Why STEM Diversity Matters to All of Us
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THE ONGOING DEBATE about the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) diversity dilemma has a pretty low signal-to-noise ratio: Despite the constant stream of TED Talks, books, blog posts, and corporate initiatives, there’s surprisingly little consensus about what the latest statistics and trends mean—much less how we’re going to address the issues they raise. But there is consensus about the big reason it matters: Evolving ourselves and our society for the better through technology will require a far more diverse talent pool in science and engineering fields than the alarmingly resilient white- and Asian-male pool we’re running with today.

In the interest of speaking a universal language, here are five revealing numbers that paint a clear-eyed picture of the state and impossible-to-ignore implications of STEM diversity today.

8,650,000

Estimated size of the STEM workforce in the U.S. by 2018. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

STEM jobs are growing faster than any other U.S. sector. Available jobs in the field are set to increase 17 percent between 2014 and 2024, while non-STEM employment will grow just 12 percent. Technology companies alone—led by giants like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple—will need to fill more than 650,000 new jobs by 2018. Two-thirds of these new hires will be STEM talent. Still, interest in this field is concentrated among white and Asian men, while the emerging workforce does not fit this demographic: Nearly half of U.S. children are girls and an increasing number are underrepresented minorities. In China, by contrast, where there’s a strong cultural emphasis on STEM from an early age, 40 percent of engineers are women.

84

Percentage of working professionals currently in science and engineering jobs in the U.S who are white or Asian males. (Source: National Science Foundation)

Fifteen years into the 21st century, the talent pool makeup in STEM disciplines resembles a 1980s U.S. Census report. As do the graduating classes of American undergraduate engineering and technology programs: While more women than men are enrolled in all U.S. undergraduate programs today, just 18 percent of women earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering as recently as 2012. The number was even lower for Hispanics (8 percent) and for blacks (4 percent).

-12

Percentage drop, since 1991, in the number of computer science degrees earned by women in the U.S. (Source: National Science Foundation)

In 1983—right before the dawn of the personal computer revolution—women earned 37 percent of all computer science degrees in the U.S. Today, despite the fact that women comprise more than half of the workforce, their STEM representation (as well as that of minorities) has gone in reverse. One potential cause? A striking lack of female leadership in the world’s best universities. (Particularly egregious: The U.K., where just 17 percent of engineering and technology professors are women.) Though mentorship programs and scholarship opportunities are attempting to, um, stem the tide, time is (lost) money. By 2018, in the U.S. alone, it’s projected that 92 percent of STEM jobs will require some level of related higher education.

$15,900

Annual salary gap, as of 2013, between male and female professionals in STEM-related jobs. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

When women and minorities do complete undergraduate STEM programs, they face still more disparity: The STEM wage gap between men and women in the U.S. is almost $16,000 per year, and £17,000 in the U.K. Today’s median wage for blacks employed in U.S. STEM jobs is $75,000 and around $77,000 for Hispanics, while whites earn a little over $88,000 annually. Women in science and technology jobs, according to Harvard Business Review, are also 45 percent more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within a year as a result of what they consider a hostile work environment.

+40

Percentage difference in the number of U.S. information and technology patents filed by mixed-sex teams compared to all-male teams. (Source: National Center for Women & Information Technology)

The empirical research is clear: A more diverse STEM population portends huge benefits to tech innovation at large. (And some would also argue, provides a much-needed moral compass.) According to a University of Maryland and Columbia Business School joint study, gender diversity at the management level leads to a $42 million increase in value of S&P 500 firms.

The noise and the numbers are prompting real change around the world: Intel just pledged $300 million to its “Diversity in Technology” initiative to train and recruit women and underrepresented minorities, hoping to achieve “full representation” of women and minorities by 2020. In New Zealand and Portugal, nearly half of all science and engineering doctoral degrees are awarded to women. And a global benchmarking study found that, thanks to substantive legislative policies supporting STEM access for all, Brazil leads the world when it comes to women’s participation in science, technology, and innovation. There are promising solutions in orbit—now it’s time to connect the dots.

Additional Sources:

U.S. Department of Commerce: Economics and Statistics Administration

National Center for Education Statistics

U.S. Department of Labor

Australian Council of Learned Academies

WISE Campaign

WISAT

(article courtesy of wired.com)

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