Are You Perpetuating The STEM ‘Belief Gap’?

Last month, STEMconnector released a report entitled The State of STEM: Defining the Landscape to Determine High-Impact Pathways for the Future Workforce.  According to the author, Erin White, the goals of the report were to ‘define the STEM ecosystem, encourage cross-sector collaboration, and recommend areas where further investment should focus’.

I appreciated Ms. White’s approach to defining the STEM talent gap as NOT a single gap but rather several layers of underlying challenges that produce what is usually perceived as a single gap. She outlined five critical gaps in the STEM workforce and the overall workforce of the future:

  1. Fundamental Skills Gap: industry and education have identified skills that young people need to succeed as lifelong workers and active citizens, but not enough young people are developing that foundation.
  2. Belief Gap: young people, and adults around them, hold incorrect beliefs about the aptitude or traits young people must have to belong and thrive in STEM fields.
  3. Postsecondary Education Gap: the new knowledge economy requires credentials beyond a high school diploma, but not enough young people are earning those credentials.
  4. Geographic Gap: hubs of economic growth, particularly for businesses requiring STEM skills, are often far from large concentrations of qualified job seekers or far from population centers.
  5. Demographic Gap: there is disproportionate participation in STEM jobs based on race, gender, and income, despite decades of focus on diversity and inclusion.

The Belief Gap section of the report was of particular interest to me since one of our missions is to build students’ beliefs that they can pursue and succeed in STEM. One component of this gap is that many young people believe that if they are not able to master a STEM concept immediately, or at a high level of proficiency, that STEM is not for them.  Ms. White shares that this belief is further propagated when educators encourage only those with the highest levels of achievement in math or science to pursue STEM. Another component of the Belief Gap is that students think that only certain industries offer STEM jobs and therefore they avoid STEM because they perceive it will limit their career and industry options. Finally, due to a lack of STEM role models who match their ethnicity and gender, some students feel they don’t belong in STEM.

As educators and families, we need to make sure that we are not perpetuating the Belief Gap. For example, we can help students to have a growth mindset when it comes to subjects they find hard. We can also monitor our own behaviors around who we encourage to consider STEM careers and ensure that we are not limiting our encouragement to just the top performers in math and science. In addition, we can help students to see the vast array of industries and job functions that require STEM competencies. Lastly, we can work hard to expose students to STEM role models who cover all genders and ethnicities. Couragion's app offers educators and families an easy way to cover these last two points because it highlights the variety of STEM jobs and does so using diverse STEM workers (83% of the featured role models are female and/or people of color).

To learn more about the dimensions of the STEM workforce gap, download the report here

Laura FarrellyComment