STEM’s Diversity Challenge: Treat the cause, not the symptoms

When we founded Primary Talent Partners, aside from the obvious business goals, we had another, more personal goal in mind: to increase minority candidate flow into the contingent labor programs we support and break down the barriers that contribute to the lack of Black representation in science, technology, engineering and math occupations.

It requires a fairly impressive blind spot not to notice that there is a severe, generational issue with minority representation in STEM degrees in universities and related careers across the country. Studies show that over 40% of Black STEM students drop out of school or change majors compared to just over 20% of their white peers. Two main factors contribute to this: a lack of adequate funding to complete their degree and a lack of a “feeling of belonging.” Year after year, these two pervasive threats continually challenge, impede, and ultimately reduce the number of Black applicants in STEM-related occupations.

Even in areas like computing jobs, which have enjoyed considerable growth in recent years, Black workers remain severely underrepresented. Black workers comprise just 9% of those in STEM occupations, and that figure declines to 5% when focusing specifically on engineering. What’s even more troubling is that there has been no statistically significant change to that percentage since 2016.

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Besides being a stark indictment of broader societal inequities, the current climate of diversity in STEM comes to the detriments of its very employers. Year after year, the scientific literature connecting diverse workforces to increased performance (on a variety of metrics) grows both in size and legitimacy. Here are just a few convincing findings from recent studies:

Staffing firms are in a unique position to change this reality, and many in the industry have been developing programs to do just that — many of which were highlighted in SIA’s DE&I Influencers list. We are doing our part. In fact, since our founding in 2019, Primary Talent Partners set out to treat the problem rather than the symptoms that so many minorities experience along the way to earning a degree in STEM and help our clients enjoy benefits like those cited above. We are looking to   effect change for diverse groups looking to enter into the field as well as to encourage interest in STEM early in young people. Here are some of the initiatives that comprise our diversIT programs.

diversIT Scholars. This program addresses the common obstacles Black students encounter when enrolled in a STEM program. Through several partnerships with major Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), we provide students with critical mentorship with Black professionals in the STEM field and meaningful internship opportunities with clients, all funded by Primary Talent Partners.

Additionally, to ensure each student in our program has every opportunity to graduate, we work with our clients to award co-branded scholarships. We also provide stipends especially in locations with above-average cost of living. Our first four diversIT Scholars graduated this spring; dozens more are on track to do the same.

diversIT Recruiting. We’ve intentionally built and refined our recruiting platform to attract the top minority talent in the marketplace. By establishing unique, innovative sourcing channels, our team is able to sustain a highly qualified minority talent pool that simply can’t be found on job boards.

diversIT Enrichment. In an intentional effort to tackle the problem at its source, we launched our diversIT Enrichment program to increase STEM awareness and encourage consideration for a career in the field for K-12 students.

We hope this helps catalyze a greater movement where traditionally underrepresented groups are finally able to enjoy the same opportunities in STEM as their peers.

Tinisha Bookhart

Tinisha Bookhart
Tinisha Bookhart is founding partner and dorector, IT practice of Primary Talent Partners.

Tinisha Bookhart

Chad Douglas

Chad Douglas
Chad Douglas is founding partner and chief revenue officer of Primary Talent Partners.

Tinisha Bookhart

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