The imbalance in STEM careers is silencing a critical proportion of the human talent pool. More women and more ethnicities need to be a part of its development because diversity plays a key role in innovation.

The Dawn of the Space Age saw seven brave astronauts take America’s first steps in space. In 1959, it might not surprise you that the Mercury 7 was made up of seven white, male, military test pilots. Yet, simultaneously, thirteen female pilots were also being trained as potential astronauts.

Dubbed the ‘Mercury 13’, these women passed the strenuous mental, physical, and psychological tests required of astronauts. At times they surpassed the performance of their male counterparts. Yet, they never got to travel into space.

During a three-day hearing on the question of NASA’s discrimination against women in summer 1962, six women testified against NASA. For NASA, George Low (Office of Manned Spaceflight) testified that women in the U.S. space program would disrupt the progress of the nation’s mission to the Moon. 

When the question of discrimination was brought up, NASA claimed women had no place in this field as it would cause “an undesirable disruption to social order”. In other words, that space–outer space–belonged to men. Two years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, questions of equality were stirring.

Fast forward to 2018 where we find ourselves on the cusp of Industry 4.0. Enshrined in law, you’d think by now matters of equality would be resolved. This is not the case. You only have to check the trending hashtags on Twitter to see that inequality continues to permeate political and social discourse.

Global Inequality: A Cause for Concern

According to a 2015 Oxfam report, 62 individuals control half of the world’s wealth. Last year, this figure dropped to 8. With one in ten people surviving on less than $2 a day, the current global situation is one of deprivation and division.

8 people #controlled half of the world's #wealth in #2017Click To Tweet

What should be shocking is that four out of the eight individuals shortlisted are members of the American tech community. However, when you take a look at the recognizable names such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Ellison, it makes sense.

Just because figures like this are unsurprising doesn’t make them any less terrifying. Amy Webb, one of few female quantitative futurists, has pointed out the negative impact that the lack of diversity in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) could have.

She explains that the present group of technological innovators is overwhelmingly homogeneous. Automation and computer systems will soon make decisions for us. Yet, their creators only represent one segment of society. This means we are sure to encounter significant bias.

Despite the countless reviews that have revealed the negative impact this could have, it only takes common sense to understand its complications. It goes without saying that multiple voices are essential to the advancement of an information economy.

Furthermore, evidence has proven that when people from diverse backgrounds work together they outperform homogeneous groups. Diversity and different perspectives lead to more ideas, increased creativity, and more effective problem-solving.

STEM Could be the Root of the Problem

In addition, STEM jobs are growing faster than any other sector. This year it is estimated that the STEM workforce will expand to 8,650,000.

This staggering growth combined with lack of diversity has lead the USA to import talent and outsource a workforce to keep up. A short-term solution that will have long-term implications.

#STEM field jobs pay 26% more than other #industriesClick To Tweet

Finally, as STEM jobs salaries are 26% higher than other industries, more diversity in this sector will help redistribute wealth.

To summarize, this homogeneous environment will leave people and the technology they create ill-equipped to function. This is due to a simple lack of cultural competence and perspectives. Being monotone culturally impairs a creators ability to serve a diverse population.

Suitability, Capability, Intelligence

Contrary to the more Medieval point of view, suitability, capability or intelligence doesn’t have any link to gender, ethnicity, or background. In fact, congruent studies have shown that companies who employ more women consistently outperform their competitors.

Plenty of women and people of racial and ethnic minorities complete undergraduate degrees. 40% of engineers in China are female.

Why aren’t there more women and people from minority groups in this field?

There are numerous issues to consider.

It seems that circumstance continues to determine the options and choices available to people rather than their ability. A major issue in the USA is the inequalities that lurk within the education system.

The fact that success in the SAT’s can be traced back to your zip code highlights this issue. The implication seems to be that those born with social advantage are far more likely to succeed.

Stereotypes falsely perpetuate who should be included and who should not in math-intensive industries such as computer science and engineering. Women and those from minority groups who complete undergraduate STEM degrees face extra difficulty entering the workplace.

This is evident in the $15,900 USD salary gap between the genders. It is also highlighted by a $11,000 USD gap depending on race (according to the U.S. census 2013). What’s more, women are 45% more likely than men to leave their STEMs profession because of hostile working environments.

Is Equality and Diversity the Answer?

If this lack of diversity continues, not only is the greater good at risk but so is national security, health, and the advancement of discovery. STEM professions should be reimagined to become more inclusive and inspiring.

How can this be achieved?

The answer is simple. Inequalities must be remedied, employment opportunities must be opened and outdated stereotypes must be dissolved. There also needs to be educational changes made. In a world shaped by technology, it is not only the responsibility of key players such as Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, but it’s up to all of us to change the way we view the STEMs field in order to empower each other.

“Reverse Discrimination” and Pushback Against Diversity

Tech companies like Google are actively engaged in employment discrimination lawsuits that underpin and sometimes exacerbate the issues covered in this article.

For example, James Damore and David Gudeman, formerly employees of Google, began a well-known discrimination lawsuit against Google after being fired for releasing this internal memo which was first acquired by Motherboard and published by Gizmodo. Written by Damore, this memo argues that “Google has created several discriminatory practices” just by trying to promote diversity.

According to Damore, these include:

  • “Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race [5]
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)
  • Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination [6]”

Yet, when you look at the numbers, Damore’s case doesn’t hold much water. For example, Google employs 69% men and 56% white men.

Some argue that Damore’s case has more to do with political ideology than gender or race dynamics.

Others argue that Damore misses the point entirely. Because, if, under this idea, all employees are evaluated on the same scale, white male candidates from historically more affluent backgrounds will be better prepared for employment in STEM. These critics argue that the bar has to be lowered for diversity candidates in order to even the playing field in the long run.

However, no matter what underlies these cases, they do show that there are repercussions to active diversification.

So, what’s the right answer? Obviously, diversity is key and we need to promote it. Is there a way to do this without creating a Damore and Gudeman?

Do you see any other issues that may be caused by a lack of diversity in our Industry 4.0? 

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