BY RHIANNA LACHHMAN (staff writer)
Graphic: Rhonda Hitchcock-Mast/ASU
The work field of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) plays an integral role in our world. However, there is an immense underrepresentation of people of colour in this career path, specifically in western society and America. This has unfortunate effects on our society, to say the least. Let’s take a deeper look into this problem, see how we can solve it, and understand a little more about the importance of representation in STEM.
Lack of Cultural Diversity in STEM
The lack of cultural diversity in STEM career fields is alarming. In fact, according to the NSF, the overall workforce of STEM is 78% Caucasian. This diversity problem is especially prevalent in America. When it comes to the United States, underrepresented groups in the science and engineering fields include African Americans, Indigenous Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Hispanics. As stated by U.S. News in 2014, these groups of people make up 26% of the American population, yet they only make up 10% of those in science and engineering fields. According to the Pew research center, Hispanics and African Americans make up roughly 7% of the American STEM workforce. While it was reported in the 2015 Diversity Report Card that most major tech companies have African Americans and Hispanics running less than 3-5% of the tech positions.
While it is clear that the STEM industry is lacking diversity, why does that matter in the first place? What can cultural diversity do to help this industry flourish?
Why Diversity Matters
Diversity is extremely important when it comes to STEM-based fields. It is important that our industries accurately reflect the world that we live in, and this includes having people from all backgrounds in every field. Diversity allows people from different walks of life to solve problems from different perspectives, allowing significant progress to be made when pertaining to science fields. In fact, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that a more diverse team of workers has a good chance of performing better than a less diverse team, even if the less diverse team has a “relatively greater ability”. Furthermore, a lack of diversity leads to a loss of potential talent that leads to loss of innovation. This could lead to a roadblock in long-term economic growth. Most children born in America today are people of color. As reported by Scientific American, if there is a great underrepresentation of about 75% of potential talent, then it will be hard to grow the domestic scientific workforce. Above all, it is important that children see themselves represented in STEM positions, so youth know that their potential is limitless and that they can have legitimate impacts on the world.
How to Increase Diversity
A great way to increase diversity in STEM is to inspire POC youth to work in STEM fields. After all, they are the generation that will build our future. There is a method of teaching developed by Gloria Ladson-Billings (an American pedagogical theorist and teacher) called "culturally relevant education”. This methodology helps inspire and teach young POC while introducing them to the world of STEM fields. This includes three main goals: academic success, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness. A few ways this works is by getting to know the student’s culture, values, and environment, as well as highlighting high achievers from the student’s certain racial or ethnic group.
Another way of encouraging cultural diversity is making sure we create inclusive and accepting environments. The results of a 2019 study done in California (published to PLOS) show that minority students publish as many papers as their majority counterparts when they feel accepted by faculty members. Additionally, a study was done in 2013 (published to ResearchGate) that proved racial discrimination had a huge negative impact on ethnic minorities who were pursuing further education in STEM. A healthy and accepting environment is one without discrimination and with equality and acceptance. We can create these atmospheres by educating others on the harmfulness of racial discrimination and uplifting everyone’s voice.
The future of our STEM fields will be made up of a diverse and eclectic group of people. As long as we take the necessary steps now to open up positions in STEM to more POC and educate our youth in the right ways, we can build a better tomorrow.