By now, it’s well known that our tech economy has a diversity problem. As tech jobs soar and the nation grows much more diverse, the scarcity of minorities in computing is raising fears of talent shortages and economic stagnation. Yet some states seem much closer than others to cracking the diversity code—and the winners of the tech diversity challenge are not the states we usually credit with driving the tech economy.
In 2013, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians comprised 31 percent of the nation’s college-aged population but received only 21 percent of U.S. degrees and certificates in computer science. But that the gap varies widely among states
To rank individual states’ performance, we created a “diversity score” for each. A state where people of color are perfectly represented among graduates from computing programs would receive a diversity score of 1.00. In other words, if 33 percent of the state’s college-aged population is people of color, they also would have to receive 33 percent of the degrees and certificates in computing. States where people of color are underrepresented earn scores of less than 1.00.
A quick review of the top and bottom five states reveals how vast the differences are. (Click on any state to see that state’s diversity data since 2001):
|Top five:||Bottom five:|
|1. Alaska (Diversity score: 1.03)||47. Delaware (Diversity score: .48)|
|2. Virginia(Diversity score: .88)||48. Rhode Island (Diversity score: .47)|
|3. Alabama (Diversity score: .89)||49. California (Diversity score: .46)|
|4. South Carolina (Diversity score: .84)||50. Washington State (Diversity score: .46)|
|5. Washington, D.C.(Diversity score: .83)||51. Oregon (Diversity score: .35)|
Notice that most of the bottom five are states we states we usually see as leaders in the tech economy—California, Washington State, and Oregon. Most states in the top five, by contrast, aren’t among the usual high-tech suspects—Alaska, South Carolina, and Virginia, for example. Maybe it’s time to learn more from these unusual suspects.
A closer look at the trend data reveals that these differences among top and bottom states have persisted for years. Here’s Virginia, for example:
And now here’s California:
While California has long been an engine of innovation, the state’s diversity numbers may well hobble its efforts to stay at the cutting edge. Virginia, on the other hand, has its own vibrant tech corridor, and it seems to be drawing tech talent from a much broader swath of the population.
Of course, even Virginia could do a bit better, and California deserves some credit for small improvements since 2011. Still, as we try to tackle the tech diversity crisis, we should be ready to look for answers in some unexpected places.
Want to know how your state ranks? Look it up on Vital Signs.
It's been a big week for computer science. First, New York City announces that all students in all of its schools will have access to computer science within ten years (more here), and then our friends at Microsoft announce a plan to spend $75 million to boost computer science in schools. The effort, spread over the next three years, aims to increase access and get kids hooked on computer science. Considering the challenges we have with diversity and access to tech, anything that helps get more kids exposed to (and excited about) computing is a step in the right direction.
“If we are going to solve tomorrow’s global challenges, we must come together today to inspire young people everywhere with the promise of technology,” said CEO Satya Nadella. “We can’t leave anyone out.”
The plan will give nonprofits around the world funding and resources, and it will expand the company's Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, which prepares teachers to teach computer science with the help of tech industry volunteers. “We’ve had an amazing response from schools and teachers, as well as volunteers from across the industry, without which none of this would be possible,” says Kevin Wang, the very first volunteer, and the founder of TEALS who works for Microsoft.
Our hats are off to Microsoft on this exciting announcement!
What first sparked your interest in STEM?
It started very young. My father would go on business trips around the world and would always bring home beautiful dolls from all the different places he had visited. These dolls were meant to be gifts to play with, but my mother thought they were too beautiful, so they all sat lined up on the shelves. As a result, my dad started to bring different types of presents that I could actually play with – train sets, cars, airplanes – and he and I would spend time putting them together. It was just play time for me but I developed a real love for building and became comfortable working with mechanics.
What aspect of STEM is most appealing to you?
Making sense of chaos! The common thread in science, technology, engineering and math is problem solving. It involves taking really complex issues and breaking them down to simple, digestible information. I love building things and watching it all come together.
There is also a lot of beauty in engineering – think about Apple products and how people swoon over them. Beauty in STEM is about making complex things really simple. Hiding the complexity but making it useful and also making a difference.
Who is your “STEM hero”?
Without a question, my dad is my STEM hero. He was the one who patiently worked with me, showed me how to put things together, and took the time to teach me how to troubleshoot the trains or cars. I developed a love for engineering because it was always just for play. It was also bonding time with my father. To this day, my father and I are the tinkers in the family and the go-to when anything needs to get fixed.
How did you decide to pursue a STEM career?
The key is to love what you do. I always knew I would get involved within STEM because I really enjoy it. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be, in fact, when I started college I was studying to go to medical school. I started helping my roommate with her computer science homework, and I found it really interesting. I took a few computer science courses and realized that the problem solving involved in computer science was far more interesting to me and that is when I switched to a computer science degree.
What I really love about computer science is the camaraderie. Team work is a very important aspect to computer science. You have to learn how to work with others as a team to solve complex problems bigger than what you can do as an individual. There is a lot of collaboration as well as learning how to divide the work amongst the group.
How do you use STEM every day?
STEM is in everything we do, from the physical, built environment such as bridges or buildings, all the way down to optimizing driving with traffic lights. My husband and I are both engineers and we have three daughters, so we encourage them to learn from everything around us.
