2021 Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in STEM
| Vanesha McGee
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The broad STEM industry (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) contains hundreds of job titles, degree programs, and unique experiences. While the STEM industry features various employment options, the lack of effective support for people of diverse demographics limits many from entering into these lucrative fields.
The words diversity and inclusion often link together to form one idea about improving representation in the workplace. However, their definitions represent distinct concepts.
Diversity can describe various individual and cultural traits, plus other groupings of characteristics. Often used in reference to race and ethnicity, diversity also includes gender identity, physical ability, age, and socioeconomic status. Many of these characteristics can change over time and in different circumstances.
While the STEM industry features various employment options, the lack of effective support for people of diverse demographics limits many from entering into these lucrative fields.
Inclusion, in this context, involves recognizing, inviting, and uplifting people with diverse characteristics. Inclusive environments can generate innovative products, create a shared sense of belonging, and improve company productivity.
Several groups, including Black and Hispanic workers, are underrepresented in the STEM field, meaning they comprise a smaller percentage in the industry than in the overall population.
Companies and hiring managers in the STEM industry continue to seek opportunities to improve diversity and inclusion. Resources that encourage minorities to pursue and thrive in STEM careers support a more diverse industry.
Here you will find a guide to such resources in addition to ways the STEM field works toward increasing inclusivity.
What is STEM?
The STEM field consists of a vast network of career titles and unique employment opportunities. STEM workers typically hold a degree in a STEM-related category, such as science, technology, engineering, math, and healthcare fields. The STEM industry includes over 70 occupations, with employees obtaining various levels of education.
In the 21st century, nearly all industries include STEM-related occupations. Growth in STEM occupations increased almost 80% since 1990, primarily due to increases in computer technologies. Healthcare practitioners and technicians make up the largest division of STEM employees, with computer workers coming in second.
According to the Pew Research Center, healthcare practitioners earn the lowest median salaries of STEM workers. In contrast, computer, mathematics, and engineering professionals earn the highest median wages.
Evolution of the STEM Field
Computer jobs increased by 338% between 1990 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. Healthcare workers have nearly doubled while the employment of physical scientists has decreased by almost half in the same period.
The BLS projects STEM jobs to grow 8% by 2029, more than double the projected growth rate for jobs across all industries. By 2029, the STEM industry is projected to see an additional employment increase of 11%. The fastest projected job growth in STEM, mathematical science, make up just 2% of all STEM jobs.
Computer jobs increased by 338% between 1990 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center.
STEM workers need cognitive competencies, such as math and science knowledge, plus problem-solving skills, investigative abilities, and deductive reasoning skills.
Broadening the understanding of required skills for STEM careers and widening opportunities for STEM education can bring more diverse individuals into the field. The development of all employment sectors depends on the evolution of STEM.
Job Opportunities in STEM
The growth of the internet and information technology has led to an increased need for computer specialists across all business sectors. This demand also expands the variety of organizations seeking STEM-educated professionals.
With a median salary of $77,400, STEM workers generally earn higher salaries than employees in other occupations. Most STEM workers hold at least a bachelor's degree in a STEM-related field. Advanced degrees often connect workers with higher salaries in their careers and an increase in promotion opportunities.
With a median salary of $77,400, STEM workers generally earn higher salaries than employees in other occupations.
Healthcare systems host a majority of employment opportunities in the STEM industry. This sector includes positions such as nurses, dental hygienists, physicians, and laboratory technicians. While healthcare professionals tend to receive lower salaries than other STEM jobs, some positions remain at the higher end of the pay scale. For example, physicians, dentists, and pharmacists receive some of the highest salaries in the industry.
Computer occupations account for a large percentage of the STEM workforce. Software developers rank highest in the employee count, while information security analysts receive the highest salaries in the field.
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Career Demographics in STEM
Demographics within the STEM field vary significantly between occupations. The Pew Research Center studied trends in the STEM profession, providing vital data on demographic representation.
White workers represent the largest racial demographic in the STEM field, accounting for 69% of all STEM employees. This percentage represents an overrepresentation compared to the overall workforce. While women constitute half of all STEM positions, they do so only in the health industry, leaving significant representation gaps in other areas of STEM.
The educational background of STEM employees also constitutes an essential demographic factor. STEM workers obtain bachelor's degrees at higher rates than other employment sectors. For example, 29% of STEM workers earn advanced degrees, compared to 12% of all workers.
Race and ethnicity demographics represent a large area of focus in workplace environments. Other demographics such as gender identity, age, and educational background are significant as well. Detailed demographic breakdowns regarding race, sex, and other characteristics make up the following sections in this guide.
STEM Employment by Race and Ethnicity
The United States Census Bureau uses white, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander as race and ethnicity categories.
Although the categories can be limiting or inaccurate, analysts use these identifiers to study demographic representation in STEM fields. The identifiers noted in the tables and resources below reflect the available Census Bureau data categories and characteristics.
|% in U.S. Population||% in STEM Field||Median STEM Salary|
|Asian or Asian American||6%||13%||$90,000|
|American Indian or Alaska Native||1.2%||.3% *engineering||N/A|
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Research Center & Sandia National Laboratories
Black and Hispanic individuals, both underrepresented in the STEM industry, work predominantly in lower-paying STEM jobs, with median annual salaries of $58,000 and $60,760, respectively. Conversely, Asian or Asian American STEM workers account for an overrepresentation in the field and receive the highest median annual salaries of $90,000.
STEM Employment by Gender
Historically, research studies, including those in STEM, have collected data using binary gender identifiers rather than more inclusive gender identifiers. The information below uses BLS data to compare percentages of women and men in each STEM field along with their median salaries.
