Authentically Sustaining STEM Equity Through Education
We’ve known for a long while that STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – jobs build and change the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the essential nature of this diverse discipline. From personal protective equipment (PPE) to ventilators, STEM-educated professionals helped innovate solutions to one of our biggest challenges. Given this, it comes as no surprise that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an over 10% growth in STEM jobs in this next decade, a rate 3% faster than all other industries.
Unfortunately, this growth doesn't occur equitably—gender and racial inequities plague STEM careers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women currently comprise 48% of all workers in the U.S. but represent only 27% of the STEM workforce. Additionally, in 2016 Pew Research found that Hispanic adults hold only 8% of the STEM workforce, while Black STEM employees constitute only 9% of STEM jobs, and these statistics haven’t changed since 2016.
Meeting the needs of the future requires sustainably building equity into the equation. Doing so means being dogmatic about solving root causes, not just seeking out palliative fixes. Education stands as a pivotal point of both need and potential. With STEM jobs projected to pay double than that of non-STEM roles, huge opportunities exist for today’s students. Building a better, more equitable world for all requires meeting students where they are today with tools and resources designed to engage, inform, and inspire. Teachers and schools continue to work on overdrive to connect students to learning, but they need support.
At Discovery Education, we strategically partner with like-minded organizations, such as the Caterpillar Foundation, to deliver engaging learning experiences every single day to classrooms across the U.S. A prime example, the STEM Careers Coalition™ – the first-of-its-kind national STEM initiative powered by corporate and non-profit leaders – functions as a catalyst for sustainable progress and helps create equitable pathways toward STEM professions. Aimed at students, educators, and families alongside schools and school districts, the Coalition provides access to resources by building workforce-ready classrooms inspired to pursue STEM, all at no cost. As of 2021, the Coalition has reached nearly 5 million students in its mission to build the next generation of diverse STEM solution-seekers.
Since its founding in 1952, the Caterpillar Foundation has helped improve the lives of people around the world. Examples of educational initiatives include Caterpillar Foundation’s work with the United Nations Foundation’s GirlUP campaign to thread problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and innovation into tailored online programming, workshops, and bootcamps across India, Morocco, Costa Rica, and Panama. In Brazil, the Caterpillar Foundation partnered with Associação Feminina Estudos Sociais E Universitários Arios (AFESU) to create the STEM Maker’s Lab. Through this program, students enhance their mechanical, electrical, and software engineering skills and data science capabilities. In addition to learning hard skills, the STEM Maker’s Lab ensures students can foster creativity, encourage entrepreneurship and learn new soft and critical thinking skills that will serve as tools to reach their professional career goals. These types of partnerships are critically important from not only a global perspective, but also on a local level to reach the full potential of the future workforce.
The private sector offers a wealth of knowledge, an array of experts, and the much-needed additional funds that can support education. Private sectors must engage in the shared value approach since it enhances the competitiveness of companies while improving social and environmental issues. As a company, engaging in social impact work, such as education, goes beyond philanthropy; social impact work remains critical for the success of a business and supports the advancement of society. This work invests in the future of the company and the world.
As two seasoned leaders in social impact work, a note of advice: Be sure that involvement in social responsibility, such as STEM education, aligns to your goals and is authentic to the business – this helps ensure that the work is best positioned to drive impact. Everything done should reflect your mission, your culture, and your values.