The number of women and minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has decreased at an alarming rate over the past years. STEM executive respondents in the September 2008 Bayer Facts of Science Education Survey XII say there is a significant shortage of STEM talent, especially of women and minorities. Of the 1,000 responding executives, more than half expressed frustration at their companies’ inability to hire women and minority STEM workers.
Charles H. Britt, founder and executive director of The Center for Minority Achievement in Science and Technology (CMAST), a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, acknowledges the trend, but emphasizes that there is a disconnection between what companies are looking for and how students are being prepared for the 21st Century workplace. “The key is to get women and minorities interested in STEM careers by finding innovative solutions, and not just in the traditional sense,” he says. “Even the larger organizations, such as the Hispanic and women engineering organizations, are feeling a slowdown in their momentum of growth.”
Founded in 2008, CMAST is a catalyst for engaging and retaining women and minorities in STEM careers at a time of rapidly accelerating global technological needs. Women and minorities must play an active role in meeting these needs, Britt argues. The growing need for advanced technology calls for a workforce that is increasingly innovative. To function successfully in a technological age, career-oriented individuals must be proficient in the fundamental skills of problem solving, logical thinking and self-reliance.
The challenge of increasing and retaining the number of women and minorities in STEM fields lies not only in finding innovative solutions for engagement, but also in bringing together key players. In February 2009, CMAST held a roundtable of stakeholders in the fields of education, government and the STEM industry to discuss challenges faced by women and minorities in the STEM fields. The organization continues to seek out opportunities to increase the dialogue among all of these stakeholders, as well as to heighten minorities’ awareness of careers in the STEM fields.
However, these endeavors are not without their share of challenges. “There is an increased competition for seed money,” Britt says. “Foundations are hesitant to take risks on relatively new organizations.”
That won’t stop CMAST from pursuing its goals, Britt says. The key is to raise awareness, not only about the organization, but also about the real issues surrounding the feeble presence of women and minorities in STEM careers.