Diversity in STEM Matters — It’s Not Rocket Science

It’s a well-documented finding Black, Indigenous & People of Color (BIPOC) are severely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math jobs in relation to their overall standing in the U.S. workforce. Black people make up 11% of the U.S. workforce overall but only represent 9% of STEM, while Latinos comprise 16% of the U.S. workforce and just 7% of all STEM workers according to the PEW Research Center. However, that percentage is the product of steady growth in STEM industries. In 1990, only 7% of STEM professionals were Black and just 4% were Latino as compared to 9% and 7% in recent reports.

Who Makes Up the STEM Workforce?

The diversity of STEM jobs vary across industries. We do know that some of the largest numbers of Black or Latino workers are within health technician and nursing sectors. Specifically, 37% of licensed practical and vocational nurses are either Black or Latino. Blacks and Latinos make up about 27% of health support technicians, 25% of medical records and health information technicians, and 25% of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. Among registered nurses, 17% are Black or Latino.

Many of these vocational careers do not require multiple degrees and can be obtained through more cost effective programs. The disparities are more apparent in careers that require higher degrees and pay higher salaries. Blacks and Latinos only make up 14% of chemists and material scientists, 10% of atmospheric and space scientists, 7% of environmental scientists and 6% of astronomers and physicists. This gap in income and employment can be attributed to access to education.

What are the Contributing Factors to the Lack of Diversity in STEM?

The inequalities in education area major concern among Black employees. Black employees across numerous industries say they are not met with fair treatment in hiring decisions or in opportunities for promotion and advancement. Most BIPOC in STEM positions agree the major underlying contributors to the lack of representation of Blacks and Latinos in STEM occupations are limited access to quality education, discrimination in recruitment and promotions and a lack of encouragement to pursue these jobs from an early age.

Many people of color are all too familiar with these educational structures. It starts as early as pre-school, where BIPOC families lack access to affordable preschool and childcare compared to White households. Because of this, many children of color are already behind their White classmates by kindergarten. From there, BIPOC students often face lack of access to tutoring, discriminative school policies (singling out Black and Latino students for cultural hairstyles and policing their bodies) and even racism directly from educators that discourages these students from succeeding academically.

A STEM Superstar Shining Through the Industry

Many Black people have heard the age-old (and disheartening) adage, “you have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.” Black people have faced so much adversity and yet still manage to prevail. This adversity and determination often makes Black minds some of the brightest in the STEM world, but many are not even given the opportunity to showcase their abilities and talent. There are numerous outstanding Black engineers, doctors and scientists making waves. A bright and beaming example of #BlackExcellence is Tiger Bracy, Senior Manager of Industrial Design & Head Polaris Slingshot Designer. He channels his inner artist and draws inspiration from dragons and serpents to create the head turning 3-wheeled roadster.

Many Black customers have fallen head over wheels in love with the Slingshot across the nation without ever knowing the designer himself looks just like them. Bracy says the Slingshot’s integration into hip-hop culture is from, “wanting to be heard, wanting to be accepted. And when you look at Slingshot and what we did and what we were going for, you can see the correlation between the two.” We need to continue uplifting voices like this to see greater innovations and contributions to the science, technology, engineering and math industries.

Source: PEW Research Center

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