The K–12 education system in the United States gets a D+ when it comes to engaging and encouraging girls to pursue careers in the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. The system also gets a D for the job it does to encourage Blacks, Latinos and American Indians in these fields, according to a survey of chemists and chemical engineers.
And the grade point only gets a little better when it comes to corporate America.
Across the board, a large number of respondents gave their own companies and organizations a C for having women and Blacks, Latinos and other underrepresented groups in senior positions to serve as role models and mentors for the younger employees.
The Bayer Corp. survey is based on an online and telephone survey of 1,226 “underrepresented minority” and women chemists and chemical engineers who are members of the American Chemical Society. This includes white and Asian women, as well as Blacks, Latinos and American Indian men and women.
“If we want to achieve true diversity in America’s STEM workforce, we must first understand the root causes of underrepresentation and the ongoing challenges these groups face,” says Greg Babe, president and CEO of Bayer Corp. “We want to knock down barriers. If we can do that, we’ll be able to develop the attitudes, behaviors, opportunities and resources that lead to success.”
Other major findings include:
Education and the Formative Years
- Regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, interest in science begins in early childhood. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents say they first became interested in science by age 11. This parallels the findings of a 1998 Bayer Facts survey of American Ph.D. scientists, which included white men. In that survey, 6 in 10 also reported an interest in science by age 11
- A large number of respondents said that teachers and college professors played a big role in discouraging their aspirations to pursue a STEM career, with 60 percent saying they were discouraged during college and 41 percent indicating they were discouraged in high school
The top three causes identified in the survey to explain the underrepresentation of women and “minorities” in the STEM fields were:
- A lack of quality science and math education programs in poorer school districts (75 percent)
- Persistent stereotypes that say STEM isn’t for girls or “minorities” (66 percent)
- Financial issues related to the cost of education (53 percent), according to the survey respondents
On the Job
- More than 77 percent say significant numbers of women and underrepresented groups are missing from the U.S. STEM workforce today because they were not identified, encouraged or nurtured to pursue STEM studies early on
- Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of those polled say underrepresentation exists in their company’s/organization’s/institution’s workforce
Among the leading workplace barriers that currently exist for women, Black, Latino and American Indian chemists and chemical engineers are:
- Managerial bias (40 percent)
- Company/organizational/institutional bias (38 percent)
- Lack of professional development (36 percent)
- No/little access to networking opportunities (35 percent)
- Lack of promotional/advancement opportunities (35 percent)
“This and previous Bayer Facts surveys confirm something I’ve long known: that interest in science is genderless and colorless,” says Dr. Mae C. Jemison, an astronaut, medical doctor, chemical engineer and the first Black woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on Sept. 12, 1992.
Jemison is the spokesperson for Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense program, an award-winning initiative to advance science literacy through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education.
“All children have an innate interest in science and the world around them,” Jemison said. “But for many children, that interest hits roadblocks along an academic system that is still not blind to gender or color. These roadblocks have nothing to do with intellect, innate ability or talent. On the contrary, they are the kinds of larger, external socio-cultural and economic forces that students have no control over. As students, they cannot change the fact that they do not have access to quality science and math education in their schools. But adults can. And we must.”