America’s cultural and human diversity has historically fueled progress, prosperity, and growth across our Nation.
In science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), diversity leads to enhanced creativity and innovation. A growing body of research shows that diversity in groups bolsters their ability to solve problems; that diversity on campuses enhances students’ advanced thinking and leadership skills; and that diversity in companies improves innovation and strengthens the bottom line.
The value of diversity should be intuitive – it makes sense that solving a complex problem would be aided by examining it from different angles. Similarly, different viewpoints can stimulate groups to find new and more creative approaches to challenges.
Diversity of thoughts, opinions, and ideas come from people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and education. Perspectives may be influenced by people’s geographic viewpoint – Midwestern vs. West Coast, for instance – or the local environment – people working in Silicon Valley may solve problems differently than lifelong Washingtonians, for example. Men and women might take different approaches to tackling a particular challenge; and the attitudes of children, their parents, and grandparents often diverge greatly based on perspectives that come with age and experience. These differences are valuable. Understanding and incorporating them into our work gives us an opportunity to see complex issues from multiple angles, and increases the chances that we will arrive at solutions, innovations, and answers.
When teams of physicists tackle the mysteries of the universe at CERN, for example, they harness the collective wisdom of dozens of nationalities to find creative solutions to their problems. And cracking the genetic code was an international effort of scientists both in cooperation and competition with one another. It’s clear that adding greater diversity of thought to working teams can led to important new insights across the STEM fields.
The STEM community has made significant progress to better tap into the power and potential of human diversity to propel discovery and exploration, but there is more work to do.
That’s why, earlier this summer, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Women and Girls, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Health System and the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, hosted a forum on Excellence and Innovation through Diversity in the STEM workforce. The event convened leaders, experts, and Chief Diversity Officers from industry, academia, professional societies, and government to discuss ways to reshape the national conversation on STEM-workforce diversity so that it focuses on the tremendous opportunity to innovate, discover, and grow.
Participants discussed models for communicating about diversity to the public, STEM employers, and prospective members of the STEM workforce in ways that reinforce its role as an asset rather than a challenge. Participants also shared lessons learned and best practices for ensuring an inclusive working environment, mitigating implicit bias in the workplace, and retaining and advancing a diverse STEM workforce. General areas of consensus emerging from the all-day discussions included:
STEM innovation is key to America’s future. We must draw on talent from every part of our society and capitalize on the extraordinary diversity of thought that comes with diversity of people.
Dr. Jo Handelsman is Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy