As the world’s challenges continue to grow in complexity, we increasingly need ideas and perspectives from people with different backgrounds and experiences. Unfortunately, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, where many of our greatest innovations originate, there continues to be a lack of diverse representation.
For example, while women in the United States make up almost half of the entire workforce, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2019 women represented only 27% of all STEM employees. Simply put, we can and must do better.
Encouraging Inclusivity in STEM from an Early Age
It’s never too early to show children that innovation is for everyone. While we might think the internalization of harmful stereotypes about who does or does not belong in STEM or other fields typically happens gradually over the course of a person’s life, a worldwide study across cultures found that these beliefs begin to solidify between ages 10 and 14.
In an article describing the research, lead author Robert Blum, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University, explains that the preadolescent age is a crucial time to dispel culturally held beliefs that lead to negative outcomes. “This is an age group that is acutely tuned in to the worlds around them, and it’s the age group when norms of behavior and attitude are becoming ingrained and solidified,” Blum said. “There’s a window of opportunity to dismantle these messages, and we tend to ignore it.”
To help combat the kinds of messages that can lead children to believe that they or their peers might be excluded from engaging in STEM, it’s crucial that STEM programs introduce young students to diverse role models.
When children see people they find relatable engaged in innovation, they are more likely to see their own potential to do the same. Additionally, seeing diversity in STEM helps children to understand that these fields do not belong to just one group, but to people of all genders, races, communities and abilities.
For example, learning about 2017 National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Carolyn Bertozzi is beneficial for girls who might see themselves reflected in her story, but as Bertozzi herself has pointed out, girls aren’t the only ones who are positively impacted by the visibility of women in STEM.
As the head of her own laboratory at Stanford University, Bertozzi takes her role as a role model to men in her lab very seriously. “I hear people say to me, ‘Oh you must be such a great role model for women in your lab,’” Bertozzi said in an interview with NIHF. “I find that interesting because I think that while that might be true, I think it’s actually more important and also impactful that I might be a role model for the men in the lab. There is nothing foreign to the men in my lab about women professors and women bosses — I feel that there’s something important about that.”
Learn More About How NIHF Promotes STEM Role Models
At NIHF, we believe that every child can invent, and we use lessons and stories from our Inductees to inform the development of our education programs. By introducing students to some of our nation’s most influential innovators, we can help children to see that everyone has the potential to develop creative ideas and world-changing solutions.
We invite you to visit our blog to learn more about the importance of promoting greater inclusivity and diverse perspectives in STEM fields.