Women, Minorities Continually Left Behind In STEM Jobs

A study released by U.S. News and Raytheon gives a detailed analysis of the continuous growth in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field but not for everyone: overall, women and minorities are not making progress in this field at the same rate as white males. However, other studies show that the talent is readily available, and the companies have not made enough of an effort to attract and retain it.

The number of STEM related bachelor’s degrees earned overall has consistently gone up since about 2009, but very large racial and gender gaps remain. Females have seen a steady increase over the years but not large enough to catch up to their male counterparts. Minority groups overall have either remained consistent or seen an uptick, but still come nowhere close to whites.

However, statistics show that this is not even the root of the problem because the percentage of women and minorities who get hired into the STEM field remains significantly lower than the already low number obtaining STEM degrees. In 2014, Blacks made up six percent of all tech students but this number was not reflected among some of the world’s big tech companies. Only four percent of Intel’s employees are Black, with Microsoft and Cisco seeing only three percent, and Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Twitter seeing just two percent. Hispanics, making up 11 percent of tech students in 2014, did not fare much better. Intel saw the highest number of Hispanic employees, but still remained under at eight percent, with Twitter coming in at a mere two percent.

Several of these companies have made statements expressing how important diversity is to their company culture but have taken no action. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has said, “There’s just so much research that shows that diverse teams perform better at anything you’re trying to do” and stressed that “Companies that are more diverse do better.” But the statistics show that this has not been a priority as Black employees make up just two percent of the company and Hispanic employees only account for four percent.

Google faces a similar problem and provides similar empty solutions. A statement on its website reads “We’re still not where we want to be when it comes to diversity,” and its numbers definitely show this: its staff is just three percent Hispanic and two percent Black. And the company has paid the price, finding itself in the midst of several scandals involving race throughout the past year including its photo app tagging two Black people as gorillas. While the company’s insistence that this was a technical error could likely be the cause, it is still an error that may have been avoided had a more diverse team been involved with the program.

The fact that companies are not making enough of an effort to diversify their STEM departments is only perpetuating the problem because its non-inclusive culture is only turning women and minorities away. According to Chief Operating Officer and Director of Research at Change the Equation Claus von Zastrow, “The culture of STEM jobs has not done enough to make it truly appealing to minorities and women. What happens is you get into this vicious cycle where the fewer minorities and women there are in STEM, the less hospitable it is to those who remain.”

This poses an even greater problem: if women and minorities are more hesitant to enter the field because of how few women and minorities already work in STEM, it becomes even more difficult to solve the problem. However, many companies in the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity have found successful solutions that work for them.

At BASF (No. 28) it is vital to reach women at a young age so they realize the opportunities exist for them. In an interview with DiversityInc, Sundar Subramaniam, Director, Project WISE (Workforce Innovations and Solutions), explained, “It is important to reach out to young women earlier in their education, help them to see more role models of women in interesting technical careers and better understand how to prepare themselves for those roles.” BASF reaches out as early as elementary school, using its Kids Labs program, to show young girls and minorities the fun side of chemistry and ignite an early interest in science.

And once women find these jobs, it is just as crucial to make sure they have people like themselves to connect with at work in order to retain them. Bobbi Dangerfield, Vice President, Commercial Sales Operations, Dell (No. 31), emphasized the importance of employee resource groups. She serves as co-chair of the North American chapter of Dell’s employee resource group Women in Search of Excellence (WISE). “People like to work with companies where they see people who look like them,” she said. “We also think it’s incredibly important to actively have male leaders participate in the ability to move women up in the organization.”

IBM (No. 22) also understands the importance of employee resource groups. One of these is Technologista, which provides women with virtual mentors as well as information about the tech industry. According to Lisa Gable, Manager, IBM Technical Programs for Women, “We help them enable goal setting and we really create a community where IBM women can feel leveraged and networked.”

As the report shows, the STEM field is not currently succeeding in attracting and retaining diversity. However, there are also companies working to find solutions to turn this around and ensure that valuable talent is not lost, showing that making more of an effort to obtain diverse talent in these jobs could make all the difference.

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