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Bonamici: Education key to more women in technology

October 31, 2017
In The News

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, the only woman in Oregon's congressional delegation, says expanded education and training are the main ways to increase the number of women in technology and help them achieve pay equity with men.

Bonamici, a Democrat from Beaverton, said she understands the concerns voiced Monday night (Oct. 30) at a forum sponsored by PDX Women in Tech.

According to a 2016 study by SmartAsset, women hold only 24 percent of technology jobs in the Portland region and they earn 80 percent of what men make. Portland ranked last among the 58 areas where the tech workforce is large enough to matter.

As a member of two relevant House committees — Education and the Workforce, and Science, Space and Technology — Bonamici has been a champion of technology education and pay equity during her six years in the 1st District congressional seat in northwest Oregon.

"We need more people with those shared values moving up in management," she said at the forum at New Relic, a software company based in downtown Portland. "It makes a difference to have women around the table."

Bonamici said the situation is similar in Congress, which has 105 women among its 535 senators and representatives, just under 20 percent. She spent five years in the Oregon Legislature, which counts 29 women — including the House speaker and the House and Senate majority leaders — among its 90 current members.

Federal and state lawmakers — Oregon most recently this year — have passed bills aimed at strengthening pay equity laws that have been on the books for years.

Bonamici described her efforts to put an "A" for arts into science, technology, engineering and math education.

Congress did so when it renewed federal spending for public schools in the Every Student Succeeds Act in late 2015, and the House did so in its revision of federal aid to career and technical education earlier this year. That bill is pending in the Senate.

"We're finding that as more kids are engaged at an earlier age, and there's more relevance in what they're doing, it's going to lead to a more creative workforce," she said.

Bonamici has a daughter, 27, who is employed in a tech job outside Oregon.

Increased concerns

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat whose 3rd District covers Portland east of the Willamette River, spoke at a PDX Women in Tech forum on April 13.

"Right after the (presidential) election, we had a lot of members of our community come forward and say they wanted to get more engaged civically," said Megan Bigelow, co-founder and president of the group, which now has 4,100 people.

"I wanted to get our one and only female congresswoman here so that we could get her in front of this community and hear about the things we care about."

Among other educational programs Bonamici discussed were community colleges and apprenticeships for further training, and her efforts to make college more affordable and simplify federal loan paperwork.

She is also a sponsor of legislation for paid family leave, a benefit she said would help employers and employees in a changing workplace.

"Women in this community care about getting equal access," Bigelow said after Bonamici's talk.

Not all the questions Bonamici fielded during her hourlong appearance were about education and equity issues.

Some asked about the fate of "dreamers," young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children. President Donald Trump has ordered an end to a program, instituted by his predecessor Barack Obama, to shield them from deportation. But Trump has left the question to Congress.

"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure those wonderful people — students, teachers, health researchers among them — who know no other country can stay and their families are safe," said Bonamici, who spoke to a group of them Friday (Oct. 27) at the Rock Creek campus of Portland Community College.

She said she still prefers a comprehensive approach to immigration.

Bonamici also drew a question about trade agreements. Trump has discarded the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was negotiated under Obama, and is threatening to withdraw from the 1993 North American Free-Trade Agreement unless Canada and Mexico agree to changes.

Bonamici said new agreements should contain strong environmental and labor protections for participating nations and enforceable provisions.

"But the reality is that we live in a global economy. We export everything from computer chips to potato chips," she said. "We want those markets, because they grow Oregon businesses."