Future of U.S. science and engineering depends on diversity

Sept. 15, 2005
As head of a science-based company whose success depends on the creative and innovative thinking of its employees, I understand and appreciate the value a diverse workforce brings to the marketplace.

Gregory S. Babe
President & CEO
Bayer Material Science LLC
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Recently, though, the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology published data showing that women hold only one-quarter of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs today. For minorities, including African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans, gains made both in preparing for and acquiring STEM jobs have been even less substantial.

More disconcerting are reports from the National Science Board (NSB) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) warning that the United States is facing a troubling decline in the number of citizens being trained to become scientists and engineers, while the number of jobs requiring STEM skills continues to grow. They say these trends, if not reversed, could severely threaten the United States' global leadership position in science and engineering (S&E).

Maintaining a healthy S&E pipeline takes on even greater importance for a global company like Bayer. Our success lies directly in our ability to hire the best and brightest talent from all demographic groups.

According to the NSB and NSF, we could begin to solve the pipeline issue if we increase participation of women and minorities in these disciplines.

To cultivate national dialogue about this issue, we commissioned the Bayer Facts of Science Education: American Parents Speak Out About Their Children and Science. This survey polled parents of female and minority students and gauged their opinions about their children's abilities to participate and succeed in S&E fields.

Results show these parents are overwhelmingly confident that their children have what it takes to succeed in S&E in school and in the workplace, and they view S&E jobs as "desirable" and "realistic" for both their daughters and sons.

They believe that the way to bring more women and minorities to the table is to provide them with a strong science and math education, beginning in elementary school. Most important, they say, the S&E communities should develop programs that attract, encourage and retain girls' and minority students' interest in science and math. And they should do a better job of introducing students to the wide range of job opportunities available in these fields.

We at Bayer recognize our social responsibility to help ensure that today's students are prepared for tomorrow's workplace. As a result, we have implemented various initiatives at many educational and professional levels to provide women and minorities with the skills necessary to succeed in science and engineering.

For example, we begin in elementary school with our Making Science Make Sense initiative, which provides students with hands-on, inquiry-based science instruction. This type of learning fosters critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork, and lets students learn science the way scientists do — through observation and discovery.

At the high-school level, we have spearheaded many programs designed to encourage students to pursue S&E degrees. Once such program is Berkeley Biotechnology Education Inc., which targets students at risk of dropping out of school and, through a combination of school-based curriculum and on-site work experience, prepares them for jobs in the biotechnology industry.

Through partnerships with organizations, such as the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science Inc., we provide scholarships, fellowships, and internships to graduate and undergraduate minority students who are committed to continuing their studies in the sciences.

We cultivate careers as well. For Bayer employees, the Bayer Diversity Advisory Council offers various mentoring and career-development programs, employee networks, and diversity awareness training. These programs are grooming women and minorities to rise to the highest executive levels within the company.

This approach to science education and workforce development has proven successful in many of Bayer's communities across the country.

Is there more work to do? Absolutely. It's clear that we need to come together as an industry and recognize that the future is now. The investments we make in the students of today will result in the scientists, innovators, and inventors of tomorrow. Through our united efforts, we can sustain a talented and diverse S&E pipeline that will enhance everything we do as companies, as an industry, and as a country.

Bayer MaterialScience (bayermaterialscience.com) is a maker of polymers, coatings, adhesives, and sealants.

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