Prioritizing Diversity Can Solve America’s STEM Crisis

America’s impending STEM crisis has been in headlines for years, with many industry leaders warning that unless significant increases in college graduation rates happen, America will quickly lose influence in global STEM progress. As it stands now, employers argue that college students do not have the skills necessary to qualify for high level technical jobs, which has since led the Obama administration to drastically increase support for students interested in STEM programs.

While the solutions to these issues are complex, and require a number of systemic changes to the American education system, the solution to America’s STEM crisis might be as simple as prioritizing diversity in hiring.

Recent studies by The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology detail in full the positive difference that women make in the workforce. Researching multiple industries, the study found a number of key instances where women make a significant difference in their field.

Companies that actively recruit, develop, and promote women benefit significantly, reaping the benefits of increased innovation among staff, better employee performance, and improved operational and financial performance. While the ultimate goal at tech companies should be parity between men and women, studies have confirmed that the more women there are on staff, the higher the company performs.

The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group, notes Thomas Malone, a management professor at MIT writes in Harvard Business Review. But so far, the data show, the more women, the better.

The ABI report also recognizes the demonstrable links between diversity and innovation, summarizing that companies that hire more diverse populations in their workforce are not only making the right decisions, they are also putting themselves in a position to gain a competitive advantage in the global economy. This is especially important in the high-tech and scientific industries, where innovation is one of the most important considerations.

Organizations that require talent in the hard sciences are currently experiencing a large number of workforce talent shortages. For organizations seeking to expand their current talent pool, adding qualified women into the mix only serves to establish a reputation of inclusion, which in turn brings more qualified diverse applicants.

While companies should be putting their best foot forward to recruit and retain a diverse talent pool in their organization, attracting women and minorities may require a change in the basic workplace culture in STEM work–one in which women can see a non-hostile environment where they can see a sustainable career.

It’s a really frustrating thing, notes Laura Sherbin, director of research at the Center for Talent Innovation. The pipeline may not improve much unless women can look ahead and see it’s a valuable investment.

While there is something to be said for diversifying the work environment, it doesn’t change the fact that qualified, diverse applicants end up leaving the tech industry in droves–a majority leaving because of hostile work environments.

Recruiting a diverse staff should be among the STEM industry’s top priorities, systemic changes in the industry have to occur before women feel safe, included, and can advocate for their own advancement.

For the United States to continue to be a global leader in progressive technology, education, socialization, and the industry itself must adapt to be more inclusive and safe space for diverse applicants to thrive and put forth their best work.

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