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Scientists and Diversity in Industry: Who Stays? Who Goes?

Last month, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, part of the National Science Foundation, released a report called “Diversity in Science and Engineering Employment in Industry.” I took a look and learned something new — or maybe more accurately, the numbers caused me to look at things in a new way.

Not only are minority scientists and engineers under-represented in their fields, the proportion of minorities trained in science who stay in science for a career is also smaller.

Counting everyone with a science or engineering degree (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, or professional), 30.2% work in scientific or engineering (S&E) occupations. The rest work in either “S&E-Related” occupations (including, for example, doctors and nurses: 24.4%) or in “Non-S&E occupations” (45.4%).

That number varies a lot by group. Asians with S&E degrees, for example, stay in S&E occupations far more than any other group: 45.6% of them work in S&E fields. Among Asian men, it’s 53.5%; this is the only subgroup where more than half of those with S&E degrees were working in S&E fields.

For those who described themselves as Black or African American, the number is 22.4%. Among Black or African-American women, the number is 15.5%.  For Hispanics, it’s 24.6%, and for Hispanic women, 14.4%. In the American Indian or Alaska Native category, 24.9% of those with S&E degrees continue to work in S&E professions, and 18.7% of women. Among those with disabilities, 17.9% of those with S&E degrees work in S&E professions, and 15.7% of women. Across all demographics, just 18.1% of women with S&E degrees work in S&E fields.  

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with having an S&E degree and working outside of science; work is a very personal thing and it’s important to find the right fit. And I won’t speculate on what drives these differences. But when percentages vary this widely — when Asian men with S&E degrees stay in science with nearly four times the frequency of Hispanic women —  powerful forces are at work.