Diversity in Tech: 2015 STEM Index Indicates Positive Trends for Minorities in STEM, But Race, Gender Gap Worsens
New data from the 2015 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Index, the second-annual study of growth in STEM jobs, careers and educational pathways carried out by U.S. News/Raytheon, shows Silicon Valley's lack of diversity is still rooted in education. The gender and racial gaps in STEM fields have widened since last year.
The 2015 STEM Index was created as a way to track the growth of STEM degrees and jobs against baseline statistics pulled from the year 2000 (see the complete methodology here).
Isolated Progress, But Widening Diversity Gap Overall
The index, released on Monday by U.S. News in a great interactive page, shows growth in STEM-related education and jobs in the U.S. compared to last year.
This year's index also shows an uptick in the rate of STEM degrees and some indicators of interest in STEM fields for minorities that remain underrepresented in Silicon Valley, including for Hispanics.
Yet relative to the total growth of STEM -- and especially compared to the year-to-year increase in Asian and White students and graduates in STEM -- for the underrepresented set still lags behind, and, in fact, the study indicates that, on the whole, racial and gender gaps for STEM fields have actually widened.
For example, the rate of Latinos gaining graduate degrees in STEM fields is up over 20 percent from its low in 2009.
But the same category doesn't even register on the chart when it's adjusted to show total STEM degrees, and women and minorities fall far below white males, who remain the dominant, and faster growing, subset of all STEM graduates.
The 2015 STEM Index shows upticks in the percentages -- but with little progress in the larger scheme of things -- for women, Black, Native American and other underrepresented demographics in technology fields.
U.S. News & World Report, and some of the experts interviewed by the media outlet on its latest findings, attributed most of the lack of progress to the culture of STEM fields and perceptions about it among minorities and women.
"There's still a big cultural problem: People put STEM in a box, the nerd box, a bunch of geeks in lab coats," said U.S. News's editor and chief content officer, before noting that the reality of the growth of technology means that "STEM is increasingly in everything, in most occupations."
Similarly, director of research for STEM advocacy group Change the Equation Claus von Zastrow told the magazine, "The culture of STEM jobs has not done enough to make it truly appealing to minorities and women."
These conclusions could be drawn from measures from this year's STEM Index that indicate early interest in STEM fields -- or the lack thereof -- from Advanced Placement tests and surveys of interest at the high school level.
For example, environmental science (highlighted) and statistics (the trendline just below it) remain the only major growth subjects for STEM fields in AP tests.
Or similarly, from a survey of interest in STEM fields broken down by demographic and subject that shows a sharp decline of interest in Math among all students, and still-low, slowly growing levels of interest among Blacks and Latinos in fields like Technology and Engineering.
But attributing the root problem to the perception of STEM as "nerdy" or "uncool" among underrepresented minorities is likely too broad a description -- and too easy.
For example, as we previously reported, a recent survey of urban and underprivileged Black and Latino high school students by the Creating IT Futures Foundation showed that nearly 40 percent of the student body was interested in a tech career of some kind.
And three of the Top 10 most-desired careers reported (out of 60 total options) were STEM careers, like programmers and computer design engineers.
What the study further showed was that the teens' perceptions of what schooling was necessary to get a job in technology were often overblown. For example, a significant percentage of those teens and their parents believed that IT jobs, even those that only require a couple years of formal training, all required a four-year college degree no matter what.
Put simply, the cultural problem with student perceptions may not be so much about how "nerdy" a STEM career is -- but rather how unattainable it is.
One point made by von Zastrow is applicable no matter what the root problem you attribute for the lack of diversity in technology. "What happens," he told U.S. News, "is you get into this vicious cycle where the fewer minorities and women there are in STEM, the less hospitable it is to those who remain."
Or for those who aspire.
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!