Back to blogs

Inclusive Talent Challenges for Minorities in STEM

Posted on March 2018

2 men and a woman conversing together in a lab

​Diversity is an important directive for the recruitment industry in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Despite a number of imperatives focused on attracting more diverse talent, the percentage of minority talent in these areas have plateaued, with levels similar to those seen in 2001.

According to data from STEM learning advocate, Change the Equation, the global workforce is changing with minority individuals better represented across the majority of industries, however, the number of minority candidates in STEM fields has remained relatively static.

White and Asian workers now represent 69% of the workforce, as opposed to 74% in 2001, but still dominate across engineering (84%), computing (84%), and manufacturing (83%) sectors.1 To put these figures into perspective, while African- Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Alaskan natives account for 31% of the US population, they represent just 11% of talent in science and engineering occupations.2

This issue of under representation is thought to be predominantly associated with access routes. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, even from a young age, African- American and Hispanic students do not have the same access to higher level STEM classes throughout their education.3 This is just part of the wider issue. Minority candidates that do make it into the STEM space face more obstacles in the form of unconscious bias and exclusive company cultures.

Employers can promote inclusion for minorities across three key issues: attraction, retention, and advancement.


When it comes to attracting minority talent, the primary challenge is not only attracting candidates to roles in the STEM fields, but also attracting underrepresented candidates to STEM education routes.

Top-tier businesses that recruit directly from leading universities such as MIT, Oxford, or the National University of Singapore might be missing out on minority candidates whose numbers are often underrepresented in the STEM programs. Inclusive employers should be open to sourcing talent from alternative sources, such as technology training “boot camps” and non-profit organizations.

Figures from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) show that the percentage of white women earning degrees is comparative to their male counterparts. However, women from a minority background typically earn a greater percentage of degrees than their male equivalents, highlighting that although they are earning degrees, the educational attainment is not filtering through to the respective employment figures.4

Role models are a great influence on helping to attract minority talent into STEM careers. Ray McKenzie, founder of LA management consultants Red Beach Advisors, attributes the lack of diversity in certain fields, such as cyber security, to the lack of “direct influencers” in these areas, suggesting that forging links with schools and non-profits could help inspire a younger generation to pursue careers in this sector.5


Attracting diverse talent is just the tip of the iceberg, and employers need to work to retain this talent in the long-term once they are placed in a STEM role. The Society of Women Engineers reported that 30% of women who left engineering cited corporate culture as a main factor in their decision.6 The male dominant culture has been identified, by some, as the reason for the poor level of retention of women within STEM professions. This exclusionary culture is also thought to be one of the principle issues when retaining minority professionals.

There are several initiatives that are making headway in this area; using technology as a way to accurately report on the effectiveness of diversity efforts within organizations. For example, the U.S. Congress has mandated the development of a biennial report on the numbers of minority candidates in STEM roles. This data allows the government, as well as organizations, to evaluate the progress of their diversity initiatives against national benchmarks and broaden participation in these projects.7

Another way to promote inclusive environments is to create internal resources or affiliation groups within the organization. According to a report by Working Mother Research Institute, 59% of multicultural women surveyed highlighted that forums and groups are a valuable vehicle for advice and career progression.8

These groups give employees another way to voice their concerns among peers who may face the same challenges they do.

IBM has created business resource groups – employee-driven units that address issues such as multi-generational differences as well as some of the more traditional diversity topics including race and gender. These groups can be a particularly useful resource for management when it comes to creating and implementing policies such as inclusive retention strategies.9


Attracting and retaining minority talent is only the beginning; organizations must continue to support and motivate their employees to advance their careers further. Mentorship and sponsorship programs can help provide support for minority talent and serve as advocates for promotion and advancement.

When addressing inclusion and advancement in your organization there are a number of key factors which can help:

1)            Communication

Emphasize to middle-management the importance of maintaining communication and trust when it comes to diversity and productivity.

2)            Leadership vision

Make it clear that minorities and under-represented groups should be able to picture themselves in leadership roles and provide the progression plan and targets for how they can reach a leadership level.

3)            Inclusive management

Actively push for leaders to connect with those in the business who are underrepresented. Promote the mentality that a company should ‘adapt for difference’ rather than expect employees to fit in with the status quo.10

Attract, retain and advance minority talent

Market leaders have made it a priority to even the scales; Intel has set aside $125 million for its Capital Diversity Fund, which invests in start-ups with women and minorities in leadership, in addition to the $300 million earmarked for a wide spectrum of diversity initiatives. Along with Intel, many companies are addressing the issue with action groups and networks geared towards increasing diversity. The Tech Inclusion Pledge is one such group, which saw 30 prominent businesses pledging to take active steps to invest in diverse talent, recruiting, retaining and advancing diverse candidates, and reporting on their progress.

Although recruitment teams can adopt an inclusive ethos, executive-level buy-in is the vital component when it comes to attracting, retaining, and promoting diverse talent.



1. years-ago

2. disabilities-science.html

3. years-ago

4. disabilities-science.html

5. pages/women,-minorities-largely-absent-from-cybersecurity-jobs. Aspx

6. pages/women,-minorities-largely-absent-from-cybersecurity-jobs. aspx

7. disabilities-science.html

8. attract-retain-minority-female-talent/

9. coworkers-who-share-aspirations

10. attract-retain-minority-female-talent/

11. is-making-diversity-a-priority/


EPM Scientific is a leading specialist recruitment agency for the Life Sciences industry. We were founded in 2012 to give companies and candidates peace of mind that the recruitment process is in experts hands. Today, we provide contingency, retained search and project-based contract recruitment from our global hubs in London, Berlin, Switzerland, New York and Chicago.

We pride ourselves in keeping our professional network up-to-date with any changes that will shape the future of work or affect the hiring process. Visit our website to discover more invaluable insights, including exclusive research, salary guides and market trends.

In this article