African-American Men: STEM’s Invisible Minority

May 8, 2015  |  

There has been lots of talk about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley. But African-American men are often overlooked in this discussion, despite the fact that Black men are one of the only minority groups not progressing in the STEM sector.

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the number of Black men who earn science and engineering doctorates increased by more than 25 percent in 10 years, according to data from the National Science Foundation, the growth isn’t really all that large.

African-American men represent between just 4.5 percent and 4.8 percent of all science and engineering doctorates. And while the number of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded to Black men went up 45 percent, from 12,484 in 2002 to 18,102 in 2012, Black men as a proportion of all science and engineering bachelor’s degree recipients is flat, at 6.1 percent in 2002 and 6.2 percent in 2012.

When looking at the tech sector workforce, Black men are nearly invisible. African-American men represent 6.2 percent of the population between 18 and 64 years old, yet in 2010 the NSF reported that Black men represented just three percent of scientists and engineers working in those fields.

Recently a group of African-American male STEM professionals met in DC to speak with Congressional staffers and representatives about the unique challenges young Black men face in the field.

While Black men face similar obstacles that other diverse groups do in tech, “the problems are complicated and magnified for Black male students because of systemic problems of perception and low expectations,” reports U.S. News & World Report.

“The lack of African-American men in stem is a byproduct of a failing system for African Americans in the overall school system,” said Karl Reid, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers, during a roundtable media discussion. “If you’re trying to survive in the educational process and you don’t have access to the [rigorous] courses … it really doesn’t bode well that you’ll be on the pathway to a STEM degree.”

According to John Silvanus Wilson, president of Morehouse College, the disadvantages start as early as kindergarten for Black males. Black males, he said, have smaller vocabularies upon entering kindergarten, are more likely to lag in reading and numeracy by fourth grade and are also at a higher risk of being suspended. Then of the roughly 160,000 Black male high school graduates, fewer than half annually apply to a four-year school.

“The potential pool of STEM African-American males has shrunk already, so it’s earlier in the pipeline when we’re going to have to find the solutions to this,” Wilson said. “They get off to a bad start. You’ve got brokenness at the start – broken families, broken values, broken potential. And they go to broken schools, most of them. It’s no surprise you get a broken hope, broken ambition and broken outcomes.”

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