STEM workers.

The bipartisan STEM Restoring Employment Skills through Targeted Assistance, Re-entry, and Training (RESTART) Act provides funding to small and medium-sized businesses for “returnships” for workers looking to return to work or transition to a new STEM career, with priority for underrepresented populations and rural areas. 

Returnships—robust, paid, mid-career internships—are an effective way to address the difficulties of former STEM employees seeking to return to work within in-demand industry sectors. Small and medium-sized businesses employ more than 31% of the industrial research workforce, yet are the least likely to have returnships, according to the Small Business Administration.

These programs include a probationary period and provide opportunities to attain mentorship, professional development and support as participants transition back to work. Specifically, the STEM RESTART Act (S. 1297 and H.R. 2784):

  • Provides direct funding for organizations within needed STEM fields: Allocates $50 million per year in grant funding for small and medium-sized businesses to set up returnships for qualified talent within in-demand industries in the STEM workforce.
  • Prioritizes returnships for underrepresented populations to close the skills/hiring gap: Prioritizes funds for returnships for unemployed or underemployed persons who are also part of historically underrepresented groups in STEM, including women, Black and Latino persons, and individuals in rural communities.
  • Ensures accountability: Requires any grant-funded returnship to last at least 10 weeks and includes assurances of how the program will build upon returning workers’ skills. Requires the secretary of labor to track and report to Congress on the use of funding by grantees. Also sets parameters for who can apply for grant funds and limits initial funding to five years.
  • Includes flexibility for local needs: Allows small and medium-sized businesses within in-demand industries—as determined by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) standards and state and local workforce development strategies—to apply for grant funds. Also allows grantees to collaborate with other providers, including universities and nonprofit organizations, to provide the best returnship experience.
  • Protects returning workers from exploitation: Ensures that returning workers must be provided payment and benefits equivalent to a grantee’s existing non-entry level employees. Allows for grant funds to be used for benefits and incentives, such as childcare and necessary travel or training expenses.

In April 2021, Senators Jacky Rosen [D-NV] and Cindy Hyde-Smith [R-MS] introduced S. 1297 in the Senate, and Representatives Chrissy Houlahan [D-PA] and James Baird [R-IN] introduced a corresponding bill, H.R. 2784, in the House of Representatives. Please use our pre-drafted letters to urge your senators and representative to co-sponsor and support the STEM RESTART Act. If they have already sponsored or co-sponsored the bill, you can send a message of thanks.

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