Having a diverse workforce can help companies be more creative, solve problems, lower turnover and improve profitability, according to industry experts.
But plastics companies face hurdles in efforts to hire a more diverse workforce. Black and Hispanic employees remain underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce despite its considerable growth, while the number of women varies widely across job clusters.
"The plastics industry is very far behind other industries," said Wesleyne Greer, CEO and founder of Transformed Sales, a Houston-based sales management training firm.
"We see a lot of things in the news about tech companies because they're out in front of this and very vocal about the strides they are making. But in our industry, it's something we're sweeping under the rug. We're not even really talking about it," she said.
Of the 137.4 million U.S. workers age 25 and up, 63 percent are white, 17 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent are Black, 6 percent are Asian and 3 percent are other (Native American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander).
However, the breakdown is very different for the 19.1 million positions in the STEM fields, which cover positions related to computers, math, engineering, architecture, physical science, life science, and health practitioners and technicians. When it comes to STEM employees, 67 percent are white, 13 percent are Asian, 9 percent are Black, 8 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are other.
The figures were released this year in a Pew Research Center analysis of federal employment and education data. The Washington-based nonpartisan think tank looked at 74 STEM occupations, including chemical and material engineers.
Greer, who started her career as a chemist and also worked in technical sales for a Houston-based resin supplier, is troubled by the findings. She said a diverse workforce ignites what the plastics industry needs: creativity, problem-solving and innovation.
Greer has been advocating for change when speaking to groups like the Society of Plastics Engineers. She told SPE members at a recent webinar about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM fields and how to improve their company culture so everyone's voice can be heard.
In 2019, 19.1 million workers age 25 and up had STEM jobs in the U.S. That's an increase of 1.8 million since 2016, Pew Research Center says. But the employee breakdown has changed little.
The gap in STEM workforce representation is still large for Hispanic adults. Although their share of STEM jobs is up 1 percent since 2016, the increase is in line with their growth in the overall workforce. They make up 17 percent of total employment across all occupations, but just 8 percent of all STEM workers.
There has been no change in the share of Black workers in STEM jobs since 2016. Black workers make up 11 percent of all employed adults but hold 9 percent of overall STEM occupations and as few as 5 percent of jobs in some clusters like engineering and architecture.
And while women comprise 50 percent of STEM workers, which is slightly higher than their share in the overall workforce (47 percent), they are overrepresented among health-related jobs, the largest STEM occupational cluster, and underrepresented in job clusters like physical sciences, computing and engineering.
Women make up 74 percent of health care practitioners and technicians while accounting for 25 percent of those working in computer occupations and 15 percent of those in the ranks of engineers and architects.