STEM touches every person, every single day. You can really make an impact in the world within STEM. When I was younger, I initially pursued the medical field because I wanted to make a difference. There are many ways to have a positive effect in the world and this career path has allowed me to combine my love for engineering with my desire to make an impact.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM – for fun or for their career?
It should always be for fun! The career will follow. Most importantly, don’t be intimidated about asking questions – STEM is all about curiosity and asking as many questions as possible. Keep asking about the how and why and keep being curious!
STEM has a reputation of being really dry, but that is a misconception. The creativity that is involved rarely gets emphasized. STEM involves a lot of creativity and innovation, thinking outside the box, and figuring out how to make seemingly impossible tasks real.
My youngest daughter, who is very creative, sees her older sisters who are heading off to college having discussions about what they want to do for a career and she’s started asking those questions. When I asked her what she loves, she told me Disneyland. What makes all that magic happen? Engineers. They figure out how to make the imaginary a reality. She was amazed that engineers are the ones behind the beauty and imagination in Disneyland. It is all enabled by technology – all the sights, sounds, the whole immersive experience takes creativity and engineering.
Lily de los Rios is the Vice President of Engineering for Symantec’s Norton Business Unit where they focus on partner solutions and services. She first started her Symantec career as a software engineer for Macintosh Products, and this year is celebrating her 24th year at Symantec!
We're bursting at the seams with excitement about a recent announcement about computer science in New York City Schools. Mayor De Blasio will announce today that within the next ten years, all of the city's schools will be required to offer computer science to all of its more than 1.1 million students. Let's just pause and take that in for a moment.
According to the New York Times, "Meeting that goal will present major challenges, mostly in training enough teachers. There is no state teacher certification in computer science, and no pipeline of computer science teachers coming out of college. Fewer than 10 percent of city schools currently offer any form of computer science education, and only 1 percent of students receive it, according to estimates by the city’s Department of Education."
Still, this is pretty amazing news. New York joins two other cities, Chicago and San Francisco, in making such a bold move. And while the New York move won't require that students take computer science in order to graduate, providing the opportunity to take it is a huge step in the right direction. What's more, "Nationally, computer science jobs are some of the fastest growing and highest paying, but a majority of students have no access to computer science classes before college." Giving kids in underserved neighborhoods access to these kinds of courses can go a long way to addressing gaps now and well into the future.
As venture capitalist Fred Wilson (who is helping the city fund the effort) points out in the Times article, "If we can get them earlier, I think we can get them excited about it.” We could not agree more. Bravo, New York!
It's no secret that America is facing a shortage of STEM workers. Over the next five years, employers expect to replace a million employees needing basic STEM literacy and more than 600,000 employees needing advanced STEM knowledge. So what can businesses do to get kids interested in STEM build a pipeline for related careers?
Our new case study, A Good STEM Start in Dallas: Business Gets Results, tells the story of how strategic investments from Texas Instruments and ExxonMobil are helping to address this challenge. Working with the National Math and Science Initiative, these corporations have supported thousands of students in the Dallas Independent School District to reach their potential in STEM. Key takeaways include:
1. Success can be compounded with both high-level and local investment.
Both Texas Instruments and ExxonMobil partnered with the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), a STEMworks program, to help shift student attitudes and increase achievements in STEM disciplines.
Since 2000, Texas Instruments has strategically invested in NMSI’s College Readiness Program to address a critical gap in math and science proficiency in schools. TI targeted their investments in the Dallas area, where their headquarters are located. The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) was the first district in the nation to implement a prototype for the College Readiness Program, which aims to dramatically increase the number of students taking and passing college-level math, science, and English coursework.
Additionally, in 2007, ExxonMobil provided NMSI with a $125 million grant to help address the shortage of U.S. workers and students proficient in STEM. ExxonMobil has continued to partner with NMSI to help take the program nationwide with additional support – this partnership has helped the College Readiness Program reach more than 750 high schools across 30 states.
Efforts from both companies, as well as partnerships with NMSI’s accomplished College Readiness Program, have significantly increased interest and support in STEM for students both in Dallas and across the country.
2. Reaching teachers helps reach students.
In addition to expanding opportunities for students, the College Readiness Program has a profound impact on teachers. It provides support in a number of ways, including week-long AP Summer Institutes for both new and experienced teachers. In turn, these teachers are able to better prepare their students – much of the success in STEM comes when a student makes a connection with a teacher who makes the material come to life. This kind of teacher support is crucial to getting students interested in STEM and preparing them for related careers. (Be sure to read teacher Joshua Newton's story in the case study to learn more.)
3. Businesses can help kids get a good STEM start.
Support from both ExxonMobil and Texas Instruments has been crucial to building college- and career-readiness among Dallas students, especially for minority students. An African American or Hispanic student in Dallas is more than twice as likely to earn a qualifying score on an AP math or science exam than in any comparable large urban school district in the country. AP class enrollment in the district is growing, and these students are earning higher scores overall. Students are graduating high school more prepared for STEM majors and careers.
To learn more about these efforts and their impact on students, read our new case study, A Good STEM Start in Dallas: Business Gets Results.