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Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop (2014)

Chapter: 3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions

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Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
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3

Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions

To explore and further develop key themes that emerged during the workshop, attendees participated in three breakout groups and a closing plenary discussion. The breakout groups considered the following topics:

  1. Technical career paths versus management career paths in science and engineering industry: differences for underrepresented populations?
  2. Lessons from practices on recruiting, retaining, and advancing underrepresented minorities in science and engineering industries;
  3. Lessons from practices on recruiting, retaining, and advancing women (and women of color) in science and engineering industries.

Participants shared their ideas and suggestions for best practices and innovative strategies—spanning the continuum from K-12 education, to undergraduate training, to professional recruitment, retention, and advancement, and further outreach—to enhance the pipeline of successive generations of women and underrepresented minority (URM) scientists and engineers.

ENSURING A GROWING POOL OF WOMEN AND UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITY SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS

Many workshop participants readily acknowledged that in order to ensure that there are sufficient trained, qualified, and interested employees in the science and education workforce long into the future, particularly underrepresented minorities and women, attention must be focused on introducing children at the K-12 level to science and engineering and the careers available to them. This is critically important to meeting the overall challenge.1

Specifically, female and underrepresented minority students need a better understanding of the career paths available to scientists and engineers.2 For example, many students do not know what engineering is and therefore do not know if it would be of interest to them as a career option, or what is required to succeed in that field. Further, once students graduate from high school and enter college, students and parents should be made aware of the solid foundation that education in science and engineering can provide and the relative earning power that those careers can generate in the corporate environment. This may increase the attractiveness of these subjects to college students and subsequently the attractiveness of S&E positions once students graduate.

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1Comment made by participants of breakout groups 2 and 3.

2Comment made by participants of breakout group 1.

Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
×

Community colleges offer an alternative means of acquiring a science and engineering education, but their graduates may be at a disadvantage because of negative perceptions of these degrees.3 Along with broad-based outreach, direct outreach to potential employers and to existing S&E employees in companies may help overcome these negative perceptions and provide opportunities for well-qualified students who have obtained their education through paths other than a traditional four-year college or university. Involving students themselves in these discussions about greater inclusion of women and URMs at all levels, as well as about their perceptions and career plans, is also vital. In other words, talking “with” students rather than “at” them is essential to breaking down perception barriers.4 Along with involving students in outreach efforts, the media should also be involved in attracting URMs and women to science and engineering (e.g., a “Got engineering?” campaign).5

RECRUITING, RETAINING, AND ADVANCING WOMEN AND UNDERREPRESENTED MINORITY SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS

Once women and URMs are prepared to enter the S&E workforce, significant challenges remain in terms of their recruitment, retention, and advancement. In many respects, however, these challenges may be easing given overall changes in the workplace and given the accumulated effects of efforts over many years. For example, as the workplace becomes more diverse and more tolerant, and as individual difference is more openly embraced, positive perceptions of women and URMs in the S&E workforce are increasing.6 The challenges of dual-career families can be a significant factor in retaining women in S&E positions; many companies have programs to address these challenges.7 Similarly, for many women the first five years, often the transition point from “entry level” to “middle management” (either technical or managerial), also coincide with pregnancy and starting families.8

Diversity is not just represented by different groups of people, such as women, African-Americans, and Hispanics; there is also considerable diversity within these groups that must be considered if these valuable employees are to be recruited, retained, and advanced. These different groups have different needs and challenges (e.g., single women, women with children, women without children).9 To accommodate these differences, employees may require greater flexibility in the workplace (e.g., flexible hours).

One way to address the challenge of attracting diverse candidates is to have a diverse recruitment team with whom women and underrepresented minorities can more easily identify.10 Another avenue is for senior leadership of companies to connect with universities to share best practices for recruitment and retention and to work together to develop the pipeline from university programs to companies.11

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3Comment made by participants of breakout group 3.

4This younger group of online, social media–active S&E professionals can also help to identify alternative approaches to successful mentoring.

5Comment made by workshop participants.

6Comment made by participants of breakout group 1.

7Comment made by participants of breakout group 3.

8Comment made by participants of breakout group 3.

9Comment made by participants of breakout group 3.

10Comment made by participants of breakout group 2.

11Comment made by participants of breakout group 2.

Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
×

It may be beneficial to study possible parallels between leaks in the pipeline in science and engineering undergraduate programs and those that occur in the first five years of a person’s employment. Research on this potential parallel may yield insights into how solutions that have aided academic programs may aid industry.12

Another important aspect of recruiting, retaining, and advancing woman and URM scientists and engineers is providing them with additional necessary training. Given that “soft skills” (such as communication and interpersonal skills) are important in enabling scientists and engineers to advance to management-level positions, specific training in these areas may be needed. MBA programs early in one’s career might allow technical employees to develop these critical skills much sooner.13 Another example of necessary training is helping employees better understand expectations about how candidates are evaluated for advancement: Are candidates evaluated based on management skills or technical skills or both?14 In addition to traditional upward advancement, lateral career moves and/or advancement along technical tracks (i.e., a “dual-track” model) should be supported for scientists and engineers who wish to remain engaged in technical work instead of management.15

A critical aspect of ensuring successful careers for women and URMs is mentoring. However, as mentioned above, employee groups are not monolithic, and mentoring should be adapted accordingly. For example, peer group or cohort mentoring may be better for some cultures than one-on-one mentoring.16 Further, mentoring and sponsorship17 have different contributions to make in helping candidates understand what is needed to advance.18

BETTER UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGE THROUGH ADDITIONAL DATA AND RESEARCH

While more data are available than ever before, there is still a need to better understand the complex situation facing women and URMs in the S&E industrial workforce from the very beginning of the pipeline through advancement to the highest corporate levels. In addition, more analysis of what students at the K-12 and undergraduate levels know about potential science and engineering career paths would enhance understanding of how their knowledge, or lack thereof, shapes their expectations and career decisions.19

Further, because industries vary greatly, rather than combining employment and advancement data for all industries together, it would be beneficial to study differences among industries.20 There are differences among industrial sectors (e.g., pharmaceutical, aerospace, and information technology) that impact sector-specific requirements (e.g., US citizenship) for hiring a STEM workforce. These differences, real and perceived, impact not only recruitment but also

___________________

12Comment made by participants of breakout group 1.