Within the healthcare industry, women are overrepresented. However, women earn 77% of the average salary of men in this same field. In computer jobs, women earn 81% as much as men. The high concentration of men in the computer sector may account for the salary gap between men and women in STEM.
Representation of women in life and physical sciences increased over the last 30 years. However, other areas of STEM did not see such growth.
Women account for 75% of healthcare practitioners and technicians but receive disproportionately lower salaries in the field than men. Men dominate computer and engineering jobs, two sectors with some of the highest salaries in the STEM industry.
What About Other Demographics?
Data on STEM workers born outside of the United States offer interesting demographic information for the field. According to Pew Center's latest social trends, race and ethnic breakdowns within this demographic provide more insight into STEM workers. Nineteen percent of STEM workers in the U.S. were born in other countries. This demographic closely represents the 18% of all workers born outside the U.S.
Little comprehensive data exists regarding sexual orientation, veteran status, gender identity, and people with physical and mental health disabilities. Not all surveys include questions about these specific demographics. Individuals may also decide not to disclose information in surveys, limiting data availability.
However, based on broad occupational data and limited studies, these minority groups likely represent small numbers in the STEM industry.
Some programs that support people of underrepresented demographics in STEM include:
Increasing Diversity in STEM
Diversity fosters new ideas and supports innovation. Educating and hiring people with diverse characteristics and experiences to enter STEM careers provides critical development in the field.
According to a recent Refinitiv global study, 20 U.S. companies ranked in the top 100 leaders of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Some of these businesses with the most workforce diversity employ more women in managerial roles. These organizations are also more likely to gain above-average profitability. Companies with below-average diversity scores tend to earn less revenue than businesses with higher scores.
When diverse groups of people attempt to solve a problem, they bring different ideas and opinions to the table. Diverse groups tend to perform the strongest in problem-solving situations. In contrast, working within homogeneous groups can hinder perspective sharing and innovation.
Why Does a Diversity Gap in STEM Exist?
Diversity gaps exist in STEM for a variety of historical and emerging reasons. Contributions to the diversity gap include emphasizing diversity programs that do not work well, along with social stereotypes that limit women and other groups from entering the workforce. Another limiting factor involves misguided ideas about who can contribute to the STEM field.
Unconscious bias can hinder inclusive hiring and promotion practices in the workplace, increasing the diversity gap. Humans often make automatic decisions based on their individual life experiences, cultural norms, and other factors. These decisions can lead to biased conclusions that they may be unable to notice, understand, or explain. Unconscious bias can negatively affect racial minorities, people with disabilities, and other minority demographics.
Some ways that professionals can decrease biased decision-making in the workplace include sincerely evaluating the reasons for all decisions and considering different perspectives gathered through communications with coworkers and managers.
The Future of Diversity in STEM
STEM companies reported an increase of 46% in diversity policies between 2013 and 2017. However, diversity policies do not substantially increase diversity in the workplace. Targeted programs and tactics, however, can work to improve diversity in the STEM workforce.
According to the Harvard Business Review, five years after recruitment efforts targeted underrepresented groups, the percentage of individuals in management rose for those demographics. Companies experience considerable growth in managerial diversity when they focus on voluntary diversity training, college recruitment of women and minorities, voluntary mentorship programs, and diversity task forces.
How STEM Training Can Improve Diversity in Jobs
With STEM training and education, students gain a deeper understanding of the field. Interest in STEM at a young age can lead to stronger desires to further education and join a related profession.
Training opportunities and advanced degrees help decrease the pay gap in STEM careers. Organizations offering training, mentorship, and competitive salaries to minorities support the continued growth of a diverse STEM workforce.
Resources for STEM Students and Graduates
Why Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Matters
Diversity in STEM fields can provide opportunities for economic improvement and social development. Knowledge, experience, and innovation can exponentially increase diversity and inclusion practices. As employees interested in STEM explore professional options that offer inclusive environments, diversity initiatives that create meaningful change become critical.
With growing public and political interest in diversity, federal funding for women in STEM programs and antidiscrimination laws become more prevalent and support increasing diversity in the field. Current trends in STEM employment show that diversity initiatives continue to need attention.
Increasing a company’s workforce diversity generates higher revenues, up to $570 billion in profit across the technology industry alone.
Increasing a company’s workforce diversity generates higher revenues, up to $570 billion in profitacross the technology industry alone. Companies with high diversity scores see significant increases in profits than companies with lower scores.
STEM innovation relies on the continued diversity of the field. Increasing the diversity of people in STEM advances the industry's capabilities and overall business growth.
Frequently Asked Questions
When referring to people, diversity represents characteristics including physical, social, and cultural traits. Race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, ideologies, and other experiences and identities are elements of diversity.
The most underrepresented groups in STEM include Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native peoples. Limited data is available regarding nonbinary people and other groups in STEM. In specific sectors of the STEM industry and at managerial levels, women are underrepresented and paid lower salaries than men.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives increase innovation, productivity, and revenue across STEM fields. Ongoing inclusion efforts create environments where employees and executives feel comfortable contributing their diverse perspectives.
Some of the fastest-growing STEM jobs include software developers, information security analysts, and engineers. Expansion of computer and information technologies present vast growth opportunities across various employment sectors.
Angelique works to support and repair the connections people have to themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. She builds intergenerationally, with a commitment to transformative justice, to question and depolarize the beliefs and practices that can lead to isolation and feelings of powerlessness. She co-creates or reclaims ways that can promote resilience and healing from historical and social harms.
A queer asian gender-binary nonconforming parent, Angelique founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support through materials and process assessments, staff training, and community building. She organizes as a part of National Perinatal Association’s Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, the Houston Community Accountability and Transformative Justice Collective, the Taking Care Study Group, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.
Angelique Geehan is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Feature Image: Sunwoo Jung / Stone / Getty Images
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