Crisis in STEM

0
49

The debate surrounding the grim statistics for Black professionals and entrepreneurs in the $2 trillion-plus STEM-based ?innovation economy? is fervid, and rightly so. Ethnic minorities in high-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations are glaringly lacking, even as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects such occupations to grow faster than the average for all occupations, with median annual wages of some jobs at nearly $76,000. That?s more than double the $35,080 median wage for all workers just two years ago. According to BLS data, Blacks comprised just 6.9 percent of computer and mathematical occupations; 7.4 percent of life, physical and social science occupations; and 5.2 percent of architecture and engineering occupations in 2011.?

?

Selma to Silicon Valley

?There is an unbroken line from Selma to Silicon Valley,? Rainbow PUSH Coalition founder and president, the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, said at the PUSH Tech 2020 Summit his organization hosted in San Francisco in May. He was referring to Selma, Alabama, the nerve center of the Voting Rights Movement of the 1960s, and to San Francisco?s hub of tech innovation and venture capitalists popularly referred to as Silicon Valley. ?

?

Held in conjunction with Rev. Jackson?s ?Silicon Valley Digital Connections Project,? the summit advocated substantive, accelerated diversity measures by technology companies and called on some of the country?s biggest tech firms to reveal their employee workforce diversity data. Analyzing workforce data furnished by tech behemoths like Google, eBay and Facebook, Rainbow PUSH found that ?most companies employ between zero and 3 percent Blacks in tech jobs, virtually the same for their nontech jobs.? In 20 of the companies PUSH surveyed, there are only three African-Americans out of a total of 189 board directors, one Latino, 153 men and just 36 women. More than half ? 11 ? have all-white boards. Of 307 top C-suite leaders, just six are African-Americans, three are Latinos, 244 are men and 65 are women. Seven of the 20 companies have all-white leadership.?

?

Similar statistics show up in funding for Black tech entrepreneurs. A January ? June 2010 CB Insights survey shows only 1 percent of Black-founded tech startups were venture capital backed, compared to 87 percent of all-white-founded startups.?

?

Soldiers of STEM ?

The march to put more Blacks and other minorities into the STEM space has many foot soldiers, among them Clayton Banks and Bruce Lincoln, co-founders of the social for-profit tech startup Silicon Harlem. Banks, a member of New York?s Commission on Public Information and Communication, is a founding member of the Sega Channel, the online game service phenomenon of the early 1990s. Silicon Harlem co-founder Bruce Lincoln is a member of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio?s Broadband Advisory Taskforce. Lincoln?s first technological product was an African-American Inventors CD-ROM that was packaged with Macintosh computers distributed to urban schools. He and Banks leverage their extensive tech industry experience and leadership through Silicon Harlem to help other Black tech startups. A chief goal, they affirm, is to turn urban markets into diverse ?thriving hubs of technological and innovative activity.? ?

?

Silicon Harlem is collaborating with Rainbow PUSH and other organizations to encourage top tech companies to aggressively promote diversity by expanding their recruitment for high-tech and nontech positions to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-serving institutions, locating regional offices in areas where diversity already exists, and launching additional senior-level training to ensure diversity is valued and encouraged from the top down. ?

?

With data suggesting that much of the racial disparity in STEM is due to weak preparation in schools, the White House, federal agencies, schools and a multitude of national organizations have swung into action. The National Math and Science Initiative, a Dallas, Texas, nonprofit dedicated to improving the performance of U.S. students in STEM subjects, reports that U.S. students recently finished 27th in math and 20th in science in the ranking of 34 countries,? pitting ?U.S. knowledge capital, which fuels innovation and economic growth, at risk.??

?

Former biotechnologist and ?White House Champion for Change? honoree Kimberly Bryant is addressing that risk through her ?Black Girls Code? nonprofit, with its mission to teach one million girls to code by 2040 and become ?the de facto girl scouts of technology.? Bryant, a biotechnology, manufacturing, engineering and supply chain professional, says she ?never saw an engineer anywhere in her neighborhood growing up.? In the late 1980s, about 30 ? 36 percent of women graduates received computer science degrees, she said in a TEDxKC forum. Since then, the number has plummeted to about 18 percent. ?But for women of color that number falls off a cliff. Black women only represent 3 percent of those receiving undergraduate bachelor?s degrees in computer science. [For] Latinas and our Native American sisters, that number is less than 1 percent,? Bryant says. Her mission, she declares, is to empower young women of color between the ages of 7 and 17 to embrace the current tech marketplace ?as both builders and creators.??

?

Clifford V. Johnson, Ph.D., a professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Southern California and the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education?s ?Most Highly Cited Black Mathematician,? is among the 10 to 20 African-Americans awarded a physics Ph.D. in the last decade. ?We have still yet to change perceptions about who should pursue such careers ? i.e. everybody ? and until we do, it will be hard to change the numbers,? he says. ?Those perceptions need to change both within the African- American community and of course beyond. We need to see more examples of Black people doing and influencing physics and other STEM subjects in all aspects of culture.?

?

Mignon Clyburn, the country?s first African-American woman to head the Federal Communications Commission, says, ?The power of diversity, as science has now demonstrated, allows us to not only consider the needs and perspectives of all in our society, but enables us to discover entirely new ideas and solutions, be they from Silicon Valley, Silicon Hil or Silicon Harlem.? Clyburn?s work with the commission includes ?Net Neutrality? and broadband rules guaranteeing free and open access to the Internet for everyone. Such access has the ?potential to be the greatest equalizer of our time,? she says. The commission?s directives fuel President Obama?s ?ConnectED Plan for Connecting Schools and Libraries to the Digital Age? initiative promoting high-speed digital infrastructures to make U.S. students globally competitive.?

?

As president and CEO of the New York Urban League, Arva Rice, a Network Journal ?40 Under Forty? and ?25 Influential Women in Business? honoree, is at the forefront of the campaign to change color of the STEM landscape. Rice?s collaboration with U.S. News & World Report, the New York Daily News, The City University of New York, the New York City Department of Education and Time Warner Cable produced the ?2015 Parent?s Guide to STEM,? a free pamphlet with a wealth of resources and information designed to imbue students with STEM career and entrepreneurial aspirations. Rice says she saw the wonders of STEM through her nieces. ?I never considered myself a science or math person. But to see [my nieces] so heavily immersed in the evolution of science, technology and math was captivating. Since then, I have learned of the dearth of African-American and Latinos in the STEM world and the importance of engaging them in STEM so they, too, can fill the jobs that have been, and will continue to be, created with the inevitable evolution of careers in the STEM field,? she told TNJ.

?

The guide is a natural extension of NYUL?s STEM education platform, which comprises the NEXT Academy Summer Program for sixth ? to eighth ? graders; an educational and technology center; an employment and career services division that provides help with STEM career exploration; a New York City, five-borough STEM parent training series; and a multimedia campaign highlighting minority STEM industry stars. Rice is slated to speak at this summer?s U.S. News and World Report?s ?Fourth Annual STEM Solutions Leadership Conference,? where she will discuss successful NYUL STEM prep strategies and the importance of parents? engagement in their child?s learning experience.?

?

It will take all of these grand pushes and more to resolve the underrepresentation of minorities in America?s STEM industry. ?Diversity and inclusion is a complex problem,? Rev. Jackson said at his PUSH Tech 2020 Summit. ?If we put our collective minds to it, we can solve it.?