Future Focus

The STEM of all workforce diversity solutions  

GUEST COLUMN | by Cecily Joseph

STEM SymantecThere are many business benefits to having a diverse technical workforce. Diversity provides different perspectives, which can help solve a challenging problem or inspire an innovative idea that turns into the technology of tomorrow. Having this diversity starts with encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, as well as providing equal access to education around the globe.

The company I work for views investment in STEM education as a way for young people to obtain the skills they need to pursue their dreams, which in turn creates a diverse and innovative workforce. The company gives close to 50 percent of its philanthropic dollars to educational programs that promote equal access to quality education; encourage more students to pursue careers in math and science; and support women and minorities who are interested in STEM.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 5 percent of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, yet they are responsible for more than 50 percent of our sustained economic expansion.  In addition, there has been a steady decline in people graduating from college with computer or information sciences degrees since 2004. Providing STEM and literacy education to children and young adults, particularly women and minorities, is critical step in building a diverse and innovative workforce for the future.

Focusing on STEM at all levels of the education spectrum – from the elementary level through adulthood – is essential.  Recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) prepared the Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics report, which provides a strategy for improving STEM education at the college level. In addition, there are great local, national and global programs available to those that are interested in STEM education. Here are just a few organizations Symantec supports through grants, technical equipment and volunteers: 

  • Teach for America (TFA) is a national corps of outstanding recent college graduates and professionals who commit to teaching for two years in underserved urban and rural public school districts. Through the use of grants, TFA is able to place more math and science teachers in underserved districts across the United States.
  • Science Buddies helps children build their literacy in science and technology by providing web-based resources designed to inspire their participation in science fairs around the country, and by pairing them with science and engineering mentors. In fact, Symantec employees have spent many hours volunteering with this organization to develop computer science project “starter kits,” act as mentors to students, assist with the organization’s backend processes, and serve on the organization’s Advisory Board. Science Buddies plans to expand the computer science content available on its website through the development of a prototype for a computer science project kit with hardware components, designed to complement online educational information for students, teachers, and parents. 
  • NPower brings the IT community together for social good through two core programs: Technology Service Corps (TSC), an IT workforce development program that responds to the needs of underserved, low-income youth and young adults; and The Community Corps (TCC), an online skilled volunteering portal that matches corporate IT employees with non-profits and schools to address a variety of common but critical IT requests at no cost. In 2013, NPower plans to open its first TSC program to serve veterans in Dallas, Texas and the San Francisco/Silicon Valley region.

Additionally, STEM education is particularly important for young women, as the attraction and retention of female technologists is a challenge for Symantec and the technology industry as a whole. The National Center for Women & Information Technology reports that women accounted for 18 percent of computer and information-science bachelor’s degrees across U.S. colleges in 2010 — a 51 percent drop from 1985 when a wave of women earned high-tech degrees. In addition, numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Catalyst indicate that women only comprise about 27-29 percent of the computing workforce.

The value gender diversity brings to teams is important and the benefit of increasing the pool of talented technical women has substantial economic and social benefits.  This is a top priority at Symantec, which is why we are the sponsor of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Student Seed Fund. This program provides funding to student-run projects at universities and colleges nationwide that aim to increase the number of women studying computer science and related technology disciplines. Student Seed Fund initiatives have provided recruitment, retention, and encouragement of girls and women in technology through mentoring, professional development, programming workshops, after-school programs and affinity group support to nearly 2,000 elementary, middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate students.

As the future draws nearer, improving the quality and availability of STEM education will strengthen the global workforce and grow new innovations. In order to do this, programs that encourage and provide STEM education must be supported. It is through this support that the young adults of tomorrow will choose careers in STEM and some day their innovations will cure disease, protect cyber boarders, improve the environment, and create a brighter future.

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Cecily Joseph, senior director of corporate responsibility and compliance at Symantec,  cares deeply about these efforts in education. Symantec recognizes the need for a continual supply of highly trained IT workers in today’s world and has committed to investing in STEM education to boost interest in the field. Write to: cjoseph@symantec.com

 

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