Societal Factors and Workplace Perceptions: Understanding Social Determinants of Professional STEM Achievement and Persistence for Black Women

Societal Factors and Workplace Perceptions: Understanding Social Determinants of Professional STEM Achievement and Persistence for Black Women

Ashley Huderson (ASME, USA) and Brandy Huderson (University of the District of Columbia, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8870-2.ch001
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Despite the growing number of women and minorities in STEM occupations, underrepresentation of Black women in the STEM workforce persists as they hold only 2.4% and 2% of science and engineering jobs, respectively, though they make up 6.4% of the total population. Despite these numbers, the African American women who are in STEM fields have been shown to excel at exceptional rates. The purpose of this chapter is to examine existing data, strategies, and models that address social determinants of professional STEM attainment for Black women. This chapter will explore the importance of intersectional identities and how this influences Black women's success in STEM fields in addition to understanding how counterpaces function to enhance persistence and advance the success of women of color in STEM fields. Understanding the non-academic factors that affect minority women's persistence in STEM allows for a broader conversation around implications for findings for academic and social support programs.
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There is believed to be a direct link to the inadequate educational preparation of the past and the current educational achievement gaps of African Americans, especially in the fields of science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) (Evans III, 2015). African Americans account for 12% of the U.S. population over the age of 21, but only 5% of the science and engineering workforce (National Science Board, 2018). African-American students are underrepresented in STEM programs and courses of study compared to their overall college enrollment rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, African-Americans received just 7.6 percent of all STEM bachelor's degrees and 4.5 percent of doctorates in STEM (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016).

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, “Women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy; yet hold less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs.” (U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics, 2017) The number of women in STEM is slowly increasing, however men continue to outnumber women increasingly as they progress through their educational and workforce careers. Among first-year college students, women are much less likely than men to say that they intend to major in STEM (Griffith, 2010). By graduation, men outnumber women in almost all science and engineering fields, and in some, such as physics, engineering, and computer science, the difference is dramatic, with women earning less than 20% of bachelor’s degrees (National Science Foundation, 2017). Women’s representation as science and engineering graduates continues to decline at the masters and doctoral levels and as they transition to the workplace. With such strong evidence regarding the lack of women and minorities in STEM related fields, the U.S. faces a huge deficit in innovation, as gender and racial diversity in STEM have been directly linked to increased innovation and economic growth. (Herring, 2009)

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