STEM jobs often pay higher salaries than non-STEM-related jobs, however, the STEM workforce remains disproportionately white and male. According to 2019 data by Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of the STEM workforce is white, while Hispanic and Black workers fill approximately 8% and 9% of all STEM jobs, respectively. But, at the time this study was conducted, Black workers made up 11% and Latinx workers made up 17% of the total workforce, which shows that the racial diversity in STEM does not accurately reflect the U.S. workforce as a whole.
The Federal Reserve found that “the typical white family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family.” Because careers in STEM often offer higher pay than other jobs, one solution to closing the racial wealth gap is to create more opportunities for people of color to pursue careers in STEM.
Add Diversity to STEM Curricula
Princeton University is an example of how higher education institutions can work to increase representation in STEM. One Princeton professor of physics, Ali Yazdani, who immigrated from Iran to Oakland, California as a teenager, told students and faculty at the school that he understands first hand how difficult it is for marginalized groups in the U.S. to find valuable educational and professional opportunities. He then explained to those at Princeton that they “need to diversify the STEM pipeline because simply put, you don’t want to miss out on bright people. People with intelligent ideas come from all walks of life.”
In an effort between multiple professors, staff, and students, Princeton’s Council on Science and Technology created a Community of Practice group in 2021 to make substantial changes to their STEM courses for the 2021-2022 academic year to highlight “a diverse range of people who contribute to scientific discovery, framing scientific discoveries within societal and historical contexts, and illustrating core concepts with examples that have personal or cultural relevance to students.” Other colleges and universities can learn from Princeton’s initiatives to encourage students of all backgrounds to pursue STEM and contribute to adding diversity to the field.
Apprenticeships Are Helping Students of Color Transition to a Career in STEM
One St. Louis organization called LaunchCode is making efforts to bridge the gap between underrepresented people and STEM by offering a free apprenticeship program to help students build technical skills and transition into the field. Since the program launched, LaunchCode found that students who completed the apprenticeship had an average income after the program about 150% greater than students who did not complete it. Additionally, apprenticeship completers had a 99.7% chance of being employed in the STEM field afterwards.
Another organization called Fund II Foundation, of which Robert F. Smith is founding director and President, provides grants to nonprofits that prepare students of color for careers in STEM, among other missions. Under Smith’s leadership, the organization launched its flagship internship program, internXL, which connects college and postgraduate students majoring in STEM or business with employers in those industries.
The internXL program works in partnership with another non-profit Smith helped launch called Student Freedom Initiative. Student Freedom Initiative focuses on providing students who attend Minority Serving Institutions (MSI’s) with resources to boost their social and economic mobility in effort to close the racial wealth gap. Student Freedom Initiative collaborates with participating schools through internXL to offer not only high profile internships, but also the skills needed to get in those doors, which include resume writing, interview preparation and test-taking techniques.
Learn more about the internXL program, the importance of internships and find advice on when or how to apply to internships.