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Advancing Diversity in STEM Fields Requires Systemic Change

Industry Matters Newsletter

ByDemetha Sanders, Global Head, Inclusion & Diversity, Cargill

Demetha Sanders, Global Head, Inclusion & Diversity, Cargill
Demetha Sanders, Global Head, Inclusion & Diversity, Cargill

The murder of George Floyd took place in Minneapolis, Minn. – our hometown. It was a wake-up call for society globally and a catalyst to accelerate our efforts at Cargill.

While this and other examples of racial injustice have increased our sense of urgency for change, inclusion and diversity have always been a priority for us. In 2015, we set clear 2020 and 2030 aspirational goals to advance both women in leadership and representation with U.S. Minorities.

Since then, we have completed a number of critical initiatives along our path to creating a more diverse and equitable company. We have also committed to accelerating our actions to ensure true inclusion is a part of the fabric of our organization. Our actions include: 

  • Setting clear goals and measuring regularly: We know one of the most effective ways to drive change is through leadership, which is why our commitment to inclusion and diversity starts at the top. Our executive team is held accountable for specific goals. Achievement of those goals is supported by detailed action plans that are monitored on a quarterly basis.

  • Creating the right environment for inclusion: Symbolic actions have the power to change culture, which is why we begin every meeting with an inclusion moment. Inclusion moments are meant to initiate conversations and encourage team reflection. We also encourage employees to drive change by getting involved in our Global Day of Inclusion and our executive-championed Business Resource Groups (BRGs). And, we offer learning opportunities like unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and building inclusive teams, as well as provide targeted development experiences focused on the advancement of diverse leaders.

  • Infusing diversity into every talent process and system: We are requiring inclusive hiring training for all hiring leaders and diverse hiring teams, debiasing job descriptions by updating them to reflect gender-neutral language, and updating our employer brand, including tools that help diverse candidates. We are also realigning our partnership and investment strategy to focus on universities and strategic partners with a mission that supports underserved communities globally.

    Specific to Research & Development, we have taken action to promote inclusion, equity and respect, and ensure greater levels of representation across the team. We made strong commitments to interviewing a diverse group of candidates for all open positions and ensuring diversity in our interview panels. Regarding succession planning, we are integrating inclusive and diverse leadership considerations into the process and supporting leaders in proactively identifying biases in development and promotions.  

Promoting inclusion and diversity in STEM fields

Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. In fact, studies show that girls’ interest in STEM peaks as early as 11 years old, but drops off by 15 years old. Perhaps more concerning, the National Science Foundation found that the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women in mathematics and statistics dropped from 46.3% in 1997 to 42.4% in 2016. For the physical sciences, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women went from 19.2% in 1997 to 20.7% in 2006 and back down to 19.3% in 2016. In computer sciences, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women dropped from 27.2% in 1997 to 18.7% in 2016. The same NSF study also shows that in 2016, underrepresented minority students only received 22% of bachelor’s degrees earned in science and engineering fields.

The Cargill Foundation is working to change these statistics by increasing the number of women and people of color who pursue degrees in STEM fields. They are doing this by focusing on strategic partnerships aimed at school-aged children. The Cargill Foundation supports programs that are rigorous, curriculum-driven and embedded in other areas of learning at the school or district level in STEM subjects.

In 2009, the Cargill Foundation provided a $5 million grant to the Science Museum of Minnesota, allowing them to bring a proven Engineering is Elementary curriculum into elementary schools serving significant populations of BIPOC children from low income families in the Twin Cities. Over the last 10 years, the program has grown and expanded, now reaching more than 15,000 elementary school students each year. 

The foundation recently announced a $300,000 partnership with Science from Scientists (SfS), a nonprofit that promotes achievement and excitement in STEM for students in third through eighth grade. SfS sends STEM professionals, specifically women scientists and scientists of color, into the same classrooms throughout the school year to lead hands-on STEM lessons, hoping students – particularly girls and students of color – can see their own future as a scientist.

The foundation is also focused on increasing access to education and graduation rates for women and ethnic minority populations. This includes increasing access to not only primary, secondary and university education but to STEM education, as well as college and career readiness for female and ethnic minority populations.

We look forward to continuing our work with partners inside and outside of Cargill to build a more diverse, inclusive and equitable company. 

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

Copyright 2020 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)

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