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The 21st Century Has Really Not Been Great For Women And Minorities In STEM

The gap between white men and everybody else in tech starts in high school.

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Teens of all stripes are glued to their smartphones, but, per a new study out today from U.S. News and World Report and Raytheon, while 15% of high school boys surveyed were interested in a career in technology, only 2% of girls thought a job in tech sounded appealing. Similarly, while 31% of boys thought jobs in engineering sounded good, only 3% of girls were interested.

The impact of this early-life division down the line is clear. Overall, the number of STEM jobs in the U.S. has grown by 20% since 2000, but the gap between the number of STEM degrees held by men versus women is as wide as ever. That's unfortunate for the women, considering that, as the report finds, "every STEM occupation but food scientists saw their bank accounts swell from 2000 to 2014."

The race gap in STEM is also entrenched. While the percentage of white students pursuing bachelor's degrees in STEM grew almost 3% from 2009 to 2014, in the same five years, the percentage of black students pursuing STEM degrees grew less than 1%.

As the authors of the study point out, major educational and recruitment efforts have been pursued at great expense in the last decade and a half to correct this imbalance. Clearly, those efforts haven't been enough.

This report comes just days after one of the tech industry's most visible companies — Facebook — released a report showing that its efforts at recruiting and retaining women and ethnic minorities have come up short. Despite much-touted diversity initiatives at the company, the numbers reported are dismal. For example, out of 1,231 people hired by Facebook in 2013, only seven were black, reported the Guardian. 84% of employees working on "core technology" are male. In a public forum, CEO Mark Zuckerburg pointed the finger at education, saying that "you need to start earlier in the funnel so that girls don't self-select out of doing computer science."

The logical conclusion seems to be that simply spending money on diversity initiatives meant to attract the attention of non-white, non-male potential hires once their careers are already underway is a bandaid on a larger cultural problem. Considering the magnitude of the problem, it would certainly be nice to see companies that are struggling to hire diverse staffs contribute in some way to early stage education that could help teens connect the phones in their hands to their dreams for the future.

Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Caroline O'Donovan at caroline.odonovan@buzzfeed.com.

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