A Black woman astronaut smiles as she poses for a photo.

Why Diversity Is Crucial in the STEM Workforce

As the world continues to make advancements in technology and science, the number of STEM jobs continues to grow. Many innovations have been and continue to be uncovered by individuals practicing in STEM fields, highlighting the increasing importance of these positions. However, these positions and the STEM industry at large continue to be held back by its lack of diversity. The STEM field has struggled for decades to reach parity, and that fight continues today.

There are many advantages that diversity has in the workplace. Across all fields, including the STEM field, increased cultural awareness, productivity and positivity are just a few of the advantages. That is why now, more than ever, it is crucial to keep fighting toward a more diverse and inclusive STEM workforce.

The Current State of Diversity in STEM

While the STEM field has slowly diversified over the past 10+ years, the current state of diversity in the field is far behind where it needs to be. In 2021, it was noted that 24% of the U.S. population occupied STEM-related positions, according to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). However, these statistics dramatically drop off when examining underrepresented groups.

Out of the entire STEM workforce, the NCSES reported that in 2021, Latino/Latinas, Black and Native American/Alaskan Native workers accounted for only 15%, 9% and less than 1% of the workforce, respectively. These groups are underrepresented in STEM fields, as they make up 19%, 14% and 1.3% of the U.S. population, respectively.

In 2021, NCSES reported that women in the STEM workforce, 18 to 74 years old, only accounted for 35% of the STEM workforce in comparison to making up 51% of the total U.S. population. To make matters worse, in 2020 women had lower median earnings than men in science and engineering (S&E), S&E-related and middle-skill occupations.

Achieving Overall Equity in STEM

The inequities that exist in today’s STEM fields need to be addressed in order to create a more equitable future for generations to come. As the demand for STEM workers continues to grow, it becomes imperative that companies seek to create equity within the STEM community. When taking a look at the future of STEM representation, it is important to look back at the root of education.

Many students do not receive exposure to STEM at an early age, especially those who come from underrepresented backgrounds. Creating an equitable STEM environment for children can help shape the future of the field.

One organization helping to achieve this is NAF. In 2020, seven NAF academies were selected to receive Fund II Foundation’s African American Youth STEM Initiative grant. Thanks to this grant, NAF has since expanded STEM internship and learning opportunities to more Black students throughout the selected academies.

Robert F. Smith’s Continuous Fight for Diversity

Robert F. Smith has been a longtime advocate for achieving equity in education, specifically within the STEM field. As a graduate from Cornell’s College of Engineering, Smith is passionate about the field and about creating opportunities for future generations. In 2016, Smith contributed $20 million to Cornell University’s College of Engineering. After this contribution, he pledged another $10 million to the university that created the Robert Frederick Smith Tech Scholars Program benefiting both Black and women students.

Smith also serves as Chairman of Student Freedom Initiative, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that aims to liberate students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) from the crushing burden of unmanageable student loan debt. Smith’s gift to the Morehouse College Class of 2019 is what inspired the creation of Student Freedom Initiative, which he launched with mission-aligned partners one year later. With an initial focus on STEM degrees, the program also provides internships, mentoring, tutoring and other services, and targeted institutional capacity building. All components of the initiative help to improve educational equity.

To stay up to date with the latest STEM organizations that Smith supports, follow him on LinkedIn.