Category Archives: STEM

Fix STEM Gap by Making Science Fun

Anything that encourages and inspires the mastery of science in this country raises my interest. I come from a long line of scientists who — aside from being brilliant heroes of mine — always found ways, and time, to give back to schools and students to encourage a love of science.

My late dad, an oceanographer, told me more than once that the key to the math and science problem in America (i.e., not enough college graduates entering the workforce with science, technology, engineering, and math mastery and career plans) is that too few schools are making STEM fun. How can you be inspired by something that     isn’t at least a little bit fun?

Which is why this release about the 11th Annual Arizona Regional Science Bowl held Saturday before last caught my eye and had me reading on, not just about Arizona’s competition, but the national one as well, the one that all regional meets feed. There’s even a National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Not sure my dad knew about that one. He would have loved it.

Organized and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy since its inception back in 1991, the National Science Bowl follows a quiz-show format, with a buzzer system in place for contestants to signal their answers. Students compete in teams starting in their regional middle- and high-school competitions with the goal of getting an all-expense-paid trip to the national bowl if they win. This year’s national event takes place in Washington from April 27 through May 1. (Here’s a video from last year’s national competition in case you’re as curious as I was.)

My sense of it after reading up on both the regional and national events is this bowl idea sounds far more exciting, engaging and competitive than most other organized attempts to instill the love of science in tomorrow’s workforce. It also sounds fun.

I guess you could say it feels like the difference between a health-risk and body-mass assessment and a wellness program that gets participants truly engaged and enthused.

At a time when employers, particularly those in tech-reliant industries, are bemoaning the dearth of STEM-educated job candidates (consider what we’ve written here on HRE Daily and on HREOnline.com, for instance), it makes a whole lot of sense for businesses to support these regional bowls, and our national one.

Not only are you helping your high-tech talent-pipeline, you’d also be doing something very nice for your reputation as a community/U.S./future-workforce supporter.

Women’s Disparity, Dearth in STEM

When I was 10 years old, my father put a microscope/chemistry set under our Christmas tree — not for either of my studious siblings, 538088903-women-in-sciencebut for me, the nutty little gymnastic tumbler who rarely stopped long enough to observe much of anything, let alone how the world worked.

Years later, when I asked him about it, he told me he put that there because he sensed in me the inquisitiveness and intuition of a future scientist, like he had become and his father before him.

I never lived up to his hunch, though I did love math, and I certainly chose an inquisitive career. But I’ve often wondered what stopped me. Was there something in me or my environment that never allowed that chemistry set to become more of a beacon than a toy?

A new study from the University of Washington, Why Are Some STEM Fields More Gender Balanced Than Others? suggests there well may have been, a force that persists to this day, and one that could account for the varied representation — as well as the under-representation — of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

According to the study’s report, the most powerful factor driving this disparity and dearth is a “masculine culture” that makes many women feel like they don’t belong.

Granted, the masculine force in my case was completely encouraging, but was it the rest of my world around me — the lack of female role models in scientific jobs, the other stuff I was given to play with, the general expectations of what drives women onward and our perceptions of the fields that seem so out of reach?

Lead researcher and author Sapna Cheryan, a UW associate professor of psychology, says maybe so — maybe all that and more:

“Students are basing their educational decisions in large part on their perceptions of a field. And not having early experience with what a field is really like makes it more likely that they will rely on their stereotypes about that field and who is good at it.”

She and her fellow researchers analyzed more than 1,200 papers about women’s under-representation in STEM fields and, from those, identified 10 factors that impact gender differences in students’ interest and participation in STEM. Then they winnowed the list down to the three factors most likely to explain gendered patterns in the STEM fields — a lack of pre-college experience, gender gaps in belief about one’s abilities and that most powerful one, that masculine culture that discourages women from participating.

Cheryan isn’t the only one taking the declining, diverging number of women in STEM careers seriously. On Thursday, Accenture and Girls Who Code released their joint research finding that the share of U.S. women in technology jobs will decline from 24 percent to 22 percent by 2025 — “a new low over the next 10 years, despite so much focus recently on closing the gender gap in tech,” says Accenture’s report. In the same token, it states:

“[I]nterventions to encourage girls to pursue a computer-science education could triple the number of women in computing to 3.9 million, growing their share of technology jobs from 24 percent today to 39 percent in the same time frame.”

I’ll never forget my interview a few years back with Colleen Blake, one of our 2013 HR’s Rising Stars.  At the time, she was the senior director of global people operations for San Jose, Calif.-based Brocade Communication Systems Inc.

A busy mom, but with a rich past in information technology and science, she was also passionate about encouraging women in STEM careers. Her company, in fact, realizing its own deficits in that area, asked her to be its liaison and mentor for women pursuing those fields.

As she recalls, Brocade leaders “had approached me when I returned to work [after her daughter’s birth] and said, ‘Colleen, we have this problem encouraging women in this field.’ To be tapped on the shoulder like that felt like a real sign for me, that I was meant to do this — not just for me, but for my daughter as well.”

