Today marks the sixth International Day of Women and Girls in Science and if the past year has shown us anything, it is that any bright future for America relies heavily on scientific and technical innovation in essential sectors like health care, energy, infrastructure development, and food production – all of which depend on chemistry. But without a robust, inclusive workforce we will not only lose our competitive edge as a global leader in innovation, our economic prosperity will also deteriorate.
It’s no secret that women and minorities remain inadequately represented in chemistry and other technology-related jobs. However, the major obstacle keeping many diverse students from pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) might surprise you.
For the U.S. to remain competitive, the National Science Board (NSB) estimates that the number of women must nearly double, Black or African Americans must more than double, and Hispanic or Latinos must triple the number that are currently represented in the science and engineering workforce. But while access to advanced math and science curricula at the K-12 level remains uneven, when researchers controlled for access, they found that the greatest barrier was creating an environment of encouragement and care for diverse students.
At the Chemical Educational Foundation (CEF), we are keenly aware of these equity gaps and have restructured our Community Partnerships and K-12 programming to help reach and support more students where they are. For the last two years, CEF’s community partnerships have created strong, sustainable relationships between schools and industry partners to provide a venue for students to expand their curiosity about science and chemistry.
Additionally, we revamped all of our programming to strengthen our focus on diversity and inclusion. We expanded our You Be The Chemist Challenge® program last year to incorporate more diverse skillsets (e.g., multimedia, public speaking) and applied learning techniques that better align with what young people will experience throughout their academic careers and as they enter the workforce.
We also expanded our reach by exposing entire grade levels, not just those who self-selected, to activities and STEM resources that are visually-representative of the students and their communities through our Community Partnerships. These new approaches to driving innovation, particularly in disadvantaged communities, have already resulted in increased participation in the program and participation by a more diverse set of students, including 48% participation by female students.
I believe that the untapped talent and potential of all of our young people holds the key to fueling innovation. And it is on innovation that our nation’s health and economic prosperity still depend. Together, we can do our part to remain competitive by removing the barriers to access and inclusion and closing the equity gaps that exist for women and minorities within careers in chemistry.
With the generous support of our industry partners – including NACD and so many of its members – CEF is currently providing best-in-class educator training and STEM materials in about a dozen schools at no charge, in addition to our ongoing programming.
If you are currently a supporter and interested in learning more about adopting a school or school district in your local community, or if you’d like to learn more about CEF’s mission and how you can support it, contact me at email@example.com.
To find out more about how we are making a difference through our STEM programs and resources, visit https://www.chemed.org/.