(Feb. 3, 2009) — Today more than ever, the United States faces financial and geopolitical crises that will affect this country's economic strength in the global marketplace for many years to come.
At the same time, we know that innovations in science and technology are what kept this country strong, safe and prosperous for much of the 20th century.
Those of us leading science and technology companies understand that what will keep the U.S. competitive are continued innovations in chemistry and material science, nanotechnology and biotechnology, and information and alternative energy technology, to name a few.
We also understand that these innovations can only be possible if we have a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce that is up to the task.
For years, national reports have predicted a diminishing STEM workforce. According to a new U.S. survey commissioned by Bayer Corp., we find some of these predictions are now a reality. More than half of the chief executive officers and other senior executives leading Fortune 1000 STEM companies say their firms are already experiencing a shortage of American-trained STEM talent.
Additionally, two-thirds of those polled say that having greater access to STEM employees gives their international rivals a competitive edge.
One reason that our STEM workforce is at risk is that fewer American students are choosing to pursue STEM careers at a time when the current workforce is aging.
Another reason is that, as a country, we haven't done a very good job of tapping the talent of women, African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians.
One solution to our workforce and competitiveness problems, the executives say, is to bring more of these underrepresented groups into STEM fields.
Today, women and minorities comprise about two-thirds of the country's workforce. New U.S. Census Bureau projections say the minority will become the majority population by 2042 much earlier than previously thought. Already in some communities, minorities make up the majority of the under-20 population.
That means that increasing the number of women, African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians in STEM disciplines is now a national imperative.
Clearly, the senior executives polled in the survey share this view. They recognize the benefits of diversity and what it brings to their companies. Many acknowledge that underrepresentation exists in their companies and their industries, and they recognize it for the manpower problem it is.
How do we reverse underrepresentation? This is precisely where we, as STEM industry professionals, have an opportunity to step up and help lay the building blocks for the future.
There are a number of exemplary programs at all points along the education continuum that are helping to close achievement gaps between male and female and majority and minority students. These programs need the support of industry to help grow and replicate in other communities.
To help industry leaders do just that, Bayer will host its second STEM Education Diversity Forum in December in San Francisco. In two panels, the forum will showcase for industry leaders a number of best-practice STEM education programs in kindergarten through grade 12. A third panel will offer practical advice about creating business-education partnerships.
Diversity is one of America's greatest strengths. It built this country into the powerhouse it is.
We must continue to embrace our national diversity heritage for this very same reason. By tapping different perspectives, ideas, talents and creativity, we maximize our human capital so we can invent new products and technologies, open new markets and, ultimately, keep our country secure and competitive.
For STEM industry leaders, this is our challenge for the 21st century.
Greg Babe is president and chief executive officer of Bayer Corp. and Bayer MaterialScience LLC.