Despite decades of investments, initiatives and a universal understanding that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields need much greater levels of gender and racial diversity, progress in this area has been hard-won.
A recent report from the National Science Foundation confirms this, and found that even though women accounted for over half (52%) of the college-educated workforce, in 2017 they represented only 29% of science and engineering, 27% of computer and mathematical science and 29% of physical science employment.
Racial diversity in these fields is similarly low, and underrepresented minorities (including Black, Hispanic, Native American and Alaska Native individuals) make up just 13% of the science and engineering workforce.
These disproportionally low levels of gender and racial diversity in STEM fields can contribute to harmful stereotype threat, reinforcing negative stereotypes about particular groups. Because a student’s sense of belonging and even perception of disciplines and career fields can be impacted by stereotype threat, educators must do everything they can do combat instances of bias in their classrooms.
Identifying and Eliminating Bias in the Classroom
As difficult as it might be to admit, all of us have implicit biases, referring to “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner.” Because of this, educators may have unknowingly acted in ways that produce stereotype threat.
To better understand how to eliminate implicit bias, Lindsay Wheeler, assistant director of STEM education initiatives and assistant professor at the University of Virginia suggests teachers ask themselves the following questions:
- What experiences have you had that led to the beliefs you have about yourself and your capabilities as a student and a professional?
- How have different people/experiences/messages/cultural ideas throughout your life influenced these beliefs?
- What are some of the stereotypes or labels that you or others have made about you?
Asking questions like these can lead to insights that can significantly improve learning environments and help students feel more comfortable and accepted. Additionally, Wheeler suggests emphasizing the importance of diversity in STEM by discussing how diverse ideas lead to better solutions and championing equity and inclusion.
How Do You Promote Diversity in STEM?
Educators play a profound role in helping students of all genders, races, abilities and experiences feel confident enough to pursue any field that sparks their interest. What strategies have you used in your classroom to promote diversity and inclusion? We would love for you to share what’s worked for you on our Camp Invention Facebook page!