Are Minorities Underrepresented in STEM

Are Minorities Underrepresented in STEM

October 14, 2021

In short, the answer is yes. According to the National Science Foundation, the STEM workforce is 89% white and 72% male, while the overall workforce is 78% white and 53% male. Preliminary 2020 U.S. Census data shows that the United States is diversifying more rapidly than expected, with nearly four of 10 Americans identifying with a race or ethnic group other than white. The STEM workforce does not reflect this increasing diversity. 

This is a major issue for STEM fields, and particularly for the tech industry. We are going to take a closer look at underrepresentation in the tech field and explore this topic further. 

What are underrepresented minorities in tech?

The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics defines an underrepresented minority as three racial or ethnic minority groups (Black or African Americans; Hispanics or Latinos; and Native Americans or Alaska Natives) whose representation in science and engineering education or employment is smaller than their representation in the U.S. population. 

When looking at who is considered an underrepresented minority, it is important to keep in mind that the term “underrepresented minority” is a general umbrella used most often in educational or research settings. The specific circumstances and factors that lead to underrepresentation are unique to each group. So we will refer to these groups individually as much as possible throughout this piece instead of focusing on the umbrella term that might misrepresent their unique barriers.  

How diverse is the tech industry?

Looking at diversity in the tech industry statistics, the answer is clear: the tech industry has a big issue. 

While reading this section, keep in mind the population segments in the United States: 

  • 13.4% – Black
  • 18.5% – Latinx
  • 1.3% – Native American/Alaskan Native 
  • 0.2% – Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 

Looking at Black computer science graduates, we see the lack of diversity represented starkly. According to the U.S. Census, Black Americans comprise 13.4% of the general population. Duke University looked at computer science graduates between 2011 and 2018 and found that Black students made up only 3% of the graduating classes. Federal data shows that from 2017 to 2019, only 8.6% of computer science graduates were Black.

Computer science also has one of the lowest percentages of female degree recipients. In fact, only 19.9% of computer science undergraduate degrees were awarded to women in 2018, despite 50.8% of the population being women

Intersectionality is important to examine as well. Women earn 21% of all doctorates in computing; less than 5% are awarded to Black, Latinx, Native American/Alaskan Native, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women, however.

Big tech companies began publishing annual diversity reports in 2014, but the numbers have not moved much since that time. For example, Black workers represented 3% of Facebook’s workforce in 2014 and that number has only increased to 3.8% over the time of reporting. Women have moved up as a higher fraction of the workforce, with Google and Facebook’s percentage of female workers in 2014 hovering around 15%, increasing to 23% at the beginning of 2019. 

Google’s 2020 annual diversity report did show some improvement, although not enough to be able to claim parity—5.5% of employees identifying as Black or Black and any other race, and 6.6% identifying as Latinx or Latinx and any other race. 32.5% of employees identified as women. This is not an isolated case, as industry peers show similarly skewed statistics. Amazon and Apple had slightly higher proportions of Black and Latinx employees due to the retail and warehousing units where these communities have greater representation in these companies. 

Why diversity in tech is important

Diversity in the tech industry can sometimes seem like a nice  buzzword or pat-yourself-on-the-back type of goal for businesses to achieve. However, building inclusivity and diversity into the tech industry is necessary and beneficial for all parties. Here are a few of the many reasons why diversity in tech is important: 

Homogenized Workers = Homogenized Products

The real world is a diverse place. If your team is composed of people who all look the same and come from similar backgrounds, then they will most likely build a product that is targeted for people who look like themselves. To create products that work for everyone, it’s necessary to include input from a diverse range of people.

Increased Profits

One global survey found that when profitable firms moved from no female leaders to 30% representation, there was a 15% increase in the net revenue margin. Gender diversity leads to increased profits, and diversity in general is simply good for your bottom line.

Creative & Quick Solutions

Diverse teams bring together a range of different knowledge bases. They are able to provide perspectives that can help solve problems in innovative ways quicker than groups who share similar perspectives and backgrounds. In fact, a diverse team is able to identify and solve issues that a homogenized team would overlook. Diverse teams provide better outcomes. 

Customer Connection

Software is used by humans, and these end-users of these products are a diverse group of people. Diverse teams tap into their own knowledge bases and create products that all customers can connect with. 

Why is there a lack of diversity in the tech industry?

There is no one answer to this question, due to the fact that there are complex and interrelated structural and social barriers that keep diversity from thriving in the tech industry. 

For example, one study done by Gallup and Google in collaboration found that structural barriers such as limited access and exposure to computer science create disparities. This study found that Black students are less likely than white students to have classes dedicated to computer science at the school they attend (47% vs. 58%, respectively), and that Black (58%) and Hispanic (50%) students are less likely than white students (68%) to use a computer at home at least most days of the week. 

The social barriers include issues with the perception that computer science is a field for white men, and found that female students are less likely than male students to be aware of computer science learning opportunities on the Internet and in their community. 

How do we solve the lack of diversity in the tech industry?

While there are no easy answers, there are specific actions that can, and should, be taken.  At Eleven Fifty Academy, we have partnered with community leaders like Martin University, Eastern Star Church, The Excel Center, and Indy Women in Tech to work together towards increasing tech industry access for women, minorities, veterans, and rural populations. Our Advancing Tech in 46218 plan is to build a tech hub in the middle of this historically Black neighborhood with the help of our community partners. We also offer free introductory online courses as well as a variety of tech bootcamps with part time and full time options to fit busy schedules. Take our short quiz today to find the program that’s the right fit for you!

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