13Comment made by participants of breakout group 1.

14Comment made by participants of breakout group 1.

15Comment made by participants of breakout group 2.

16Comment made by participants of breakout group 2.

17For further information on mentoring and sponsorship, see Sponsoring Women to Success (http://catalyst.org/publication/485/sponsoring-women-to-success; accessed September 17, 2013); and Women and the Trouble with Mentors (http://catalyst.org/publication/485/sponsoring-women-to-success; accessed September 17, 2013).

18Comment made by participants of breakout group 2.

19Comment made by participants of breakout group 1.

20Comment made by workshop participants.

Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
×

retention of diverse STEM employees. More research on barriers for women and underrepresented minorities in different industry settings would shed light on how certain corporate cultures and/or systemic issues may inhibit recruitment, retention, and advancement.21 More focused data collection and analysis of the technical workforce is needed for a more nuanced view of employment trends in companies by industry/sector (e.g., data on technically trained employees working in management).22 Data demonstrate that retention of URMs and women in industry is essential, but little is known about when and why they leave industry. To move forward, more data are needed, as is more sharing of best practices.23

Although some trends in the advancement of women into management are observable, the causes behind those trends are less well understood. More research is needed to understand why women do or do not choose the management track.24 In other words, are there gender differences in how men and women thrive?25 “Climate studies,”26 common in academia, are needed in companies as well to better understand how and why employees make decisions to stay in or leave the S&E workforce (e.g., the “scissors effect”27).28

Finally, more research is necessary to illuminate the broader spectrum of societal factors that influence decisions that affect the inclusion of women and URMs in the S&E industrial workforce and how to ensure their greater recruitment, retention, and advancement going forward. For example, how do socioeconomic factors affect individuals’ perceptions and choices regarding science and engineering careers?29 And how will generational changes reflect broader socioeconomic shifts in the population?30 Many minorities are first-generation college graduates, but this will change over time. These changes and their effects should also be studied.31

___________________

21Comment made by workshop participants.

22Comment made by participants of breakout group 1.

23Comment made by workshop participants.

24Additionally, one could research whether or not equity in female role models in management positions is critical in increasing the number of women overall and the number of women choosing to pursue management roles, if other environmental policies and considerations are in place to support them in whatever roles they play.

25Comment made by participants of breakout group 3.

26One example of a climate study of women and minorities in the workplace was Good for Business: Making Full Use of the Nation’s Human Capital. The Environmental Scan. A Fact-Finding Report of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. Washington, March 1995. The report found that “in the private sector, equally qualified and similarly situated citizens are being denied equal access to advancement into senior-level management on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity” (pp. 10-11).

27The scissors diagram illustrates that girls do well in STEM up through the receipt of their bachelor’s degree. However, the scissors cross once they reach the doctoral preparation stage and farther. In other words, fewer and fewer women advance up the professional hierarchy. See, for example, Mapping the Maze: Getting More Women to the Top in Research. 2008. European Commission (http://ec.europa.eu/research/sciencesociety/document_library/pdf_06/mapping-the-maze-getting-more-women-to-the-top-in-research_en.pdf; accessed March 31, 2014). The same phenomenon is observable among underrepresented minorities as well, the Civil Rights Monitor found: “in the private sector, equally qualified and similarly situated citizens are being denied equal access to advancement into senior-level management on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity” (www.civilrights.org/monitor/vol8_no1/art7.html; accessed March 14, 2014).

28Comment made by participants of breakout group 3.

29Comment made by workshop participants.

30The current and long-term impacts of the economic downturn and students’ ability to afford college, especially minority students often overrepresented in lower socioeconomic status, should be considered. Review of existing strategies and programs from scholarships to student research, work study, community college, and 4-year partnerships could be explored.

31Comment made by workshop participants.

Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
×
Page 23
Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
×
Page 24
Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
×
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"3 Changing the Game: Key Themes and Suggested Actions." National Academy of Engineering. 2014. Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13512.
×
Page 26
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Thousands of gifted individuals, including women and underrepresented minorities, remain a disproportionally small fraction of those in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. Industry, as the largest employer category of those with STEM backgrounds, stands to benefit considerably from greater inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities in the workforce. However, nothing short of a game-changing environment must be created to harness the talent of those not fully represented in the STEM workforce.

Advancing Diversity in the US Industrial Science and Engineering Workforce is the summary of a workshop held in May, 2012 by the National Academy of Engineering, focusing on the needs and challenges facing industry in particular, and it is intended to facilitate further discussion and actions to address these complex issues. The workshop provided a forum for leaders from industry, academia, and professional associations to share best practices and innovative approaches to recruiting, retaining, and advancing women and underrepresented minorities in the scientific and engineering workforce throughout the nation's industries.

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