Increasing Diversity in the Science, Engineering and Technology Workforce

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Publication date: 
11 October 2002

"Is the United States developing the human capital to remain the world's most productive economy while at the same time meeting a formidable new national security threat?" This question is posed in a new report, "The Quiet Crisis: Falling Short in Producing American Scientific and Technical Talent." The report indicates that the U.S. is not doing what is needed to develop the necessary S&T workforce for the future, and calls for greater efforts to increase the representation of women and minorities in the fields of science, engineering and technology.

The report was issued by BEST, an organization seeking to foster "a stronger, more diverse U.S. workforce in science, engineering and technology by increasing the participation of under- represented groups." BEST, which stands for Building Engineering and Science Talent, is a three-year partnership of government, industry, and academic leaders (for more information see As a follow-on to recommendations of the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development (see /fyi/2000/fyi00.087.htm), its purpose is to determine what has been proven effective in encouraging "women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and persons with disabilities to choose and stay with science and math educational paths." The findings of this interim progress report, issued one year into BEST's lifespan, were made public at a congressional briefing on September 26.

This building crisis, the report warns, "stems from the gap between the nation's growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and its production of them." The report cites data from the Labor Department and the National Science Board regarding the expected creation of new S&T jobs, the decline in undergraduate and graduate degree production in engineering and the physical sciences since the early 1990s, the low percentage of women and minorities in science, engineering and technology compared to their representation in the entire U.S. population, the reliance on foreign workers, and the anticipated retirement of many in the S&T workforce.

Closing this projected gap, the report says, "will require a national commitment to develop more of the talent of all our citizens, especially the under-represented majority - the women, minorities, and persons with disabilities who comprise a disproportionately small part" of the S&T workforce. Initial recommendations include tools to help communities develop workforce diversity, a coherent national strategy and increased federal, state and local resources for expanding "educational opportunities in mathematics and science for under-represented groups." Research universities are urged to become more involved in elementary and secondary science and math education, make greater efforts to slow the attrition rate of women and minorities at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and provide more and better faculty role models. Companies are also encouraged to strengthen their presence in pre-K through 12th grade education, use diversity as a criterion in partnering with universities, and "create a culture of inclusiveness in the workplace." The report calls on professional societies, foundations, and other non-profit groups to work together, "project a more positive public image of science, engineering, and technology," and "mobilize at the grass roots" level to encourage diversity.