The Black Lives Matter movement is creating much-needed conversations regarding representation and equality. In our post, Distrust in Healthcare: Racial Bias and Representation, we point out that, although 13% of the U.S. population is Black, only 4% of physicians are Black.
Without proper representation, communities of color may receive healthcare that relies on racial bias, is of poor quality, and does not adequately consider their thoughts and feelings. Medicine isn’t the only field in need of reform when it comes to representation in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) need better representation as well.
STEM fields are essential to the progression of society, and it’s critical that all underrepresented groups have a hand in creating what will be our reality a few weeks, months, years, and decades from now. In this post, we look at what percentage of STEM professionals are Black and how, through funding and early learning opportunities, we can have a STEM workforce that is more representative of the nation’s makeup.
Only 9% of workers in STEM fields are Black. This low number coincides with the wage gap that exists between Blacks and whites. Most STEM positions pay well. Because white and Asian individuals comprise most of the workforce, they get the receive more.
Speaking of pay gaps, while it is beginning to decrease, the one that exists among those in the fields of STEM is very real. The median earning for Black individuals in this field is $59,000, whereas the median income for white individuals is around $70,000.
While it’s possible that this deviation in pay is correlated to the specific position, it is important to remember that higher-paying jobs require greater education. Systemic racism can be a factor that prevents individuals from meeting certain educational requirements. Because accessing higher education requires a lot of money, many Black STEM professionals hold positions that require less education. Such a position may relate to medical technology or healthcare. Overall, Black individuals in STEM only earn 81% of that of their white counterparts.
Roadblocks to Equality
To increase Black representation in the STEM fields, there are several steps that can be taken. These are not exhaustive but merely a starting point.
- Funds Must be Reallocated to Education in Black Communities
Schools with strong populations of white students receive approximately $23 billion more in funding than schools that have a majority of Black students. This lack of funding leads to underpaid teachers, a lack of school supplies and resources, unsatisfactory school lunches, and the absence of extracurricular activities. An education robbed of these items can leave students with ill feelings when it comes to continuing their education to receive a degree and pursue a profession in a STEM-related field. Increasing funding to schools in Black communities can allow them to receive a richer education, setting them up for a brighter future.
- Create Extracurricular STEM-Related Experiences
Creating fun and engaging ways to teach young people about STEM can allow them to foster an appreciation for these professions. Camps, job shadowing, clubs, and competitions centered around STEM can all be fun ways to keep kids engaged. It’s possible that early exposure can inspire them to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or math in the future.
- STEM Programs Should Encourage POC in their Faculty
For most people, deciding on a career path is difficult. It takes time, consideration, and a source of inspiration. A role model in the form of a professor or teacher can be this source of inspiration, providing students with insight into life as a professional in the field they are considering. Finding a STEM professor who is a person of color can be tricky since only 2% of full-time professors at universities within the U.S. identify as Black. Keep in mind this statistic is across all areas of study, not just STEM fields. In order to provide students with role models of color, schools must take it upon themselves to hire people of color. Some steps to reaching this goal may include creating a diversity committee and focusing on faculty recruitment methods to increase diversity.
Not Just Filling a Quota
Even when Black scientists, researchers, and healthcare professionals earn their degrees, they may be left without a seat at the table. In respect to the Black Lives Matter movement, one journal, Nature, decided to publish content on their site, which exclusively featured work submitted by members of the Black community on June 10. The decision to do so on this date was not random. Instead, it aligned with the plans for those in STEM fields to protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on the same day. Those planning to protest called on others through their social media accounts to join them in marching, sprinkling their posts with the hashtags #ShutDownStem, #Strike4BlackLives, and #BlackintheIvory.
These protests call on the STEM companies and institutions to make not just structural changes, but operational changes as well. Members of the Black community indicate feeling silenced when it comes to sharing their contributions with the public. It’s possible that these feelings are connected with how society perceives people of color when it comes to representation in STEM. It’s not unusual for those who are white to suggest that people of color are filling a population requirement. Publishing and celebrating Black scientists, technology professionals, engineers, and mathematicians is essential to changing this false narrative.
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