Numbers don’t lie and when you look at global education statistics you will see that Black women are dismally underrepresented in STEM related subjects.As of 2018, only 7% of STEM degree holders were Black and more alarmingly, only 2.9% are Black women according to research done by the Pew Research Center.
Regardless of there being an increasing demand for Black Asians and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the STEM industry, the enrolment of Black women into STEM degrees continues to shrink down. Systems of bias engrained in most organisations push women of colour out of STEM careers. Women of colour who are brave enough to pursue careers in STEM find themselves in a white, male-dominated industry where they face discrimination. This raises a big question; how then can the participation of Black women in STEM-related fields be increased?
Research conducted by researchers from Indiana University and Purdue showed that Black women are more likely to feel like they belong in STEM if they have access to black female role models.
In the first experiment, they presented Black female students with imaginary schools of science and technology. Students were then shown one of four professor profiles, which were made up of fictional scientists, comprising a Black woman, a Black man, a white woman and a white man. The results showed that the students expected to feel more of a sense of belonging and trust at the universities with Black female or male scientists. Many also felt especially comfortable having a Black female scientist on the staff.
The second experiment saw the researchers recruit black women with degrees from two different universities, one was a predominantly white university and the other was a women-only historically Black university. They asked the women about any role models they had. The women from the historically or predominantly Black university said they had around two or three Black female role models in STEM, while the women at the white majority white university had zero or one.
It turns out that the cliché phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ is to be taken seriously with regards to increasing the participation of Black women in STEM related subjects and careers. With role models, Black women in STEM can look up to people who look like them for motivation and inspiration that they themselves are also capable of thriving and succeeding in STEM. Role models can also act as a starting point for mentorship and support which will help in propelling Black women in their STEM journeys.
Building a supportive and informative community of Black women in STEM at different levels is our top priority at Project Ignite Her. We have singled out this as our mission in the pursuit of bridging the gap that exists for Black women in STEM.
As Project Ignite Her, we aim to connect Black girls who are interested in STEM and are between the ages of 13 to 25 with mentors who can give them guidance on a variety of STEM education and career related issues through a mentorship programme we will run in future. We want all Black girls in STEM to be inspired and to feel supported. Keep your eyes open for more news on that.