Professionals working in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — fuel our nation’s economic growth and drive innovation. In fact, STEM jobs are directly responsible for 39% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the U.S., according to the STEM and the American Workforce report from FTI Consulting.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects STEM jobs to grow twice as fast as all occupations combined between 2019 and 2029 (8% vs. 4%). As a result, those trained in sought-after STEM skills serve vital roles across these flourishing fields.
However, maintaining this growth trajectory isn’t possible without thoughtful intervention that focuses on ensuring that people in underrepresented racial, ethnic, and gender groups have the same opportunities.
The Importance of Diversity
A lack of diversity in STEM may stunt economic growth, slow job expansion across various STEM fields, and potentially weaken our nation’s position as an innovator. Unfortunate factors, including STEM stereotypes and limited visibility of diverse role models (according to a survey from Emerson Electric Co.), can hinder STEM development and undermine racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.
People of color — specifically Hispanics and Blacks — are often underrepresented in STEM fields. According to Pew Research Center, 9% of STEM workers are Black and 8% are Hispanic, though these individuals make up 11% and 17% of all U.S. employed adults, respectively. Meanwhile, white and Asian workers are overrepresented in STEM fields, and other races and ethnicities (including American Indians/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, and mixed races) together represent 3% of both STEM fields and the workforce as a whole.
While women have gained ground during the past several decades in STEM, they are still vastly underrepresented in certain fields, including engineering and computer jobs. According to Pew Research Center, women who’ve made strides in these fields have armed themselves with advanced degrees.
To keep up with a growing demand for skilled workers, many employers are focusing on racial, ethnic, and gender diversity as part of a conscious push to practice diverse hiring to expand their pools of talent.
Diverse workplaces have been found to foster innovation. Consider some of the world’s most prosperous urban centers: New York, Singapore, Dubai, and London. It’s not a coincidence that these cities have bustling immigrant communities. According to the World Economic Forum, there’s a “direct correlation between highly skilled immigration and an increase in the level of innovation and economic performance in cities and regions.”
Diversity in STEM plays an important role in ensuring that America maintains its economic status and leads in innovation across STEM fields.
The Impact of Technology
The growing digital economy and rapid technology innovation are sparking STEM expansion and powering the demand for STEM professionals, creating opportunities for skilled workers of all races, ethnicities, and genders. The internet of things, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are just a few areas where we see these opportunities. Cybersecurity is another. In fact, the BLS projects employment for information security analysts to grow by an impressive 31% between 2019 and 2029, making this the 10th fastest-growing job among all occupations.
While technology make lives easier, it also opens up consumers to the risks of data breaches and privacy concerns. As a result, companies increasingly need innovative thought leaders and investments in cybersecurity infrastructure. The Australian Cyber Security Growth Network projects the global cybersecurity market to grow from $173 billion in 2020 to $270 billion in 2026.
Paving the Way for Diversity in STEM
Individuals and organizations can proactively foster diversity in STEM in various ways, providing inspiration and support to students and those aspiring to work in a STEM field.
Partner with Human Resources
Maryville University’s Taylor Bell, who earned an online master’s in cybersecurity at the university following a stint in healthcare, advises becoming part of a hiring committee. She became an advocate for diversity in STEM while transitioning to technology and now serves as the university’s instructional technology specialist. Knowing your audience is key, she says: “Learning about pedagogy and delivery has been a big part of my own personal and professional growth and figuring out how to engage different levels of learners in the same opportunity.”
Serve as a Mentor
A number of organizations seek out seasoned and enthusiastic mentors for students considering higher education in STEM. Girls Inc., for example, serves girls ages 5 to 18 across the U.S. and Canada through mentorship and evidence-based programming. Other STEM mentoring and training programs include The Hidden Genius Project (for young Black men) and the Latino STEM Alliance (for low-income students of color).
Make Opportunities Accessible
Aspiring STEM students tend to be exposed to technology, math games, and science experiments in school at a young age. For those in underserved groups, such as people of color and those living in rural areas, accessibility to technology is a challenge. Improving opportunities for the estimated 20% of rural students in public schools, for example, can help encourage students to seek postsecondary STEM education.
Encourage Students to Earn Degrees and Certificates
STEM students can find a variety of areas to fine-tune their expertise by earning degrees, certificates, and badges in applicable fields. Industry-related certifications, such as Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), EC-Council Certified Security Analyst (ECSA), EC-Council Certified Encryption Specialist (ECES), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), and Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP), allow candidates to bolster their credentials. Often, these credentials can be earned as part of a university degree program, such as Maryville University’s online master’s in cybersecurity program.
Network with Advocates
Attending conferences to gather information and network is another way to promote diversity in STEM. The Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), for example, is the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural conference in support of diversity and fostering advancement of leadership in STEM.
Join Professional Organizations
Individuals looking to encourage the advancement of students in STEM fields can also join professional organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), and National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME).
Reach Out to Role Models
Another way to encourage communication and share experiences is to reach out to role models who are eager to share their stories and talk about hurdles and triumphs. DiscoverE, started more than 30 years ago, connects professional engineers nationwide with millions of students.
Learn More About STEM Education
Paving the way for diversity in STEM helps to fuel economic growth and secure our nation’s status as a driving force in innovation. To meet the growing demand for STEM jobs, more emphasis will be placed on preparing for the future. Those with in-demand skills in the STEM fields are more likely to find job opportunities.
Discover how a STEM education, such as Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Cybersecurity program, positions aspiring innovators for success in pursuing their professional goals.