Diversity in STEM

I lived, studied and worked in the heart of global technology innovation for 20 years including Berkeley, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Emeryville, California.  Silicon Valley and the Bay Area in general is one of the most diverse, high skilled and innovative metro areas in the world.

Silicon-Valley-SF-Bay-Area-scale-high-detail-mapThe tech world in the Bay Area reflects this diversity.  My last startup there consisted of East Asians, Indians, Parsis, Middle Easterners and Jewish developers from the former Soviet Union.  Of the top dozen technical hires and 3 founders only 3 were native-born non-minorities.  My two co-founders were born in the US but were both also minorities with a least one parent born abroad (Taiwan and Iran) and our other team lead’s father was Egyptian.

However, diversity in the highly competitive Silicon Valley startup world was of a particular type.  While we had 3 women in our company, only one worked in a purely technical role.  We also only had one Hispanic and one African-American STEM employees over the course of our 3 years of operation before acquisition.  This was significantly higher than the average I suspect since it clearly represented higher averages than what we saw in the resumes we received from job postings on Craig’s List.  Since we operated in the wake of the Dot Com Bubble Collapse it was not unusual for us to get 80-100 resumes per tech job posting, virtually none of them were from women or under represented minorities.

One of the biggest drives in STEM education today is to diversity it’s appeal and participation rates among traditionally under represented groups.  You can’t hire many women and under represented minorities into STEM fields if they are not passionate about studying these subjects in numbers from an early age given the reality of attrition in STEM in general.

STEM_pipelineSTEM Winnowing and STEMConnector’s Solution

Depending upon the field of study, these disparities vary from slight (as of 2013-2014 47% of medical school students are female) to very significant (PhD in theoretical physics and pure math).  The disparity levels generally increase with age, degree level and career level correlating with nearly everything from elite STEM school admissions, seniority, published research, salary, patents, startups, tenure as a professor, etc.

However, the outlook for women in education in general is promising as are the trends in STEM.  Women across all races now earn more college degrees than men.  For years now women have also outpaced men in earning advanced degrees including PhD across all subjects.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics show that men have a consistently higher unemployment rate than women.  In fact, men are doing so much worse on so many metrics from Japan to the U.K. that the issue of a male crisis in education and dropping out of society entirely has arisen recently.

Despite the better statistics for women in education and work on average, women are still underrepresented at the top levels.  Also, STEM is a major area of increasing importance where women are noticeably under represented in Engineering and Computer Science.  Even in STEM there is good news is that women dominate or are at rough parity in STEM fields like Social Sciences, Math and the Natural Sciences.

women_collegeWomen Outpacing Men in College Education


percent-bachelors-degrees-women-usaRapid Rise of Women in All Areas of Education, including STEM Fields

Women_In_StemWomen Approaching Parity or Better in all STEM Fields but CS and Engineering

One great things about FIRST LEGO League is how it encourages participation from as wide a pool of students as possible.  I estimate that we’ve seen about 40% women and minority participation at our 3 tournaments this season.  For an STEM program centered around computer science and engineering these are extremely high participation rates.

While people discuss the various obstacles that may be limit women and under-represented minorities participation in STEM (hostile culture, lack of mentors, etc), programs like FLL address the problem at the root.  To have more women and under represented minorities in STEM we need programs like FLL to spark kids curiosity and fill the STEM pipeline as early as possible.


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