Why Invest in Black STEM Graduates: A Strategy for Future Economic Growth

When demographers and pundits talk about the U.S. transitioning in the future to a minority-white country, you get a sense they are almost threatening businesses to hire people of color with an “or else the entire house of cards will fall” argument. By not investing in diversity, and continuing to ask advocates of diversity to “make a business case” for it, companies are stifling innovation and growth.

The reality is, many people in power don’t really believe they need to hire Black people or women to be successful. After all, look how far they’ve come by hiring and promoting mostly white men! Plus, the argument for diversity and inclusion because the country is becoming majority non-white is essentially a call to change tech companies’ business models, the same business models that have bestowed on them massive wealth and privilege. White people aren’t just going to hand that — and the potential to earn wealth and political power — over.

We shouldn’t have to threaten recalcitrant business leaders with demographic reports; the white minority is already here. There are more than 1,200 majority-Black cities in the U.S. and many need concrete investments, thanks in no small part to the legacy of racism, but no one will put money into fixing problems or deficits.

More than anyone else, Black people need others to focus on their strengths. After all, begging to be let in the door hasn’t worked very well so far. So the way forward is to highlight assets, like the high proportion of highly educated Black people in many cities throughout the country.

Urban leaders, whether of minority- white cities or not, must show the benefits of diversity to their constituents as well as business leaders looking for a new home to set up shop. In fact, cities that can show how they are freer of barriers such as discrimination, which stunts economic growth, will have an advantage over other cities.

Employers, particularly tech companies, are demanding workers with skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at unprecedented levels. Even though the tech industry has been thoroughly criticized for its lack of diversity — it is overwhelmingly white and male—most Black people don’t expect companies to miraculously feel obligated to hire them to counter these criticisms.

Black workers, especially in majority-Black cities, want to leverage their assets like anyone else. Places with higher proportions of Black STEM graduates have assets that companies and other Black employees can build upon for future economic growth.

Investing in assets like a Black STEM workforce will create a virtuous cycle of economic development. Companies with diverse staff will produce better products because they can draw on diverse perspectives to meet the demands of a diversifying marketplace. The places where these companies are located will attract higher-quality, diverse talent that draws investment and accelerates business growth.

The reality alone of a majority- nonwhite future won’t miraculously expand inclusive economic opportunities and ensure continued growth and opportunity for our country’s increasingly diverse population. Rather, smart and concerted investment is needed to build on our strengths to deliver those results.

Let’s focus on opportunities to build up Black organizations and social networks that thrive in spite of racist policies. Let’s look to invest in places where Black and brown people are given more opportunities and can have better outcomes. When these employers come out ahead, benefiting from valuable untapped Black assets, the rest of the world will have to sit up and take notice.

(Andre M. Perry, Ph.D., is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. His research focuses on race and structural inequality educa- tion, and economic inequality. The above article was first published online on Aug. 7, 2018, at “The Avenue,” a Metropolitan Policy Program news and analysis blog. It is reprinted here in its entirety with permission.)