Many scientists, especially women, are familiar with the disruption to their career and funding that can occur as a result of extended family leave. To address this and the discrimination that sometimes results, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (Democrat, Texas) has introduced a bill seeking grant extensions for federally funded scientists who take time off to care for family members. Funding agencies would also provide money to hire temporary workers.

Johnson based the bill on recommendations in the 2007 National Academies report Beyond Bias and Barriers. This is her second attempt; last year's bill died in committee. With the new US administration, she says, “I think we might be trying at a better time now”.

The bill calls for workshops to educate university leaders, grant reviewers and other federally funded researchers about how to reduce gender bias. Some universities have baulked at the suggested workshops' time-consuming data-collection requirements, which include monitoring the careers of female faculty members from workshop participants' departments.

Many institutions have not compiled such data before, says Joan Herbers, a biologist at Ohio State University in Columbus on a National Science Foundation grant aimed at boosting participation of women in science and engineering.

Some agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, already extend grants while investigators are caring for family. Provisions for temporary workers, however, would be new, says Mary Ann Mason, co-director of the Center on Health, Economic and Family Security at the University of California, Berkeley. Although researchers on multi-year grants cannot be easily replaced, Mason says hiring a temporary worker may help in some cases, and could limit concerns about hiring women of child-bearing age. “It's not an easy fix by any means,” she says. “But it's a necessary policy.”

The bill's provisions are not limited to women. Men are increasingly requesting paternity leave, notes Phoebe Leboy, president of the Association for Women in Science. “The best thing that can happen for women in science,” she says, “is for men in science to have similar responsibilities and a better understanding of what the problems are.” Johnson hopes for action this congressional session.