Discrimination in STEM fields: Current racial and ethnic issues in the STEM work industry

Caleb Izaguirre. 05/15/2021

Race and gender disparities remain a significant challenge in STEM industries and the future of the American workforce. Among STEM workers, African Americans are centerpoint for concerns that there is too little attention paid to increasing racial and ethnic diversity; their high experience with issues with diversity in the workforce is constantly met with failure.

In this regard, blacks working in STEM jobs share a lot in common with Asian Americans, and to a lesser extent with Hispanic residents who are all less likely than whites in such jobs to believe that members of their own communities can achieve promotions and awards.

Most blacks in these positions believe major underlying factors prevent involvement in STEM fields such as limited access to high-quality education, recruitment discrimination and a lack of encouragement to pursue these careers from an early age.

Most Americans see racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace as important

Americans not only place a level of importance on diversity in the workplace, but these views extend to race and ethnicity as well. Eight-in-ten Americans say it is important to have diversity in all workplaces, recognizing that it is “extremely” or “very important.” In comparison, less than 10% find racial and ethnic diversity to be “not too” or “not at all important.”

When asked which are valid reasons for increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace, 45% of adults say it provides unique perspectives that contribute to overall business goals, while the same number says it gives many the equal opportunity to succeed. A smaller share believes that it creates a larger American workforce which in turn helps the national economy.

Large public support for racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace is relevant with recent polls which emphasize traditional value reform. For example, a 2017 Pew Research Center report found that most Americans believe an increasing number of different worker racial groups, ethnic groups and nationalities in the U.S. makes the nation a safer and better place to live in.

African Americans in the STEM workforce stress workplace diversity

The majority of white, black, Hispanic and Asian STEM employees see racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace as somewhat critical, but there are wide differences in their areas of importance.

Blacks are more likely to say racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace is extremely or very important than their white co-workers. Sentiments on this particular topic among Hispanic and Asian employees typically sway the unique culture of a company. This has come under heavy scrutiny by the public.

In this forecast, STEM employees look similar to other job positions. Blacks and Hispanics in non-STEM careers similarly believe that they are more likely than whites in such jobs to believe that these ideals are very important in their careers.

Racial, ethnic and gender pay gaps are still large

Black and Hispanic workers remain widely underrepresented while representation varies for women according to new reports, efforts to promote equity and equality still have a long way to go.

(Inside Higher Ed)

According to Pew Research, the typical woman’s salary from 2017 to 2019 in STEM was about 75% of a man’s salary. That gap narrowed from 70% in 2016, but it was still wider than the pay gap in the overall workforce with women earning 80% of male salary.

Racial and ethnic disparities in STEM salaries have also widened in recent years. Black STEM professionals typically earned, at most, 80% of white workers’ earnings from 2017 to 2019 — down from 82% in 2016. And average pay for Hispanic professionals in STEM was 83% of white earnings — down from 85% in that very year. Meanwhile, Asian professionals rose by 2%.

Looking Ahead

The Pew findings are not surprising, but understanding why the numbers are where they are is even more important.

The barriers to entering STEM are very different for each group, but many underprivileged groups have to work through the adversity of the gamut of limited education and lack of STEM role models in local communities.

Early-career, student-led nonprofit movements like InterSTEM are not backing down and are instead empowering young students. These actions are aimed to help underprivileged children achieve their potential and will help create a more diverse and accepting workforce of the future.

Cover Photo: (New Scientist)

Caleb Izaguirre