3 Ways The Private Sector Can Support Stem Diversity (Source: Houston Business Journal)

May 3, 2019

By Jennifer Roath

As we celebrated Diversity Month, it was important to acknowledge that diversity in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is still an issue in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make up 47 percent of the labor force, but only 13 percent of engineers are women. Currently, only 28 percent of STEM professions are filled by non-white people. But, by 2050, there will no longer be a majority race. The diversifying population makes it clear that America’s future global competitiveness requires engaging students at all stages of the educational pathway.

As professionals in the private sector, we can play a big role in this effort. Becoming an advocate for STEM education can easily fit within your professional goals. In fact, supporting and encouraging participation in STEM initiatives will help your business become more competitive. Specifically, some of the ways we can help include:

Promote Awareness

A 2011 research study by the Society for Research in Child Development showed that as early as the second grade, children develop cultural stereotypes that “math is for boys.” This negative stereotype, once internalized, affects the confidence and career aspirations of women and influences their decisions well into college.

However, providing children with early positive experiences can help overcome this bias. The highly publicized Scully Effect – a phenomenon that saw an influx of women pursuing STEM careers thanks to the positive representation of Agent Scully in “The X-Files” – is just one example of how representation has a positive influence. But it’s more than just introducing female engineers to young girls. It’s about providing context around your career and sharing how you make an impact.

How do you do this? Host a booth at career day, judge a STEM competition, volunteer in a mentoring program, or visit a school and share your passion for STEM. As a professional, you can promote awareness by simply participating. When kids see what actual engineers and scientists look like and how they work, they start to see themselves in these professions.

Sponsor Scholarships

Almost every professional society and association offers college scholarships. Help these societies and associations raise funds through golf tournaments, skeet shoots, events such as 5k runs, galas, etc. Contributing to scholarship programs via event sponsorships enables underrepresented students to enroll in, and hopefully excel in, STEM higher education.

Provide Internships

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey reported that 70 percent of black and Hispanic STEM employees felt that lack of encouragement and dearth of role models were contributing factors in the STEM race gap. However, lack of interest was not.

To encourage students, offer STEM internships at your company through career fairs and university programs. Encourage employees, who can serve as role models, from your diverse workforce to participate in these programs.

Internships provide students with practical experiences and networking opportunities that can then lead to future hiring opportunities upon their graduation. According to Hire Houston Youth, more than 10,000 students, ages 16-24, applied for over 7,500 opportunities in 2018. These students are passionate and ready to enter the workforce.

The challenges of STEM Diversity is a multifaceted problem that needs to be addressed at all levels of education. As a professional, you can play a major role in simple, yet highly impactful ways, to take positive steps toward increasing STEM diversity.

YOU CAN ALSO READ THE STORY HERE (Story on Page 46. Subscription to Houston Business Journal Required)