STEM jobs have become increasingly important in the U.S. and other countries as they drive innovation and economic growth. However, the National Science Foundation’s biennial “Diversity and STEM” report highlights that there are still persistent inequities within the STEM workforce in the United States that needs to be addressed. Here are some key insights from the NSF’s latest report:
Progress Has Been Made, but There Is Still a Long Way to Go
The report by NSF found that the number of women, people of color, and people with disabilities in STEM fields has increased over the past decade. Between 2011 and 2021, there has been a gradual diversification, with increased representation of women and underrepresented minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
While this growth is quite encouraging, some inequities still exist. About 65 percent of women working in STEM jobs have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to less than half of 43 percent of men working in STEM jobs in 2021. Despite earning more than half of all bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, women represent only 35 percent of the STEM workforce.
The Disparity in Unemployment Rates Calls for a More Inclusive Workplace Culture
Generally, across STEM, a higher degree means lower unemployment rates for both men and women. This implies that workers who hold a bachelor’s degree, irrespective of gender, will likely gain more employment than if they worked in the skilled technical workforce.
This is, however, not the same across racial and ethnic groups. According to NSF’S report, Blacks and Hispanics had higher unemployment rates than Whites for both educational groups.
The unemployment rate for individuals with at least one disability and a bachelor’s degree was 5.4 percent, compared to an unemployment rate of 2.4 percent for those without a disability and a bachelor’s degree. This suggests that individuals with disabilities face additional barriers to employment in STEM fields.
Stereotypes and Biases Continue to Be a Significant Barrier for Underrepresented Groups in STEM
According to the NSF’s report, there are still significant disparities in earnings among STEM workers in the U.S., particularly for minorities. The report shows that while STEM workers, in general, tend to earn higher salaries compared to non-STEM workers, the earnings gap between STEM and non-STEM workers is wider for minority workers than for white workers.
For instance, in 2019, the median annual salary for Black workers in STEM was 72,200 USD, compared to 85,000 USD for white workers. Hispanic or Latino workers in STEM had a median yearly salary of 75,000 USD, while white workers in STEM had a median annual salary of 85,000 USD. American Indian or Alaska Native workers had the lowest median annual salary of all racial and ethnic groups in STEM, at 60,000 USD.
The report also shows that minority workers are underrepresented in higher-paying STEM occupations. For example, the proportion of Black and Hispanic or Latino workers in computer and mathematical occupations, which tend to be among the highest-paying STEM occupations, is lower than their proportion in the overall workforce.
Women, particularly minority women, face significant disparities in STEM earnings. In 2019, the median annual salary for women in STEM was 70,000 USD, compared to 90,000 USD for men in STEM. Black and Hispanic or Latino women in STEM had lower median annual salaries than white women and men in STEM.
These findings highlight the need for continued efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM fields, not only to address social justice concerns but also to maximize the potential for innovation and economic growth.
What Are the Numbers Saying About Persons With Disabilities?
According to the report, the proportion of workers in the STEM workforce with at least one disability was unchanged between 2011 and 2021 at just 3 percent of the STEM workforce.
The report found that STEM workers with at least one disability were likelier to work in middle-skill jobs, with 46 percent working in middle-skill jobs compared to 38 percent of STEM workers without disabilities. This suggests that systemic barriers may prevent STEM workers with disabilities from advancing to higher-skilled and higher-paying jobs.
Additionally, people with disabilities face unique challenges in STEM fields. For example, some disabilities can make it difficult to participate in laboratory work or to interact with certain types of equipment, and not all STEM workplaces are accessible to people with disabilities.
This calls for higher education institutions and industries to create better pathways to STEM careers for people with disabilities. This might include making sure that STEM programs and workplaces are accessible, providing more support and accommodations for workers with disabilities, and working to reduce stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities in STEM fields.
Additionally, while the report does highlight some progress in terms of the number of STEM workers with disabilities, it also underscores the ongoing need to address issues of accessibility and inclusivity in STEM education and employment.
About Engineering and Tech
A significant proportion of STEM workers are employed in science and engineering (S&E)-related jobs. In 2021, 77 percent of employed STEM workers worked in S&E-related jobs, and 23 percent worked in non-S&E-related positions. This is an essential statistic for candidates who want to join the STEM workforce as it indicates the types of jobs available within the STEM field.
The report further highlights that the percentage of STEM workers employed in S&E-related jobs is higher for men (81 percent) than for women (70 percent). This suggests that women may be underrepresented in certain areas of the STEM field, such as engineering.
However, it is important to note that there are a variety of S&E-related jobs within the STEM field. Some may require advanced degrees, while others may not. Therefore, individuals who are interested in joining the STEM field may be able to find opportunities that suit their skills and qualifications.
Candidates can come from a variety of educational backgrounds. Although a bachelor’s degree or higher is common among STEM workers, nearly a third of employed STEM workers have less than a bachelor’s degree. This suggests that there are opportunities within the STEM field for individuals with various levels of education.
The high percentage of STEM workers employed in S&E-related jobs also suggests that candidates who want to join the STEM workforce may be able to find opportunities in various S&E-related fields.
What does this mean for engineers and IT professionals? More and more opportunities can be found within the STEM field, especially for women, people of color, and persons with disabilities whose focus is on information technology and engineering.
Some positions do not require a bachelor’s degree, making it even more attractive for professionals interested in working in the IT and engineering sectors. The underrepresentation of these demographics suggests that not much effort is being made to include them in STEM-related jobs. Barriers should be broken down, and the STEM industry should find ways to be more welcoming to all.
CONNECT WITH COMPANIES WHERE DIVERSITY MATTER THROUGH RASO360
At Raso360, we firmly believe that each candidate’s contributions to the workforce are unique, just like they are. This belief strengthens our commitment to connect candidates with employers prioritizing diversity and inclusion in their workforce—we put employees first!
Whether you’re a recent graduate just starting your career or a seasoned professional looking for a change, we can help you find the right job. Our extensive network of top employers means that we have access to some of the most exciting job opportunities across the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.
1. National Science Foundation. “Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities.” https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf23315/. Accessed 21 February 2023.