Last week, the American Girl company announced that their 2018 “girl of the year” is Luciana Vega, a Latina and an aspiring astronaut. Even so, it remains statistically unlikely that a woman of color will work in the space sciences, despite decades of effort to increase diversity in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce.
Could Luciana help to encourage a new generation of Latinas to, well, shoot for the stars?
Though progress has been made, a new report released today details the continued inequities in the STEM field. Titled " Women and Men in STEM at Odds Over Workplace Equity," the Pew Research Center report details how differently women and minorities continue to experience these jobs.
Hispanic and black workers remain vastly underrepresented in the STEM workforce. While Hispanics make up 16% of the U.S. workforce, they're only 7% of STEM workers. Blacks make up 9% of STEM workers, compared with 11% of the U.S. workforce overall.
Those numbers are up from 1990, when just 4% of STEM workers were Hispanic, and 7% were black.
And though women have made substantial gains, half of women working in STEM say they have encountered some form of gender discrimination at work. That compares to 41% of women in non-STEM jobs.
Black STEM workers are especially likely to say they have experienced discrimination at work because of their race or ethnicity: 62% of blacks in STEM say this, compared with 44% of Asians, 42% of Hispanics and just 13% of whites in STEM jobs.
In an economy increasingly abetted by technology, STEM jobs continue to grow at a fast pace. Since 1990, STEM employment has grown 79% overall, from 9.7 million to 17.3 million workers, and now comprises 13% of the overall workforce, according to the report. Notably, computer jobs have seen an increase of 338% over the same period. (Overall job growth during that time was 34%.)
Broadly, women now make up half, or 50%, of all U.S. workers in STEM occupations.
But inequities persist, namely in the types of STEM jobs held by women and minorities.
For instance, women account for the majority of healthcare practitioners and technicians (75%). But they’re underrepresented in computer and engineering jobs. Just 14% of engineering occupations are held by women; a quarter (25%) of computer jobs are.
Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented across most STEM job clusters, the report shows. For instance, many work as health technicians and nurses: 37% of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses are either black or Hispanic.
Hispanic and black workers are underrepresented among those in STEM jobs with professional or doctoral degrees.
Blacks and Hispanics together comprise just 10% of atmospheric and space scientists, and 6% of astronomers and physicists.
And the median earnings of blacks ($58,000) and Hispanics ($60,758) working in STEM occupations are less than those of whites ($71,897) and Asians ($90,000) in the workforce, the report says.
Many surveyed said they think girls, blacks and Hispanics lack encouragement to pursue STEM from a young age. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed consider this a major reason there are not more women in some STEM areas, and 41% say this is a major reason there are not more blacks and Hispanics in the STEM workforce.
More than a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say a lack of “black and Hispanic role models in STEM” is a major reason why the numbers of people working in the field are so low.
According to American Girl, Luciana Vega is of Chilean descent and “is meant to help girls defy gender stereotypes and embrace risks in pursuit of their goals.”
“We are living in a society that is increasingly technology-focused…a society that is facing complex challenges,” former Chief Scientist of NASA and member of Luciana’s advisory board Dr. Ellen Stofan wrote in a statement. “If we have only half the population—or slightly less than half the population—trying to figure out how to navigate this increasingly complex world we live in, we’re not going to do as well. We are not going to do as well if we’re not tapping into the talent of everybody.”