The multifaceted problem of diversity in technology has caught the attention of companies, nonprofits, academics, and the federal government. Now Arizona State University has launched a new Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology to address the reasons why so few women and girls of color pursue or persist in technology careers.

The Weak "Pipeline" for Women, Minorities in STEM

One of the many persistent roots of Silicon Valley's diversity problem is the lack of a robust so-called diversity "pipeline." In other words, there aren't enough women and underrepresented minorities getting an education in STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- for companies to hire an adequately diverse workforce.

While the "pipeline" problem can be construed as an easy cop-out for tech companies, there is a demonstrable lack of skilled U.S. workers to fill high tech jobs, and while the underrepresented minorities report the desire to pursue STEM degrees at the same rate as their Asian American and White peers, fewer minorities stick with their STEM major or otherwise see their degree through to graduation.

The educational system fares the worst when it comes to helping Latinas, and Black and Native American girls take their interest in STEM fields all the way through a postsecondary degree. For example, while as much as 75 percent of girls in middle school express an interest in science and math, only 10 percent of girls will eventually earn a bachelor's degree in STEM, according to ASU.

ASU's New Hub for Women in STEM

To study and decode that problem as it relates to women of color -- the least-represented demographics in Silicon Valley -- Arizona State University launched the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology on Monday.

The center's mission is to enlist the help of academics, policy makers, and experts in STEM fields to research and develop strategies that help break down the barriers that prevent girls and women of color from studying for, and pursuing STEM careers.

"This is a critical goal that requires expertise, experience and brainpower from a variety of fields," said Dr. Kimberly A. Scott, the center's executive director and associate professor in ASU's School of Social Transformation in a statement released to Latin Post. "Our collective work will manifest into a larger and further reaching impact to benefit girls of color."

Dr. Scott previously founded the nationally recognized after-school and summer program CompuGirls, which teaches skills in digital media and game development to teen girls from under-resourced school districts in the area.

The STEM diversity problem is national, and with backing from the White House, ASU was chosen to lead the National STEM Collaborative, a consortium of 12 higher education institutions and 15 non-profits to research best practices and resources for the development of women of color in STEM fields -- and then scale those solutions on a national level.

National Push to Improve STEM Pipeline for Girls

ASU's new Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) will serve as a the first and only central hub for the collaborative, building programs specific to African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American women pursuing STEM fields.

The goal, as Scott put it, is to "make a systemic impact on issues of disparity that are affecting our society as a whole." The center will work on a three to five year timespan, pursuing three main strategies: knowledge amplification, networking resources, and scaling best practices.

The first goal is to provide solid data and research around advocating for girls in STEM that schools can immediately put into practice from the pre-school level and up. The second is to boost the pool of talented students and faculty, and increase the availability for girls of color to enter into and complete higher education in STEM fields. Finally, the last will be a collaborative effort to build and support programs that funnel women of color from community colleges into full four-year university STEM programs.

The Broader Mission

Beyond an issue of best practices, the problems of diversity in technology are also cultural, and CGEST hopes to highlight how the lack of women and minorities isn't just an economic problem, but one of social justice. Dr. Scott, who is African American, has first-hand experience with that side of the diversity issue.

"I can recall going back to my time teaching in high-needs districts back East where I witness differential treatment by teachers and administrators in the schools," she said in ASU's blog announcing the center. "They thought that these kids didn't know enough or would never have the capacity to know enough because of their race, or gender, or socioeconomic status."

"So for me, not only as an African American woman, but as a social justice activist," she added, "this is something that we all must take seriously if we are really interested in addressing inequity."