The Virginia congresswoman is cosponsoring legislation that would “strengthen our investment in the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) has joined a chorus of lawmakers supporting a bill to help expand opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries to young women and minority students—a group of individuals who have long been underrepresented in the STEM workforce.

Spanberger announced this week that she is cosponsoring legislation to “empower local school districts to engage girls, young women, and minority students” in the STEM fields.

If passed, the 21st Century STEM for Girls and Underrepresented Minorities Act would provide grants to local educational agencies to encourage young girls and underrepresented minorities to pursue studies and careers in STEM fields. The bill would increase funding for teacher development, parent outreach, mentoring and tutoring for students, after-school and summer STEM programs, and improve professional development services available to educators in order to reduce racial and gender bias. 

The bill also ensures grants are distributed to areas of high-need or communities where there are high rates of poverty.

Grant recipients would receive $1 million over four years, or $250,000 per year to implement the changes.

The number of STEM jobs has grown 79 percent since 1990, from 9.7 million to 17.3 million, outpacing overall U.S. job growth. Those gains, however, have not been experienced equally for people across the board. 

Women remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce, according to a recent National Science Foundation study. Specifically, women remain particularly underrepresented in engineering (14%), computer (25%) and physical science (39%) occupations, the Pew Research Center reports.

African-American and Hispanic workers are also vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs. Although African-Americans make up 11 percent of the total American workforce, they only hold 9 percent of positions in the STEM field. Meanwhile, Hispanics represent 7 percent of the STEM workforce, despite comprising 16 percent of the total American labor pool. 

Spanberger highlighted these inequities in a statement explaining her support for the legislation.

“For too long, women and minority students have faced significant barriers as they look to pursue STEM-related careers,” Spanberger said. “This legislation would strengthen our investment in the next generation of scientists and engineers, and it would provide historically-disadvantaged students with greater exposure to rapidly-growing fields like data science, nanotechnology, and biomedical research.”

She also emphasized the long-term importance of increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups.

“Especially as we anticipate an expansion of STEM-related job openings in the coming decade, more women and people of color in these fields can only lead to more success,” Spanberger said.