The lack of diversity in STEM is an often talked-about issue across much of academia. This problem doesn’t just impact school-age individuals: even in today’s job market, the STEM workforce is predominantly white and male.
As teachers and administrators, we have the ability to promote diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Although tackling generation-old biases that are present in STEM education today is a difficult task, it’s certainly worth the effort.
When we increase diversity in STEM, we’re creating a more inviting atmosphere for future generations and breaking down barriers for today’s underrepresented students. But where can you start?
Why Is There a Lack of Diversity in STEM?
If we want to increase diversity in STEM, first it’s important to understand where this lack of diversity stems from. Once we are aware of these contributing factors, we can better work to dismantle the systems that are at play.
No role models
STEM has always been a white-dominated and male-dominated field, which means that there are fewer role models in STEM for underrepresented groups and minority students to relate to.
Especially at a young age, having role models you see yourself in is an important part of being encouraged and inspired academically. This lack of diversity in STEM role models is often discouraging for students who may have otherwise been inspired.
To this day, careers in STEM are highly lacking in diversity. Nobody wants to enter a workforce or career path where they’ll feel alone and isolated, with nobody to relate to.
The lack of diverse backgrounds in STEM careers can discourage students from pursuing their passion for STEM.
Stereotypes and assumptions begin at a very young age, and oftentimes underrepresented students are greeted by pressures that sway them away from STEM. These pressures can come from family members, friends, or even teachers.
It’s hard to choose a path that nobody thinks is right for you, and these stereotypes often make students doubt themselves. Pervasive assumptions about which subjects are right for which students often steer minorities away from STEM, continuing to perpetuate the STEM gap.
How to Help Increase Diversity in Stem
Diversity is needed in STEM, and as teachers and educators we have the power to make that change. Evidently, many of the factors that steer diverse groups of students away from STEM in the first place start at a young age. This continues through elementary and high school, into college and the workforce.
With this in mind, what better place to begin increasing diversity in STEM than in the classroom?
Let’s dive into some achievable steps that teachers can take to promote diversity in STEM, shaping the future of STEM jobs and STEM education.
Break Down Stereotypes
Teachers can guide students to reach success in STEM by being aware of the rampant stereotypes and actively working against them.
When underrepresented students feel safe, seen, and heard, they gain confidence. Confidence allows students to be bolder academically; believing in themselves and taking risks.
Strive to make your classroom an inclusive and diversity-friendly space, and help your students find a sense of belonging.
Make STEM a Priority
Take STEM seriously – and soon your students will, too.
For years, STEM has been considered a “man’s field” or something that not everyone can master. This can be especially intimidating to systematically marginalized groups of students who already experience setbacks and struggles in other areas of their life.
By following a reliable STEM curriculum, like we have here at SAM Labs, you’re making STEM accessible for all your students. After-school programs and STEM summer camps are also fun ways to keep STEM education a top priority in your school all year long.
Provide Role Models
Introduce your students to a diverse group of role models in STEM, from women scientists to BIPOC mathematicians. We’ve all heard of Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton, but what about Rosalind Franklin or Katherine Johnson?
Discussing STEM role models from diverse backgrounds in the classroom will help inspire underrepresented students with similar backgrounds. While talking about STEM pioneers is great, you can also invite STEM professionals in your community into your classroom to connect students to real-life STEM careers and role models.
Learning about these lesser known pioneers of STEM is an important part of a well-rounded STEM education. To build a more diverse future is to build a fuller and more beautiful future, too.
Start STEM Education Early
Remember, it’s never too soon to begin teaching STEM concepts. Meet your students wherever they’re at.
There is so much more to STEM fields than math equations and science terms. A young student who is curious about how things work could be a science whiz in the making. In the same way, a sci-fi film fanatic could be inspired to develop their own sci-fi world using real math and science concepts.
STEM is all about thinking outside of the box and relating complex subjects back to the real world. When you build a learning experience around your students’ interests, you’re making STEM learning feel achievable.
Introduce computer science and other STEM ideas at an early age, in a way that makes sense to your students. You’ll be surprised how far your students can go when they’re passionate about what they’re learning.
Teachers Can Make A Difference
There are several ways that we as teachers and educators can help increase diversity in STEM fields. So many of these conversations begin in our very own classrooms. After all, we’re often the ones introducing STEM concepts to students for the very first time.
SAM Labs knows how pivotal that first impression is, and that’s why we take STEM education seriously with our easy-to-use curriculum, resources, and lesson plans.
Explore our website today for a solution that helps you, your students, and your efforts to increase diversity in the STEM classroom.
Shaunda Douglas is a former educator with over 15 years of experience in all levels of education. In her free time, she reads, plays with her dogs, watches baseball, and loves a good nap.