Role models vital for keeping black women students in STEM subjects
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
When it comes to entering and staying in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes, representation matters for black women college students.
Having role models who share their racial identity is vital for signalling a sense of belonging for college students who are women of colour.
According to Eva Pietri, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science (IUPUI), "women who feel like they belong are more likely to enter and stay in STEM, so lack of belonging may be one reason for women of colour lack of representation".
While data has found that women of colour college students report interest in studying STEM subjects (within higher education) at an equivalent rate as their white women counterparts, they remain the least represented group in STEM.
Only 2.9 percent of bachelor's degrees across STEM fields were awarded to black women between 2014-25, as well as just 3.6 per cent to Latinas and 4.8 per cent to Asian women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
For STEM fields, which thrive off creative ideas and fresh perspectives, the fact that black and minority ethnic women are so underrepresented means these disciplines are losing potentially talented workers and unique views which can make key contributions and advancements in these fields.
Furthermore, research has found that having role models who match black women students race and gender, or at least race, is beneficial to their sense of belonging in STEM education and professions.
For black women STEM majors, data has also found that having role models who are not black women, but who the respective students believe are allies, helps them relate to higher belonging in STEM.