May 2023

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Diversity in STEM

How can we authentically build diverse STEM spaces, #4Real?

Here at STEM4Real, we sometimes play the Counting Game, especially when we see a panel of speakers, a board of directors, or a bestseller author list. This is the game we play in our Leadership 4 Justice course where we count the people of color in our context. We then count the people of color that are leading and speaking in meetings and workshops. The numbers aren’t looking good. If we want to serve our diverse student populations, we have to demonstrate that representation for our students to see.

Diversity is an essential aspect of STEM if we want to make this field equitable for every student. It’s critical to recognize and address disparities that exist within STEM to foster a more inclusive and equitable community. Despite progress in recent years, diversity in STEM remains a significant issue, with women and underrepresented minority groups still vastly underrepresented in these fields. According to data released by the National Academies of Science, the gap in STEM workforce representation is prominent especially for our Black and Hispanic communities.  Hispanic workers make up 17% of total employment across all occupations, but just 8% of all STEM workers. Black workers comprise 11% of all employed adults, compared with 9% of those in STEM occupations. 

Take this in consideration also with the fact that STEM is the fastest growing field within the next five years. In a CNBC newsletter, the World Economic Forum projects that jobs in Artificial Intelligence, Engineering and Sustainability and Business Analysts are most promising, all which are STEM professions and require STEM analytic skills.

We all have experience on the significant impact of STEM in our daily lives, from the technology we use to the medicine we rely on. However, historically, STEM is dominated by white men, leading to a lack of diversity and different perspectives in problem-solving. This homogeneity can hinder innovation and progress in STEM fields by limiting the range of ideas and approaches used to solve problems.

A lack of diversity has many implications, which can lead to an unhealthy work environment, where people may feel unwelcome or excluded, leading to poor mental health, and higher turnover rates. This lack of diversity also leads to a lack of role models for individuals from underrepresented groups, discouraging them from pursuing careers in STEM fields.

At STEM4Real, we believe in changing the narrative and show that every student has a place to be part of STEM. Diversity means more than highlighting Scientists and Engineers of color. Most importantly, we want our students to see themselves in STEM by incorporating their stories and passions within our lessons.

To address issues of diversity, here are some initiatives to promote diversity in STEM fields. These include:

  • Mentoring and networking programs: Many organizations have implemented mentorship programs aimed at providing guidance and support for individuals from underrepresented groups, helping them navigate STEM fields. We have to tap our leaders of color to take on leadership roles and provide them with mentorship support to navigate challenging professional environments. 
  • Scholarships and grants: There are many grants and scholarships that support underrepresented groups in pursuing STEM degrees and careers, helping to alleviate the financial barriers that may prevent individuals from these groups from pursuing STEM fields. Our role is to ensure that we are spreading the word about these opportunities to our students of color.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training: Companies, schools, districts, and organizations are investing in diversity and inclusion training to educate individuals on the importance of diversity and foster a more inclusive work environment. STEM4Real has a Leadership 4 Justice program which helps leaders and educators using our Recognize-Dismantle-Rebuild Framework to create an actionable Vision 4 Justice for an equitable learning environment.

It is however, important to ensure that we are not tokenizing people of color to serve as meeting a “quota” or “diversity hire”. Ensuring a diverse workforce means revisiting recruitment practices, networking with diverse associations of color, expanding the pool of applicants, and most importantly, creating an inclusive culture that values anti-bias and anti-racist practices.

As leaders in STEM, it is our responsibility to ensure that when we play the Counting Game, we see our students represented in the numbers. Diversity in STEM fields is essential to fostering a more inclusive and equitable society. It is critical to recognize the disparities that exist within these fields and that we must take action to promote diversity and inclusion, especially if we want the top growing professions to be filled with students representing our nation’s population. The benefits of diversity in STEM fields cannot be overstated; a diverse workforce brings with it a range of different perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds, leading to more innovative, creative problem-solving and equitable solutions.


Learn more about how we promote student equity and social justice in STEM4Real