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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Diversity in STEM: Why It Matters

By Stephanie Quick

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs

Many people will agree that the value and implementation of diversity is an important life principle, while others may not understand the significance behind the value. Because of this, I believe it is important to focus on what diversity is and why it should matter not just in the workplace, but socially and globally. 

 There are many different ways to define diversity, but the main aspect to take away from what this principle means is differences. Diversity considers differences in racial and ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic. Diversity also involves different religious beliefs, heritage, and political beliefs.

With all those different characteristics, we find an extremely broad spectrum of lives that deserve to be treated equally. I believe that society should embrace people of different backgrounds and values, whether it be racial, religion, or anything else. We are all unique and we live in a world that creates such lovely cultures that should be appreciated. 

Respecting cultural diversity includes valuing the individual or group of people, along with their unique qualities, cultural practices, and needs. The first step to becoming a diverse society is to acknowledge this diversity, accept it, and even celebrate it.

While diversity is greatly important in all aspects of life, diversity should also be encouraged and respected in the workplace. A majority of jobs in the technology field do not have equitable racial and ethnic representation in their employees, nor the proper accommodations for cultural differences.

In the workplace, is it important to see different perspectives of your colleagues to make better decisions and more efficiently tackle problems than a group with only one or two perspectives. This is the value of diversity. Things like race and gender influence people’s perspectives on particular issues and generally, the world at large. 

This can prevent “groupthink” where a homogenous group shuns dissenting viewpoints so they can fit in and conform. The more diverse a group is, the more likely it will be open towards a variety of viewpoints and less likely to make an error in judgement. 

Secondly, diversity helps give access to a greater range of talent, and not just talent that belongs to a particular world-view or ethnicity. It helps provide insight into the needs and motivations of all your clients or customers, rather than just a small portion of them.  As Steve Jobs points out, when we make a product and we’re not aware of cultural preferences and needs, this might lead to us creating products that only a fraction of the population could want, need, or enjoy. 

Specifically in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics], there is a large gender gap, along with few female leaders, and minority women are underrepresented. Only about a quarter of STEM workers are female, even with the increasing number of jobs in these fields. Female workers also statistically earn 14% less than male employees even in high-paying positions in STEM. For every one dollar a male employee earns, women in STEM earn $0.86.

By looking at statistics over the years, the gender gap is slowly improving, but it is still not ideal and can be improved if more efforts were given by more of society. While there is no clear path that we can take yet to increase the percentage quickly, there are some things that we can do as a community that can help this gap close. 

If you can be a role model, then be one! Girls and young women have a hard time imagining themselves in STEM roles or don’t have encouragement. Seeing women who work in the STEM field already will help remind girls they have a place in these fields if they want it. Also, seeing minorities in this field as leaders can help others envision their own path as well. 

Provide hands-on experiences. Girls who participate in STEM clubs/activities outside of school are more likely to pursue these fields later on in their education. Brad McLain, a social scientist at NCWIT [National Center for Women and Information Technology], has researched this and believes this to be true. 

At Lewis University, we have the Girls Create with Technology program that is run in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences by Dr. Cindy Howard. This program gives young girls a chance to explore some interests and see if this field is something they would be interested in.

Provide encouragement. Girls who are supported by teachers and parents will end up showing more interest in continuing with STEM learning in their future. Try asking fellow leaders in your organization or program what’s being done to support girls or minorities in STEM. This could spark a conversation among senior leaders and could result in change. 

Diversity is important to excel in our society, workplace, and as a community. A diverse and inclusive community fosters additional experiences and points of view, while also improving the openness and tolerance of different cultural habits. Let’s help each other to make this a more important value in our STEM community. Let’s be the change we want to see.

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