Gender/Racial Segregation in STEM!

STEM Employment

Source:  NSF

Dear Commons Community,

Charles Blow examines gender and racial segregation in STEM fields in his New York Times column today.  Citing data from the National Science Foundation (see chart above), he points to a gloomy future because of the small percentages of  females and minorities going into STEM occupations.

“Few women and minorities are getting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees, although STEM jobs are multiplying and pay more than many other careers.

This raises the question: Will our future be highly delineated by who does and who doesn’t have a science education (and the resulting higher salary), making for even more entrenched economic inequality by race and gender?

According to the NSF: “STEM job creation over the next 10 years will outpace non-STEM jobs significantly, growing 17 percent, as compared to 9.8 percent for non-STEM positions.”

And yet, the group says, we are not producing enough STEM graduates; other countries are moving ahead of us.

When you look at women and minorities, the situation is even more bleak…

The Associated Press said in 2011 that “the percentage of African-Americans earning STEM degrees has fallen during the last decade” and that this was very likely a result of “a complex equation of self-doubt, stereotypes, discouragement and economics — and sometimes just wrong perceptions of what math and science are all about.”

It continued: “Black people are 12 percent of the United States population and 11 percent of all students beyond high school. In 2009, they received just 7 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4 percent of master’s degrees and 2 percent of Ph.D.s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”

It doesn’t get better in the workplace. In a 2013 editorial, The New York Times pointed out: “Women make up nearly half the work force but have just 26 percent of science, technology, engineering or math jobs, according to the Census Bureau. Blacks make up 11 percent of the work force but just 6 percent of such jobs and Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the work force but hold 7 percent of those positions.”

Even when minority students do get STEM degrees, there seems to be a disproportionate barrier to their finding work in those fields. “Top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them,” an October analysis by USA Today found.

Furthermore, the paper reported in December: “In 2014, leading technology companies released data showing they vastly under-employ African-Americans and Hispanics. Those groups make up 5 percent of the companies’ work force, compared to 14 percent nationally.”

This issue did not suddenly appear but has been building for several decades.  Initiatives by federal and state governments have failed to ease the situation.  What is obvious is that early on in child and youth development both in our culture and in our schools, women and minorities start moving away from mathematics and science as education and career choices.  We need new ideas!


NOTE:  After this posting was made, I was made aware of a website that provides a list of thirty-five initiatives that encourage more women to enter into the cybersecurity field. 



One comment

  1. The issue of self-esteem is often underestimated when discussing students’ education. A child learns to have a healthy sense of self-esteem in the home. However, many students are not given that opportunity for a variety of reasons, and may not, therefore, set their sights on an education in STEM because both the said and unsaid messages that they receive are that they are not capable of achieving in these areas.

    In order to change such a mind-set, we need to offer opportunities to parents to learn how to encourage and motivate their children. Many students remember that one teacher who changed their life. Imagine how much more powerful that teacher’s message would be if a student heard words of encouragement from those who mean the most to them — parents and family members.

    To give a student the gift of our belief and trust in their abilities is to, perhaps, change the entire trajectory of his/her life.