US to boost diversity in STEM

06 May 2021 | Muriel Cozier

The current lack of diversity in STEM has left the US with a ‘narrower innovation and solution path.’

US Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, attending her first ‘in person’ event, has called for an ‘expansion of our diverse talent in STEM.’

During the roundtable discussion; hosted by Howard University, Washington DC, Secretary Granholm said that increasing diversity in STEM was a huge priority for the Biden Administration. Highlighting that the Department of Energy has 17 national laboratories she said ‘We really want to see a diverse pipeline of our future workforce, problem solvers and scientists.’  The focus will be to increase the representation of Black, Hispanic and females in STEM subjects.

As well as missing out on untapped talent, Secretary Granholm said that the current lack of diversity in STEM also left the US with a ‘a narrower innovation and solution path.’

‘We see this in artificial intelligence for example; when early voice recognition software could not identify women’s voices, and facial recognition software where Black people are 100 time more likely to be mis-identified than white people, which of course has huge ramifications,’ Secretary Granholm said.

‘We cannot abide blind spots like this – particularly as we work towards our transition to clean energy…an inclusive transition, offering benefits to every community.’

As part of the American Jobs Plan, set out by the Biden Administration during March 2021, which aims to rebuild the US economy, a dedicated reserve of $20 billion will be made available to upgrade research infrastructure in laboratories at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The plans will also see an investment of $15 billion to create up to 200 centres of excellence that serve as research incubators at HBCUs.

Meanwhile; the UK’s Royal Society has called on the STEM sector to step up and end ‘unacceptable disparities in Black staff and student academic progression and success.’

Two reports published during March 2021, indicated that the proportion of Black students entering undergraduate and postgraduate education has increased over the past decade, as it has for other minority ethnic groups, but they were leaving STEM in greater numbers at all stages of the pipeline.

Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society said: ‘Talented Black people are not finding science careers in UK academia and that is unacceptable. The reasons are complex and have been much discussed, but we have not made enough progress…We cannot fix this overnight but we have to start making more progress.’

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