Diversity in STEM

It has long been established that a shortage of qualified science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students  has impacted America’s ability to be a leader in innovation.  Although a number of CEOs and other executives at Fortune 1000 STEM companies agree that more minorities and women must enter STEM fields to resolve the talent deficit, the lack of diversity in STEM fields remains a challenge to be tackled.

According to the National Science Foundation statistics, the percentage of African-American and Hispanic students who received bachelor degrees in engineering in 2009 was 4.5 percent and 7.3 percent of all recipients, respectively. Employment figures provided a similar picture.  In science and engineering related occupations, African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians accounted for only 8.9 percent of employees in 2006.  The same study showed that women made up 26 percent of the science and engineering work force.

There are various reasons cited for a lack of participation by women and minorities in STEM fields.  Dr. Mae Jemison, who made history as the first black woman to go into space, pointed to the discouraging grade school experiences as a major cause for low representation.  Other reasons cited by a Bayer Corporation study included lack of quality science and math education programs in poorer school districts, persistent stereotypes that say STEM is not for girls or minorities, and financial issues related to the cost of education.

At present, there is a nationwide push for more women and underrepresented minorities to choose STEM fields.  Many colleges and universities have programs, such as the Center for STEM Diversity at Tufts University, aimed at increasing diversity in STEM fields. However, Dr. Jim Wyche, division director for human resource department at the National Science Foundation commented, “this is just a long haul effort to try to increase it. We need another 10 to 15 years of effort.”

Posted by: Hyun Kyong Lee

Sources: Bayer Facts of Science Education, Diverse Education, National Science Foundation,  Pittsburg Post-Gazette

Photo Credit: Scientists: Are we producing too many? courtesy of flickr user mars_discovery_district

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