It does kind of baffle the mind that, with so much attention to the problem and with crusaders like Blake, we’re getting worse, not better. What this means for you, I can’t pretend to know, though creating better support systems for women in tech does come to mind. Perhaps it’s best to leave you with two cogent quotes from the Accenture release. The first, from Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code:

“Despite unprecedented attention and momentum behind the push for universal computer-science education, the gender gap in computing is getting worse. The message is clear: A one-size-fits-all model won’t work. This report is a rallying cry to invest in programs and curricula designed specifically for girls. We need a new mind-set and willingness to prioritize and focus on our nation’s girls, and we need it now.”

And this, from Julie Sweet, Accenture’s group chief executive for North America:

“Dramatically increasing the number of women in computing is critical to closing the computer-science skills gap facing every business in today’s digital economy. Without action, we risk leaving a large portion of our country’s talent on the sidelines of the high-value computing jobs that are key to U.S. innovation and competitiveness.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Intel’s Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

dv1080001Intel Corp.’s Diversity in Technology Initiative that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced in January — and Senior Editor Andrew R. McIlvaine blogged about at the time — appears to be chugging along quite nicely.

In a speech delivered Wednesday at the Rainbow PUSH Silicon Valley Tech 2020 Summit, Krzanich announced some impressive progress, confirming he was dead serious four months ago when he presented plans to make Intel more representative of the U.S. population by 2020, with some $300 million dedicated to the effort.

For one, he told summit-goers, 41 percent of hires at Intel this year have been diverse, versus 32 percent last year. For another, 17 percent of senior hires in the first quarter of 2015 are underrepresented minorities and 33 percent are women, up from 6 percent and 19 percent in 2014, respectively.

He also announced that Intel has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Oakland Unified School District to commit $5 million over the next five years to implement a comprehensive, “education-transformation solution” that will create a computer-science and engineering pathway for more than 2,400 students, with a graduating cohort of 600 students over the next five years.

“We knew we wanted to do something in K-12 education that targeted underrepresented minorities and we thought we should start in our own backyard,” Krzanich says in this USA Today piece about that initiative.

Lastly, he said Wednesday, his company has committed to spending $1 billion with diverse-owned businesses by the year 2020.

In her May 6 blog post about Krzanich’s update, Rosalind L. Hudnell, Intel’s vice president of human resources and director of diversity and inclusion, addressed some of the underlying philosophies behind this push:

“Improving the diversity of our workforce and the pipeline of students going into this field is not just the right thing to do.  It’s the critical thing to do.  The people who purchase and use technology come from all walks of life.

“Without employees with diverse backgrounds, opinions and problem-solving skills, Intel can’t properly address the needs of a diverse market. Diverse teams and companies lead to greater creativity, strategic thinking and innovation. Greater diversity also results in better products and smarter business decisions. So how do we get there? This is the hard part, because diversity is a complex issue.”

In many stories we’ve written over the years about meaningful workforce initiatives, diversity included, a repeating theme has been the need for top-down buy-in and commitment to occur if any of them are to succeed and if promised goals are to be met.

Nice to see that working so well in the Intel corner of Silicon Valley.

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball

As 2014 draws to a close, folks — as you might expect — now have their eyes set on 2015, and are figuring out what might be in store for their organizations as far as HR and the workplace are concerned. For this final post of the year, I did a quick search of the web to see what  people are predicting for next year. For your reading pleasure, here are a few of the things I stumbled upon. (Feel free, of course, to click on any of the links to see the sources’ full list of predictions.)

159188661Establishing a “chief of work.” Peter Andrew, workplace strategy director for Asia at real-estate company CBRE, predicts in Fortune the addition of a new position: chief of work. Most C-suites have not added new roles since the chief-information-officer title took hold about 20 years ago, but CBRE’s research suggests that’s about to change. For one thing, Andrew writes, companies today have human resources, IT and real-estate all acting separately and, often, unwittingly working against each other. He suggests that a chief of work would coordinate all that, with an eye toward building a culture that attracts top talent. Finding the most efficient balance between full-time employees and a growing army of independent contractors, he adds, will also be in that individual’s wheelhouse.

The rise of mobile assessments. From website CPA Practice Advisor: Mobile assessments will be increasingly tapped for selection, performance management, and training and development decisions. Technology, including social media and social collaboration, is changing the science and practice of selection, recruitment, performance management, engagement and learning, the article says. And I-O psychologists, it continues, will work to design assessments that are valid and reliable, regardless of how and where they are delivered.

