Although women have made great strides in the workforce and currently make up approximately 47% of the U.S. workforce, they remain largely underrepresented in fields such as engineering, computer sciences, and the physical sciences. Despite a national push to increase students in the math and science fields, a recent study from Change the Equation shows the STEM workforce is no more diverse in 2015 than it was in 2011. Like women, minority workers struggle to gain access to employment within the STEM fields: Hispanics, blacks, and Native Americans make up only 10% of the population of science and engineering workers. In every science and engineering occupation, over half the workers are non-Hispanic whites. While the number of women and minorities receiving STEM degrees is discouragingly low, the number of women and minorities using these degrees to work in a STEM job is even lower; a majority of these people end up taking jobs in education and healthcare.
These statistics are troubling for many reasons. Not only are these populations not accessing the same levels of education as white men, the lack of diversification in these fields can lead to further problems and stagnation within the field. Diversity within any field is critical for its success and the STEM fields are arguably some of the most important fields in determining our country’s success as a nation. The current lack of diversity creates a large, untapped population of ideas and way of thinking; there is a critical need to quickly increase the diversity within the STEM fields.
To increase the number of female and minority populations in other STEM fields, universities must create equal and engaging opportunities for all students within these areas. Firstly, no gender or population biases should be considered acceptable; women and minorities must be welcomed and encouraged to expand within these fields. Additionally, these populations need more role models within these fields to pave the way for greater populations of students and workers. Mentoring and peer support programs within the schools could address these issues, as could more tutoring and support services to ensure that students remain in the program and are successful as they proceed.
A lack of a strong mathematical foundation has been found to be a great deterrent to any STEM applicant, so stronger math programs at the lower levels (high school, middle school, and even elementary school) are necessary to properly prepare STEM students for the rigorous college courses. Historically black colleges have a great deal of capital to draw upon to increase the degrees needed in STEM fields: it follows that increasing the number of STEM courses at such colleges would lead to an increase in the number of STEM degrees received. Preparing students for STEM courses in high school and middle schools could also offset the shock that meet some students when they attempt these courses for the first time in college; like universities that must prepare its students for success in the STEM workforce, these lower schools must prepare its students for success at the college level.
Fear of failure has been cited as a large deterrent to females and minorities when considering STEM courses and careers; this fear begins at an early age and persists throughout a person’s lifetime. At the very least, this fear will create barriers to information about the field; at the worst, it will create barriers to the field itself. The most important way to attack this fear is to cut it off at its roots and show all children – regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender – that all doors are open to them. Encouraging young children of diverse backgrounds to apply themselves in the math and science fields and become passionate about their schoolwork creates teenagers that are passionate and confident in these fields, which in turn creates passionate and confident college students that turn into a passionate and confident workforce.
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