How can we encourage more diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM? The largest percentage of workers in these fields is made up of white males, but now, many companies are trying to achieve a more diverse workforce. One way to reach this goal is to highlight individuals from underrepresented groups who can serve as role models of achieving success in STEM.
Those from underrepresented groups who want to pursue a technical profession can look to the following people for inspiration:
Erica Baker has had to overcome racism on her path to success in STEM. Baker is currently senior engineering manager at Patreon, but as an African-American woman, her road to this position was not always easy. In her blog on Medium, Baker reveals how difficult it was for her to be sometimes the only African-American person in the workplace over the course of her career. She often felt she had to put up with racist jokes, comments, and attitudes in order to avoid being ostracized at work. She also had to cope with feeling isolated and alone due to cultural differences and sensibilities.
Despite these challenges, Baker has found success at some of the most prominent tech companies in the United States, including Google, Slack, and Patreon. Also heavily involved in providing opportunities for the next generation of African-American girls to pursue tech careers, she serves on the board of directors of Girl Develop It and is a tech mentor with Black Girls Code. Additionally, she has won several awards for her efforts to promote diversity in the technical workforce.
Vinod Dham struggled through poverty to reach success. Born in India, he came to the United States in 1975 in his mid-20’s with only $8 in his wallet. A contact at the University of Cincinnati where he was earning his master’s degree loaned him $125 so he could put a down payment on an apartment, pay the first month’s premium for his health insurance, and buy some food. After that, he earned $325 per month as a research assistant, out of which he repaid the loan at a rate of $25 per month until it was paid off.
From these humble beginnings, Dham went on to join Intel Corporation, today one of the world’s largest computer technology companies. At Intel, Dham worked on a team developing flash memory, and he also helped develop microprocessors, including the widely-used Pentium processor. Later, with his earnings from his work in computer technology, Dham became a venture capitalist, focusing his investments on developing collaborations between American companies and the technical workforce in India.
William Hewlett, co-founder of the powerhouse computing company Hewlett-Packard (HP), overcame a learning disability on his way to achieving success. Born in 1913 at a time when learning disabilities were little understood, Hewlett struggled with writing assignments in his schooling. This learning difference would be diagnosed as dyslexia, but Hewlett excelled at math and science, disciplines that allowed him to use his strong memorization skills.
Despite his learning difficulties, Hewlett graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s and a master’s, and from MIT with a master’s. In 1938, he and classmate and friend David Packard started an electronics company in a professor’s garage, and HP was launched. The company made its first sale to Walt Disney, and the success has continued ever since. HP is now one of the largest technology companies in the world.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was a groundbreaking computer programmer. As a woman, she belonged to a well-known underrepresented group in the STEM fields. Despite making up half of American society, women make up only a small percentage of the workforce in STEM fields. During WWII, when Hopper joined the US Navy Reserves, a larger percentage of women were employed in STEM fields to replace the men deployed overseas. After the war ended, though, women were not expected to continue in technical workplaces, yet Hopper did.
Hopper is known for her work on the first computers, as well as her work developing the first computer languages. Notably, she developed the first computer language based on the English language rather than on numbers, a trend that continues today. In her lifetime, Hopper was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the United States’ highest honor in the technical fields, and she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, for her contributions to computer science.