Today, while fewer American students are pursuing technical careers and more foreign-born students are discovering career opportunities outside of the United States, our country continues to fail in its efforts to bring all of our science and engineering talent to the table — a situation most recently documented by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology.
The result? The United States is experiencing a growing shortfall of scientists and engineers at a crucial time.
The National Science Board warns that the situation has already begun to negatively affect the United States' leadership position. It believes the solution lies in diversity. If we could achieve parity among women, African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans, the NSB reasons, we could maintain a healthy S&E pipeline, a viable workforce and our global leadership position in science and technology.
As the president of a science-based company whose success depends upon the creativity and innovative thinking of its employees, I couldn't agree more. In today's competitive business environment, cultivating a diverse workforce is more critical than ever. Because with it comes the diversity of thought, experience and style that help open up new markets, develop new products and build market share for existing ones.
How do we achieve diversity?
According to parents we recently polled in this year's Bayer Facts of Science Education survey, the way to bring more girls and minorities to the table is to provide them with a strong science and math education beginning in elementary school.
Do those of us in the industry have a role to play?
Absolutely, say the parents. And, a significant role, at that. They want the S&E community to develop programs that attract, encourage and retain girls' and minority students' interest in science and math.
You may think this is something outside of your company's realm, but I can tell you, firsthand, it's not. Consider what we've done at Bayer. By implementing various initiatives at many educational and professional levels, we're helping to provide women and minorities with the skills necessary to succeed in science and engineering.
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 team working skills and enables students to 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. One 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. Since its establishment in 1993, 95 percent of those who have gone through the program are students of color and 60 percent are female.
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.
But, beyond our efforts, do parents think their children have what it takes to succeed in S&E at all of these levels? No doubt about it. Bayer Facts survey results show parents are overwhelmingly confident that their children — both boys and girls — have the ability to participate and succeed in science and engineering in school and in the workplace. They also view jobs in these fields as “desirable” and “realistic” for both their daughters and sons.
So, it seems, we're all on the same page.
Is there more work for us to do? Yes. But given all that's at stake for us as individual companies, as an industry and as a country, it's clear that the work is worthy of our efforts.
Gregory S. Babe is president and chief executive officer of Bayer MaterialScience LLC in Pittsburgh and executive sponsor of the Bayer Diversity Advisory Council.