Executive Summary

Tackling the issue of diversity in STEM fields requires changing well-engrained workplace cultures. It can be an immense task, but progress in diversity leads to a more equitable talent pool and better outcomes for companies and organizations. The path to success includes listening, measuring efforts, partnering with organizations that promote STEM diversity, publicizing role models, and creating mentor, internship, and training programs that include a diverse community.

Promoting Diversity in STEM

Women, Blacks, and Hispanics are underrepresented in the Science, Technology, and Mathematics fields, collectively known as STEM [1]. According to the most recent federal data, only 7% of the people who earn STEM degrees are black, and just 12% are Hispanic. While women are well represented in some areas, including health-care-related STEM occupations, they are underrepresented in other fields. For example, only 13% of engineers are women. This disconnect is reducing the STEM talent pool at a time when the overall need for workers with these expertise is growing. And, while racial and gender equity is a virtuous goal in and of itself, diversity also reduces the potential for racial and gender biases in decision-making at all levels and often leads to better results. A McKinsey and Company study found that companies with high gender diversity on their executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profits. It can positively impact not just companies focused primarily on STEM applications but all organizations, as well as the military.

“This compilation of identities contributes to the new and innovative ideas that are vitally important to our success as an Air Force. Collaboration and communication across our workforce is only enriched by the sharing of ideas and experiences by Airmen of various backgrounds; this will inform change.” – Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, Deputy Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command 

Diversity can make your organization more attractive to a workforce that is more likely than ever to seek out employers that prioritize representation. In a recent survey, 80% of adults said they want to work for organizations that value diversity, equity, and inclusion. A third said their companies are doing “a lot” of work in this area.

At a time when companies are struggling to find qualified candidates for skilled positions, jobs in STEM fields are expected to grow twice as fast as those in non-STEM areas. Millions of STEM jobs are expected to go unfilled soon, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Obstacles

Perception

Due to stereotypes and media representations, some people may perceive careers in STEM to be nerdy. Others have very few opportunities to see themselves in STEM at all. Men are twice as likely to be depicted in STEM roles in TV and movies. It is even rarer to see Blacks and Hispanics in these roles. This lack of representation in media can prevent diverse candidates from even considering careers in STEM.

Reputations are built on trust, and when multiple organizations within an industry do business in ways that result in condemnation from the public, it can impact the trust that potential employees have for the entire industry. Recently, several high-tech firms have been involved in discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits. Google recently settled a class-action lawsuit claiming gender discrimination for $118 million. Tesla is being sued for racial discrimination. Amazon is facing several discrimination and harassment cases. When potential employees see patterns of hostile work environments within an industry, they can be reluctant to pursue a career in that field.

Workplace Inclusion

Changing the workplace culture means treating each employee with respect and valuing contributions and opinions often shaped by diverse backgrounds. It is a very difficult challenge in that it means overcoming any underlying racism and sexism. It means changing the workplace culture.

Some companies are making progress. Johnson&Johnson is one company often cited for being at the forefront of diversity. They have set up employee resource groups, mentoring programs and ‘Diversity University,’ a website that helps employees understand the benefits of working collaboratively.

The tech company DropBox is often cited for making diversity strides. Among other efforts, they hold a series of workshops at historically black colleges and universities. This has significantly increased the diversity of internship applicants.

The Air Force Research Laboratory offers paid internships to a diverse group high school and college students, as well as high school teachers.

Cultural Exclusion

  • While a workplace culture can seem healthy to the majority, women and minorities might be unsupported, overlooked, and not included as teammates.
  • In a Pistoia Alliance survey, 47% of women saw workplace culture as the most significant barrier to embarking on a STEM career.
  • In a Pew Research study, Black adults ranked engineering and science as among the careers least welcoming to Blacks.