Every child born in the next 12 months will learn coding as a core subject. Increasingly, Samsung writes, governments are recognizing that computer literacy is a fundamental, basic skill and are incorporate coding into their curriculums. For example, the UK, it says, launched a new computing curriculum during the current academic year, in which children as young as five are taught programming skills. In 2015 and beyond, Samsung predicts, such education innovations will gradually become the norm, with businesses, educators and governments working together to raise skills across Europe. Longer-term, it says, this trend will help spur the use of internships, as businesses recognize that they can benefit from welcoming young, computer-literate people into their organizations. “The need for employees to be computer literate,” Samsung says, will result in a wave of coding schools that will help longtime employees learn coding quickly.

Honesty will become a revered leadership trait. In a Forbes article, contributor Dan Schawbel predicts that “companies are going to start embracing transparency more next year as younger generations are demanding it.” Leaders, Schawbel writes, won’t just have to be good at inspiring and educating; they will have to be able to instill trust through honesty. “It’s only natural that people would want to work under leaders who are open about what the company is doing [and] where it’s heading in the future, and give honest feedback regularly,” he writes.

Niche becomes the norm. Korn Ferry’s Futurestep unit predicts “niche will become the norm” in talent acquisition.Now that organizations grasp the power of data,” Futurestep says, “next year, the challenge will be to prove ROI on all activities using analytics.” Organizations, it notes, need to be clear on the touch points that fit best with the types of candidates they are looking to attract. To that end, it says, interest and demand in creating functional talent communities is becoming top of mind as businesses strive to target hard to reach groups.

“Niche talent requires niche strategies,” says Chong Ng, president of Futurestep’s Asia- Pacific operation. “Whether it is businesses seeking high-demand talent such as STEM candidates, or organizations located in high-potential growth locations looking to specifically attract local talent back in the country, employers need to be more sophisticated in their attraction and retention methodologies in order to find and keep candidates.”

Companies will set new hiring priorities. Website Customer Think predicts employers will pay a lot closer attention to soft skills in 2015. “In the past,” writes Marcelo Brahimllari, “candidates were hired for open positions based primarily on their skills and experience. The ability to ‘do the work’ was traditionally valued over other skills.” But with more competition for jobs and deeper talent pools today, Brahimllari says, many employers are considering candidates’ so-called “soft” skills just as much, if not more, than education and experience. Employers, he writes, want to hire applicants who fit with the culture of the organization and share in its values. Traits such as honesty, flexibility, positive mind-set, creativity and leadership skills, he says, are being looked upon as being just as important as the ability to crunch numbers or write code.

Look forward to seeing you back here in 2015! Happy New Year!

Could Gen Zers Help Solve STEM Skills Gap?

461252089 -- young scientistMore good news for employers when it comes to Gen Zers, the next generation — those now in high school and college — soon to enter the workforce en masse.

This just-released report from Chicago-based CareerBuilder says high-school seniors’ future career plans could very well clean up — or at least help bridge — that highly troublesome science, technology, engineering and math skills gap said to be barreling down the tracks.

According to the report, new research conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder and its subsidiary, Moscow, Idaho-based Economic Modeling Specialists International, shows nearly three in four of 209 high-school seniors polled already know what career they want to pursue, and STEM-related fields top their choices. (The survey queried 2,188 hiring and human resource managers, ages 18 and over, as well.)

The poll also finds the majority (97 percent) of high-school seniors plan to go to college to obtain a two-year or four-year degree or other training that may ultimately help close the talent gap. The most popular majors? You got it, mostly STEM-related. Here they are:

  1. Engineering
  2. Business
  3. Psychology
  4. Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  5. Physical Sciences
  6. Arts, Visual and Performing
  7. Computer and Information Sciences
  8. Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences
  9. English Language and Literature
  10. Math and Statistics

And here are the most popular choices for profession among the 73 percent of high-school seniors who know what they want to pursue (again, STEM-heavy):

  • Teacher
  • Engineer
  • Psychologist/Psychiatrist
  • Scientist – Biological/Physical/Social
  • Artist/Designer
  • Veterinarian
  • Machine Operator
  • Computer Programmer
  • Physician
  • Government Professional
  • Nurse

This seems to work quite nicely alongside a news analysis I posted on HREOnline on Tuesday, the same day the first truly definitive study on Gen Zers was released by Millennial Branding, based in New York, and Randstad, with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta.

That study, Gen Y and Gen Z Workplace Expectations, shows Gen Zers are more rooted in prudent and pragmatic notions about how work gets done and what is needed to succeed than their Gen Y predecessors (ages 21 to 32).

“Gen Zers … appear to be more realistic instead of optimistic, are likely to be more career-minded, and can quickly adapt to new technology to work more effectively,” Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of Promote Yourself, told me for that piece.

They’ve also seen how much their parents and Gen Yers have struggled in the recession, he said, so “they come to the workplace well-prepared, less entitled and more equipped to succeed.”

Basically, Schawbel told me, they’re willing to work harder toward goals and have fewer illusions about what it takes to achieve them.

As the daughter, granddaughter and mother of scientists and engineers, I’ve lived through the hard work, stamina and — yes — realism involved in and needed for such pursuits.

So I have to say, I foresee only good things when you put these two reports together.