Posted on April 24, 2019

Where Are the Black Women in STEM Leadership?

Erika Jefferson, Scientific American, April 23, 2019

Today, Black women are working in every industry imaginable and doing jobs that, just a generation or two ago, we could only dream of. Yet the number of those working at senior levels in STEM fields remains distressingly low. In March, the National Science Foundation reported that in 2016 alone, Black women earned more than 33,000 bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering and accounted for 24 percent of doctorates awarded in STEM. But that same report showed that in 2017, only 5 percent of managerial jobs in STEM were held by Black women. So, where are we?

This disparity is occurring amid record employment levels, and there is a critical need for qualified technical workers—but we cannot expect women and underrepresented minorities to remain in work environments where they cannot grow and thrive. We also cannot expect girls to enter fields where they do not see positive role models. It is imperative that we stop the constant drip from the leaky STEM pipeline by working hard to retain women—and especially underrepresented women of color—from the middle to the end.

Not only is this important for today’s workforce needs, but also for tomorrow’s. Despite our best efforts to encourage future generations to become scientists and engineers, there is no guarantee they will enter or stay in the STEM workforce once their education is complete. Without an influx of new talent each year, the United States will far further behind other nations in innovative and technological advances. Let’s spend more time and money to ensure we can keep those Black women who are determined enough to make science a career.

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In 2015, we launched Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE) to support underrepresented women via networking, mentoring and career development. {snip} Research has shown diverse companies are more productive and successful. A dire shortage of STEM workers is predicted in the next 20 years, so it is imperative that young Black women be included in the workforce. Few companies have workforce affinity groups (associations based on shared experiences and backgrounds); these types of organizations are known to build support and morale among workers who feel acknowledged, valued and included within the larger corporate structure.

With BWISE, employees can get what they need despite—or in addition to—company offerings. Here, they have a safe space to discuss challenges and receive coaching, training and insight outside of the workplace. Companies can sponsor employees to be a part of BWISE to supplement their existing diversity efforts and can also assist by bringing in speakers and supporting our events. The organization helps to prepare, train and develop the next generation of Black women leaders in STEM.

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