Minorities in STEM

Making an Impact: Women and Minorities as STEM Role Models

The importance of role models is never questioned because of the positive influence they have on others. Imagine the impact on the world if more women and minorities were already in STEM leadership positions.
By Joseph Warren

The growing gap in the STEM labor pool is well-recognized, and great minds are trying to develop strategies to fill the pipeline. One approach is to get more young girls and minorities interested in STEM careers by introducing STEM activities in the elementary schools and adding STEM curriculum in the high schools. Offering the activities and classes is one step. Another critical step is connecting what is done in the schools to the real world by highlighting the STEM role models – the women and minorities who are in senior STEM leadership positions. When youth and young adults have role models they are better able to understand the real opportunities for success. Filling the STEM pipeline with diverse people is a solution to the STEM labor deficiency.

Following a Passion to Success, Despite the Barriers
At the June 2015 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference, a panel of mostly women and minorities discussed the path that led them to their careers. The title of the panel says it all: “STEM Role Models: Lighting the Way to Career Success.” Racquel Jemison is a senior chemist for Formulation Sciences of Core R&D at The Dow Chemical Company. While in college, she noticed that she was frequently the only African-American woman in the science classes. Instead of being discouraged, she saw it as an opportunity to stand out. Jose Romero-Mariona was 16 years old when he came to the U.S. from El Salvador. He now works at Command Center Pacific as a lead research scientist for cybersecurity, space, and naval warfare systems. He believes that supporting others like him is important. Stephanie Reeves was a Legos fan as a child. She created an art piece in the sixth grade, which the teacher call trash and crumpled it up. She decided at that moment to go into math and science and is now an engineering advisor for facilities engineering of San Joaquin Valley Business Unit at Chevron, a career path that was supported by a mentor.

Role models like the panelists can have an enormous influence on youth. They show that career paths can unfold in a variety of ways, and that following a passion can lead to success. Unless more children and college students choose STEM careers, the U.S. will have an enormous labor shortage of labor which will affect the country’s ability to compete. Having a strong STEM focus in the educational system and in the workforce will be the only way the U.S. can maintain a competitive status through the development of new cutting edge industries. Innovation has always been the foundation of the country’s success, and it has become even more important in a global economy.

If women and minorities chose STEM occupations in the same percentage as their representation in the labor force, there would be no shortage of STEM professions. Just as important is the fact that STEM jobs will be the fastest growing set of occupations over the next 20 years and are higher paying jobs offering interesting and innovative work. Women in STEM jobs earn a third more than women in non-STEM jobs. This could be an important pathway for closing the wage disparity between non-minorities, and women and minorities.

Coming Out of the Shadows
Role models also inspire a new generation of innovators who have been kept in the shadows by conscious and unconscious bias. The women and minorities in senior STEM positions can demonstrate how they turned a private passion for math, science and technology into careers where they find solutions to critical problems like shortages of natural resources or hunger. STEM curriculums teach problem solving and critical thinking, which promote innovation. Diverse children who enjoy building robot models from Legos can look to role models to understand how their mechanical abilities translate into careers like robotics or other technology jobs.

Embracing diversity in STEM is important because some of the country’s best minds are found in diverse people. U.S. diversity conveys a competitive advantage if, and only if, the brain power is put to work. Under-represented people often have significant barriers to overcome their entire lifetime, from poor schools to workplace bias. When Jesse Jackson called out the big tech companies in 2014 for their lack of diversity, it raised awareness of the significant waste of brain power even as the Silicon Valley companies raised concerns about a labor shortage.

Jackson explained that the biggest tech companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook are run by progressive leaders who would have been expected to value equity. Yet, they had a stunning lack of diversity in one of the newest industries, and that was threatening to continue the historical exclusion and lack of diversity found in so many industries. Jackson wanted to put the spotlight on the tech industry before lack of diversity became ingrained, and the snowball impact has been recognition of the fact that the answer to the labor shortage is found in diversity.

In 2014 USA Today it was reported that top universities are graduating black and Hispanic engineering and computer science students at twice the rate that tech companies were hiring them.** The tech companies blamed a lack of diversity on a lack of diversity in the talent pool, and the graduation rates proved that argument was false. After Jackson started the national conversation on the lack of diversity in tech companies, they began issuing diversity reports, and only 2 percent of tech workers at seven Silicon Valley companies were black and 3 percent were Hispanic, but 4.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science or computer engineering from top-notch schools were earned by African Americans and 6.5 percent were Hispanic. The numbers simply do not add up. Changing these numbers is good for the country, good for women and minorities, and good for the tech industry, and role models can play a big part in making it happen.DiversityPlus Signature

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