Candidates commonly miss opportunities when trying to find a new position. It’s not unusual to encounter someone in a scientific or technical position who excels at their work but still gets rejected when applying to a new role. This unfortunately happens sometimes when employers favor people they already know, or pick someone who seems more familiar to them, which can be discouraging for those who don’t fit into these categories.
While there may be valid reasons for not hiring someone, bias should never be one of them. It’s important to ensure that underrepresented groups with skills in STEM are given equal opportunities and not held back by any kind of prejudice.
As leaders, it’s our responsibility to create a welcoming and inclusive environment that recognizes the unique skills of all individuals. Remember, investing in people can lead to significant growth for both individuals and organizations.
Challenges to Work On
There’s a long way to go for candidates from underrepresented groups to have equal opportunities in STEM fields. Leaders can help people speak up for themselves and take charge of their projects. Here are some things that management can work on to improve.
1. Disagreement about DEI efforts.
Do you cater to diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) needs? Not everyone will say it, but some think these activities disrupt the workplace. Some employees may even express their feelings through their body language.
Would you believe that 42% of employees believe their organization’s DEI efforts are disruptive? Two out of five say they feel isolated by their organization’s DEI efforts, and some have come to resent these activities.1
2. The median wage in STEM roles needs to be equal.
STEM occupations pay generously. This is regardless of a person’s sex, race, ethnicity, or disability status. People who finish higher education get paid more.2
The issue, however, is still the lingering gap between the pay of men and women, and between persons with a disability and those without. Men in STEM occupations earn around $64,998, while their female counterparts earn a smaller amount of around $59,931. Professionals without disabilities earn about $64,969. Meanwhile, tech employees with at least one disability earn $8,063 less. A situation like is a clear disadvantage for everyone.
3. There’s limited representation for persons with disabilities, especially in higher-paying positions.
Although there’s an increase in the number of persons with disabilities working in STEM, they still account for only 3% of the workforce. This percentage has remained the same since 2011. As much as 46% of STEM workers with at least one disability worked lower skilled roles, compared to 38% of people without a disability.3
Although these professionals have expertise, they aren’t promoted to leadership roles as much as others because their superiors lack confidence, awareness, and belief in them.4
What Progress in STEM Looks Like, According to NSF 2023 Report
Everyone has a unique skill set and perspective to share. Your team can overflow with possibilities if you let them. Progress happens when professionals belonging to underrepresented groups are considered equal in the workplace and everyone is compassionate in welcoming them.
Being part of the same team for a long time unites everyone involved. The prolonged experience aligns minds with each other, but this may lead to a shortage of unique perspectives. Working with diverse people, including those in underrepresented groups, spurs innovation, as different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives are given importance alongside technical skills and creativity.5
1. Diversity in Race and Nationality
The STEM workforce in the US has progressively diversified since 2011, with an increase in the people of color.
Hispanic workers now represent 15% of the total STEM workforce, while Asian and Black workers are 10% and 9%, respectively. However, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives together only made up less than 1% of STEM employees.
Even though there are still groups lacking representation, there is no doubt that things are going in the right direction.
2. More Women in STEM
Meanwhile, in 2021, women ages 18 to 74 years old made up 51% of the total U.S. population and about 35% of people employed in STEM occupations.
This grew from 9.4 million in 2011 to 12.3 million in 2021.
3. People with Disabilities Going Full-Time
On the other side of the industry, individuals with disabilities who worked part-time in an occupation related to science and engineering (S&E) have expressed their desire to work full-time. This is around twice the rate of those without a disability – 28% vs. 15%.
Compared to 2011, the number of STEM workers with at least one disability increased from 900,000 to 1 million.6
4. Women Graduating with Degrees
65% of women working in STEM roles in 2021 had a bachelor’s degree. Women’s representation in college-educated science and engineering workforces is around 61% in social and related sciences and 16% in engineering.
There has been a great increase in the number of science and engineering degrees earned by women from 2011 to 2020 – around 63% earned associate’s level degrees, 34% at the bachelor’s level, 45% at the master’s degree level, and 18% for doctorate levels.
Improvements to Manage and Sustain
To help underrepresented groups be more visible and successful in STEM, here are some things both leaders and colleagues can do:
1. Make Assistive Technology More Accessible
To help professionals with at least one disability work more comfortably, organizations need to address the lack of technology that can help them.7
Assistive technology can provide the following and more within a set budget:
- Braille displays
- Large print materials
- Screen-reading software
- Doorbell with flashing light alert
- Phone with captioning
- Amplified telephones
Speech and communication
- Voice amplification systems
- Speech generating devices
- Communication boards
- Alternative keyboard, mouse, or joystick
- Automatic page-turners
- Doorknob grips or handles
2. Organize Unconscious Bias Training
Successful training for addressing unconscious bias provides people with concrete tools that can help change their behaviors. These tools help them understand others’ experiences, which will hopefully motivate them to be more inclusive.
An example is what Patricia Devine and her colleagues developed at the University of Wisconsin. In the training, implicit bias was measured, and it was discussed how it harms women and people of color.8 Participants were also asked to take the Implicit Association Test. This test demonstrates how people fall prey to unconscious bias to some degree.
People were taught how to overcome bias through strategies, such as calling out stereotyped views, reflecting on counter-stereotypical examples, and increasing interactions with different kinds of people.
3. Encourage Upskilling and Career Exploration
STEM is a broad field that most people would love to explore. Encourage interest in STEM careers by connecting with STEM-focused organizations.
Investing in the skills and experience of every team member is crucial. When individuals from diverse backgrounds are given the freedom to excel in a field they choose, it paves the way for greatness and innovation.
Whether you are seeking to hire new candidates or upskill current employees, it’s important to recognize the potential in each individual. By creating an inclusive workplace where everyone feels comfortable and empowered, you can help your team achieve greatness in STEM fields and beyond.
Encourage your team members to represent and lead by example to grow into their full potential.
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1 Emily Rose McRae and Peter Aykens. “9 Future of Work Trends For 2023”. https://www.gartner.com/en/articles/9-future-of-work-trends-for-2023 . Published last December 22, 2022. Accessed last March 22, 2023.
2 “STEM Median Wage and Salary Earnings”. https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf23315/report/stem-median-wage-and-salary-earnings . Accessed last March 23, 2023.
3 Alison Snyder. “What the hidden STEM economy reveals about diversity in the workforce”. https://www.axios.com/2023/02/02/stem-workforce-diversity . Accessed last March 23, 2022.
4 Debra Ruh. “Creating Opportunities For People With Disabilities In STEM Careers”. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/10/05/creating-opportunities-for-people-with-disabilities-in-stem-careers/?sh=56294e386d4c . Published last October 5, 2021. Accessed last March 23, 2022.
5 “Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities”. https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf23315/report . Accessed last March 22, 2023.
6 “The STEM Workforce”. https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf23315/report/the-stem-workforce#growth-in-the-stem-workforce-between-2011-and-2021 . Accessed last March 29, 2023.
7 “Types of Assistive Technology”. https://mn.gov/admin/at/getting-started/understanding-at/types/ . Accessed last March 22, 2023.
8 Francesca Gino and Katherine Coffman. “Unconscious Bias Training That Works”. https://hbr.org/2021/09/unconscious-bias-training-that-works . Published last September to October 2021. Accessed last March 23, 2022.