Sooner or later, the pursuit of racial equity in America must focus on the vast disparity in the best available jobs – specifically STEM employment, said Dr. Calvin Mackie, a Morehouse graduate, who recently launched STEM Global Action (SGA).
Dr. Mackie wondered how African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans can obtain economic security for themselves and their families if barriers block them from the best jobs.
“Positions in science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] are going to continue to be the best paying and be available. But people of color are not positioned to take advantage,” Dr. Mackie noted in an email.
SGA counts as a campaign and network of affiliates that pursues the advancement of STEM education for minority children, parents and communities.
The organization prioritizes raising awareness of the benefits of STEM education while providing STEM learning opportunities to K-12 students in low-income and communities of color. Statistics provided by SGA show that the gap between whites and people of color remains significant in STEM.
African Americans represent 9 percent of the STEM workforce – only 5 percent of those in engineering and architecture and 6 percent in life and physical science jobs.
Hispanics represent just 8 percent of the STEM workforce.
“The picture in education is also bleak,” Dr. Mackie wrote.
He noted that 20 percent of whites and students of color declare STEM subjects as their majors but nearly 40 percent of minority students change majors and more than 20 percent leave school.
As a result, while African Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Hispanics form 27 percent of the population, they account for only 11 percent of America’s science and engineering workers.
“If racial equity is ever to exist, then STEM jobs must help make it happen,” said Dr. Mackie, the founder of STEM NOLA, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that brings STEM education to area neighborhoods at churches, community centers and schools.
STEM NOLA has affected more than 70,000 students, 17,000 families and 2,150 schools across the U.S. and five other countries.
“It is imperative that we raise awareness of the benefits of STEM if we want America to be a just and equal society,” Dr. Mackie insisted.
“I’m calling for a reckoning on STEM to help fuel transformational change in our society. People of color must be positioned for careers that support families, stabilize communities and contribute to a society no longer diminished by inequities. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s why we are committed to STEM Global Action,” he said.
Candice Dixon, the coalition development director at the national tech training nonprofit NPower, recommends the need to rewire hiring processes across industries which remain dominated by an entrenched bias for entry-level jobs that favor college degrees.
Dixon said America needs to restructure workplaces to support women of color in advancing and thriving, build more programs with public and private entities that create unique pathways for finding jobs in good-paying fields – like apprentice models – to help more women of color, young adults and individuals from disenfranchised communities’ breakthrough in the job market.
“People of color disproportionately lack the guidance, support and resources to access a traditional college pathway to good-paying tech jobs,” Dixon said. “Yet, most public and private sector hiring systems persist in requiring a four-year degree. Too many young people with the aptitude, seeking ways to improve their economic trajectory, face challenges in both areas and this is unacceptable.”
It requires a multi-pronged approach to elevate more people of color into STEM positions, offered TL Robinson, the founder of the nonprofit GOTU, which provides support for sexual assault survivors and advocates.
“We have to educate people, teach them the politics and nuances of this field to ensure that they’re ready for the jobs and provide educational resources that keep potential candidates prepared in this fast-evolving space,”Robinson said. “Then, make introductions, socialize jobs and advocate for their employment.”
A report by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggested that the Black Lives Matter movement has refocused discussions about representation in the classroom – not to mention outright racism – stirring poignancy and creating urgency.
“Figuring out how to give Black students on a STEM path in college a greater chance of making it to and through graduate school,” the report’s authors wrote.
The report continued:
“As researchers and institutions try to monitor racism and racial imbalances in academia and pinpoint their roots, there’s increased interest in scholastic programs aimed at boosting retention. Universities are looking to replicate the successes of existing efforts — and find ways to remedy their shortcomings,” the report said.
Immunologist Kenneth Gibbs, a program officer for diversity efforts at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in Bethesda, MD, told PNAS researchers that he believes the solution to retaining Black individuals in STEM is, to an extent, straightforward.
“Black students need what all other students need: opportunity, resources and respect,” Gibbs said. “Do we have the same opportunities? Are we given the same resources in terms of relationships, space and funding? And are we given the respect that everybody else gets?”
“We’re told ‘yes’ even though we know the answer is usually ‘no’ and then we’re blamed for having less favorable outcomes,” Gibbs concluded.