Increasing Diversity in STEM

The lack of diversity in STEM fields is a multifaceted problem at all points along the education-career pipeline; increasing diversity won’t come from a few, easily articulated changes. That said, some important steps can be taken to attract, enrich, and retain women, LGBTQ people, and people of color in STEM fields. We need to improve early STEM education by ensuring elementary and middle school students have qualified, passionate, and supportive math and science teachers. We must increase access to and equity in STEM classes and majors in high school and post-secondary education. And, we need to do a better job ensuring that all workplaces are welcoming and provide growth opportunities equitably. Many of the current gaps and inequities are rooted in unconscious biases, and these must be identified and addressed.

Breaking Down Barriers to STEM

Identifying the problem as a “gender gap in STEM” is one of the barriers to closing said gap. Most often, this is interpreted as the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, but in my view this paints too narrow a picture. In some STEM fields, like biology, women are actually overrepresented. Little data is available about the representation of non-binary people in STEM fields. Imbalances in representation are inherently intertwined with pervasive pay inequalities and uneven opportunities for growth and leadership. It is exceptionally difficult to solve a problem that is not well-defined; to move the needle on any of these issues, we need to more carefully define what we are working to change.

Moving Women Forward in STEM

I believe that if our daughters have early role models and well-qualified teachers in STEM, they will be more inclined to believe they can and should pursue and succeed in STEM careers. As parents, we need to be champions and advocates for improving the professionalization of primary and secondary school teaching. We need excellence in STEM teaching from pre-K onward.

As our STEM-loving daughters grow up and move into careers, some seismic changes will be needed to retain them in STEM fields over time. Pay and opportunities need to be equalized, bro-culture in the workplace needs to eliminated, and the “mommy track” that takes women off leadership paths in the workplace needs to be fixed. In the home, caregiving responsibilities and the assumptions about who assumes them must become more evenly balanced. Women must have the same time and support to pursue and succeed in demanding careers, and this can only happen if workplace obligations and social expectations undergo a massive reset. Men need to be allies in effecting these changes.