Non-Profit Organizations are Changing the Diversity Equation in STEM

Science, technology and professional development organizations, such as those participating in the U.S. News STEM panel, are doing the math and coming up short in the size and diversity of today’s talent pool in STEM.  

STEM leaders from across the country convened at the 6th annual U.S. News STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference in San Diego, last week, to address how to change the equation for building a stronger and more diverse STEM workforce for tomorrow.

Science, technology and professional development organizations are taking a leading role in addressing some of the major challenges facing STEM - from developing early education programs, recruiting more skilled workers in key industries to boosting diversity across the field.

A panel of four of these leading organizations, each with a laser-focus on diversity in STEM, addressed how to advance inclusion in STEM industries.


On the panel:

Cheryl Goodman, Executive Director of Athena, a business organization championing women executives and rising managers in STEM, moderated the panel discussion.

Janet Bandows Koster, Executive Director and Chief Executive OfficerAssociation for Women in Science (AWIS), a national platform for essential research advocacy and education to advance women in STEM.    

Irving Pressley McPhail, ED.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) a non-profit working to bring engineering education to underrepresented minorities.

Viola Thompson, President, Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF), a group focused on increasing the representation of black professionals at senior levels in technology. 

These non-profit organizations are making great strides in bringing together a wide range of STEM stakeholders to increase diversity for our future generations.

Positive Factors -  Huge Growth in STEM Jobs

STEM jobs are growing faster than any other U.S. sector. Available jobs in the field are set to increase 17 percent between 2014 and 2024. 

The empirical research is clear: A more diverse STEM population heralds huge benefits to tech innovation. It promotes new perspectives, deepens learning, increases social engagement, and expands innovative thinking.  And it impacts the bottom line. According to a University of Maryland and Columbia Business School joint study, gender diversity at the management level leads to a $42 million increase in value of S&P 500 firms.

Supporting the development of a diverse pool of science, technology, engineering and math talent has become a focal point for educators, policy makers, technology companies and non-profit organization due to the high demand for qualified professionals in these fields.


Negative Factors - Women and Minorities Continue to be Under Represented in STEM Leadership

The percentage of STEM representation by women and minorities is actually decreasing.

More women than men are enrolled in all U.S. undergraduate programs today. But as recently as 1012, just 18 percent of women earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering

(a 12% drop since 1991. The number was even lower for Hispanics at 8 percent, and just 4% for African Americans. 

By contrast, in China, where there’s a strong cultural emphasis on STEM from an early age, 40 percent of engineers are women.  (Source: National Science Foundation)

Continuing U.S. leadership in technology will require a far more diverse talent pool in science and engineering fields than the alarmingly white and Asian male talent pool of today.

“If you Google images of “Scientists” you will be presented with a photo array of white males. We need to change the way scientists and other STEM professionals are viewed in this country,” observed Janet Bandows Koster.

But change is a long process that needs to begin now. 


5 Ways to Change the Diversity Equation in STEM

The challenge is simple - mathematically speaking. Increase the number and diversity of talented STEM professionals to meet the increasing demand across a wide variety of disciplines. 

Non-profit organizations are taking a leading role by putting the equation in cultural and human context.  In this context, the equation is suddenly more complex. And it gets even more complicated when you consider all of the variables.


Variable 1 – Start Filling the Pipeline of Talent Early

Our panelists agreed that the key to U.S. competitiveness in the future global market is to expand the pool of students. It is especially important to expose under represented populations, to STEM education beginning K-12.

“We need to reach, teach and cultivate aspiring minority STEM talent while they are young. But it is not just about offering curriculum. We need to reach parents as well,” saysThompson.

 “Much of our youth come from families that have never had a college graduate. They don’t know what scientists or engineers look like, or what types of jobs are out there, ” adds Koster.

 Again, non-profits often take the lead in developing K-12 programs in STEM. In the audience was a representative fromthe Fleet Science Center, which offers the 52 Weeks of Science Programs aimed at youth. Getting get more parent involvement was one of his biggest issues.

We recognize the importance of having parents get involved in their children’s choices early in order to help them establish a path to a STEM career. If students in high school don’t take the right classes, they may not get into the programs or colleges they need to pursue a career in STEM. NACME has developed materials specifically aimed at parents,” offered McPhail.


Variable 2 – Support College to Career Programs

Today’s Universities often partner with companies and professional organizations to offer internships, speaker series and mentoring.

Organizations, like Athena, also partner with universities, tech companies and accelerators to promote the next generation of women and minority-founded start-ups through education, funding and mentorship. 

These organizations also reduce barriers to entry for aspiring STEM talent by offering merit-based college scholarship programs.


Variable 3 – Understand Changing Perceptions and Desires

STEM careers are changing. And what the next generation wants in their careers reflect those changes.

Non-profit organizations work with educators to promote cross-functional studies to illustrate diverse career paths by connecting STEM with other disciplines, including the humanities and the arts.

“There are so many ways that STEM careers are evolving. For instance, the fashion industry now employs engineers for the design and manufacture of high-end clothing,” states Koster.

The panel recognizes that this generation is also motivated by social good, so their organizations bring in speakers to demonstrate how combining fields of study can make a positive impact.

“An example is how the combination of science and engineering skills enable significant technological advances in medicine that reach populations across the globe,” states McPhail.

These organizations and leading tech companies also work with Universities to create more opportunities for ancillary training, including parallel graduate degree programs that allow for studies to evolve with broadening interests.


Variable 4 - Support Career Development & Ascension

Educational programs, mentoring and career development platforms to help women and minorities rise to executive levels are core offerings for the panel’s organizations.

“In 1999, I was the first African American, female, Vice President at Ernst & Young. I joined ITSMF because I knew they could help me navigate in the C-suite and develop the skills I would need as an executive,” states Thompson.

Industry and business organization offer programs to help women and minorities at all levels of their careers; C-Suite Executive Leadership, Middle Management Career Growth and Skills Development. They also stage special events that encourage peer-to-peer networking.

 It is also important to recognize and celebrate the female and minority leaders in STEM to model what success looks like to future generations. These organization hold annual galas that garner media, industry and academic attention.


Variable 5 – Get Commitment From All the Stakeholders

A diverse STEM community is an achievable goal but it must engage all the stakeholders. Parents, teachers, peers, university professors, industry partners and the government must all make a commitment to encouraging, nurturing, and mentoring successful STEM talent. 

“We try to take our message to Washington, to make certain when the Congress and others debate issues of U.S. competitiveness that there’s a clear recognition that America can never reach and maintain its cutting-edge posture in STEM unless there is a concerted effort to bring more underrepresented minorities into the field,” states McPhail.

Through partnerships with employers and educators, providing scholarships and fellowships, conducting and publishing research, hosting conferences and regionalized events, and working with our government leaders, these organizations are making great strides in bringing together a wide range of STEM stakeholders. 


Variable 6 – Scale Up!

We need all of the stakeholders to do the math. Put real numbers to all of the variables, add them all together then multiply them until we reach the numbers America needs sustain a leadership role.

The solution depends on getting all of the stakeholders to take an active and financial role in the outcome.

 “As non-profits, we spend so much of our time chasing the money we need for programs and operating expenses, that it is hard to grow to reach the full potential of our audiences,” says Goodman.

All of our experts on the panel agreed that the answer to this far-reaching problem requires a long term, broad commitment across our entire culture. We must all work together in a more deliberate effort to create a robust, rigorous, creative, and diverse STEM community that benefits our society.