STEM fields are varied, exciting, and promise excellent opportunities to students who enroll. Students who successfully complete their coursework have boundless opportunities in exciting fields like biomedicine, software development, product design engineering, medical practices, chemistry, computer and information sciences, and more.
Diversity is very important for STEM fields, but it’s not where it should be. STEM fields have perhaps the largest biases when it comes to cultural and gender diversity. Women hold 57 percent of professional occupations, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). However, only 26 percent of technology jobs, 19 percent of software development jobs, and 6 percent of technology leadership jobs are held by women.
If you’re a woman from a minority race, the numbers are even worse. NCWIT research also showed that only about 3 percent of technology jobs are held by Latinas and 1 percent are held by African American women.
“Looking at population demographics, we see large percentages of women and minorities that are present in the overall population, but largely absent in the STEM workplace,” Patty Lopez, Senior Platform Applications Engineer at Intel, told Huffington Post in an interview.
“We know from the field of user design that excluding women from the design of car airbags had a deadly effect, as women were generally shorter and sat closer to the steering wheel,” she continues. “We’ve found that women show different symptoms for heart attacks than men, yet women were excluded from medical trials that studied heart disease….If we don’t include a more diverse group in the design process, we risk losing out on vital innovation and competitive advantage.”
The volume of minorities taking part in these careers is largely underdeveloped, and there’s much more that can be done. Thankfully, many schools and corporations are taking an interest in increasing diversity in STEM.
1. Diversity-Specialized Education
History shows cultural biases against both women and minorities pursuing STEM fields in higher education or the workplace. There are many factors that contribute to that, including demographics, but one of the best ways to combat this growing issue is to offer better educational programs for those who might find challenges otherwise.
In an article on encouraging more diversity in education, Gary Shapiro of Recode.net argues that enabling education for diversities is the best place to start.
“Diversity is our American strength,” says Shapiro. “It propels innovation and our economy. Just as our innovation success stems from a culture and Constitution promoting free expression, we can go further by taking advantage of all the talent we have.”
There are a variety of diversity-specialized education courses around the world, including Girls Who Code, a program designed to equip female high school students with the knowledge, resources, and skillsets they’ll need to achieve STEM opportunities in computing.
2. Boosting Recruitment Measures
One of the primary challenges for diversifying STEM fields is found in recruitment. Companies are either biased against minorities and females (intentionally or unintentionally), or they fail to make their available jobs attractive to this group.
“It’s time to make technology companies more attractive to women in the job market,” argues Kieren Jameson, MLIS and Digital Solutions Manager for ETR. For example, companies can remove the bias in job descriptions by taking language that is strongly masculine-themed (e.g., ambitious, active, analytical, determined, decisive) and replacing it with words that are less strongly gendered (e.g., collaborative, committed, dependable, responsible, supportive).”
Jameson also recommends removing requirements that aren’t necessary for doing the job. She says that steps can be taken to limit the bias by hiring managers as well.
“They can give hiring managers ‘blind’ résumés that have been stripped of gender identifiers,” she continues. “They can track their diversity stats. They can ask different sorts of questions during interviews.”
3. Creating More Mentorships
There are also subconscious biases in mentorship programs. If you’re a white man in a U.S. STEM industry, it’s a lot easier to find a mentorship than if you’re an African American woman. People tend to offer mentorships to people who remind them of themselves, and since white men dominate the STEM industry, fewer diverse mentorships follow.
Most people who climb the corporate ladder, particularly in STEM, did so because they had someone to help them along the way. Minorities and females are often left out and fail to receive a necessary helping hand for success.
Organizations who commit to mentoring outside their normal scope can help to break down this barrier. For example, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff started an initiative called Women Surge, which means that between 30 and 50 percent of every meeting attendance had to be composed of women.
To accomplish this, he encouraged all high-level managers to invite high-performing female executives of all races to sit in on the meetings. This offered these women valuable networking and an opportunity to excel in the STEM field.
When organizations use their imagination and push the limits facing minority cultures and genders, they can accomplish great things in the realm of STEM.