Over the last few decades, the disproportion of African American women in the STEM field has shown little change. The reason behind this issues lies with primary education and the lack of awareness of STEM in youth.
“As I think about my elementary school years, I don’t even remember science,” says Aaliyah Elijah, a Millersville University senior and creator of the STEMLand Foundation. “Any science [that] I do remember, I didn’t think it was much fun.”
Elijah’s childhood sentiments mirror those of many African American girls coming from inner city schools. This issue within her community is what ultimately led her to creating the STEMLand Foundation, an organization tasked with exposing youth to science and mathematics in hopes that they enter those fields.
“My main goal is to give to the hope to children in urbanized areas to choose STEM fields in the future,” says Elijah.
The STEMLand Foundation is one example of an organization dismantling cultural barriers for young girls of color around STEM helping to reduce underrepresentation in the field. It is just one of many foundations across the country have set out to make sure the underrepresentation of women of color becomes a thing of the past.
Women of Color Absences from STEM
African-American women have been at the center of major scientific discoveries and achievements for decades. Despite their contributions to science, women of color are still underrepresented in the STEM field.
45 percent of employed scientists and engineers are women, according to data from the 2009 National Science Foundation’s Report, Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.
This percentage, however, does not speak to the absence of minority women from the field. African-American women make up an even smaller percentage of the female professionals in the STEM field.
African-American women comprise fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers, according to the 2009 National Science Foundation’s Report, Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. This reason for this lies with the small portion of qualified candidates that graduate with STEM related degrees from higher institutions.
“Women of color have an even harder chance of getting into these fields and completing them because we are not taught to go into these fields,” says Elijah.
Young women of color often come from elementary schools that do not educate students on the foundational topics of STEM.
“Schools that serve minority and lower-income neighborhoods tend to employ teachers with fewer years of experience and less specialized training in math and science than schools in white and upper-income neighborhoods,” according to a 2012 National Science Foundation report.
STEM Mentoring Programs
This underrepresentation of women of color in such an essential field to society has called many in to action to bring about change.
“I think having a support system is beneficial,” says Latoya Jamison, a Senior Computer Forensics Specialist at QVC.
“I believe having people motivate you to dig into untapped potential can make a world of difference.”
Foundations and non-profit organizations centered around exposing young black girls to STEM create the support system that many need to succeed. The Black Girl Dive is a non-profit organization that is example of how a foundation can bring awareness to young women of color while acting as their support system.
The Black Girls Dive’s mission is to spread awareness of water safety, aquatic opportunities and experience by way of science, technology, robotics, engineering, arts and mathematics (STREAMS), according to blackgirldive.com. From courses focusing on marine science to various scholarships, the Black Girls Dive provides young women with a support system.
Other foundations strive to accomplish a similar mission to help young women of color. The Black Girls Code is a non-profit organization that founded on the mission of providing young African-American girls with the tools and knowledge to enter the field of STEM.
The Black Girls Code, a non-profit organization that mentors women of color, aims to provide young African-American women from ages 7 to 17 with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million STEM jobs to be available in the U.S. by 2020, according to blackgirlcode.com.
The Black Girls Code organization offers an array of financial need based scholarships, professional workshops, and the ability to connect with female scientists, engineers and mathematicians at various conferences.
The STEMLand foundation and other STEM centered organizations were created out of necessity to help black female youth of urbanized areas gain more opportunities.
“I wish that there more female role models in the STEM field when [I was in college] and just starting out in my career. However, these [STEM] programs have made me hopeful for the future of STEM. Women are capable and deserve a seat at the table,” says Jamison.