Deloitte AI Institute
A catalyst for
Fostering diversity in STEM learning and careers with AI
Starting young and instilling interest in STEM
The effort to funnel more bright minds into STEM-focused higher education begins in K-12 learning. Research reveals that a predictor of a student majoring in a STEM subject in college is whether they form an intention to do so while in high school. What is more, STEM-related curricular and extracurricular experiences increase STEM interest and in turn raise the likelihood a student will pursue a STEM major in college.
A challenge, however, is making science and math subjects compelling. AI, robotics, analytics, and related subjects can be a gateway to student interest.
- As of 2020, fewer than half of the schools in the US offer computer science classes.
- According to the National Science Foundation, cognitive skills of 2-year-olds are directly related to socioeconomic status.
Sparking a passion and interest in STEM
Consider the educational and professional trajectory of Danielle Bryan, a Deloitte consultant of Deloitte Consulting LLP now with nearly five years of professional experience after a STEM-focused education.
Bryan attended an Architecture, Construction and Engineering (A.C.E.) high school in Washington, DC. The school provides preparatory and vocational education with a focus on STEM and technology subjects, and one of its stated core beliefs is that “all students deserve a challenging and broad education, regardless of ethnicity or economic status.”
In addition to regular classes, extracurricular activities give students opportunities to explore their interests in technology, such as with the Electric Vehicle or Robotics clubs, or through visits and discussions with industry professionals.
- Millions of STEM jobs are predicted to go unfilled soon. It’s estimated that 3.5 million jobs will need to be filled by 2025.
- Since 1990, STEM employment has grown 79% (9.7 million to 17.3 million) and computer jobs have seen a whopping 338% increase over the same period.
Computer science education still not in majority of schools
Across the country, 47 percent of all high schools teach at least one computer science course, meaning that students attending more than half of schools do not have access to a single course. Further, access is not equal for students from all demographics.
Bryan noted that a factor to consider in K-12 education is that when students hear about AI, machine learning, cybersecurity, or software engineering, they hear, “It’s hard.” Indeed, these subjects can be opaque and perhaps intimidating for people of any age and from any background.
A key is to make the topics relatable to the students’ environment outside of school, such as using AI to address chronic economic disparities and resource inequity. They can connect the things learned in the classroom, the activities where those lessons have real world applicability, and their vision for AI and STEM fields as a career path and an avenue for addressing challenges in their communities.
While the ROI will not come immediately, in time, this outreach may yield more students entering college in pursuit of STEM degrees.
One example of this type of an endeavor is an effort between Deloitte and the United Way to reach middle school students in the Virginia and Washington, DC areas. Sponsored by the Deloitte AI Institute for Government , Deloitte developed a 12-week program to expose students to AI and related subjects with hands-on activities and instruction from professionals who develop and work with AI.
Nedelka Phillips, senior vice president of marketing and fundraising at United Way of the National Capital Area, said organizations looking to make investments in education should understand the precise challenges specific to the local community.
Consider the challenge of exciting a young person with STEM subjects when the student is hungry for want of basic nutrition. Enterprises seeking to make an enduring difference in students’ lives should look to the data on community challenges, collaborate with local organizations that deeply understand the community’s needs in a holistic way, and then commit to a long-term initiative that does not end with high school graduation.
"When we think about education gaps that exist, we typically see they are Black and brown communities, disproportionately. We know that when it comes to technology, there is a huge issue around not just limited Internet access but also the devices themselves. And layered on top of that is food and meals, also access to health care."
Creating opportunities for higher education students
In colleges and universities, the challenge for encouraging STEM majors is somewhat different. Particularly in AI and analytics, advances and innovations occur at such a rapid pace that schools can be challenged to keep the curriculum relevant and up to date. In fostering STEM diversity and inclusion, an area for focus could be working with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to provide opportunities for real world learning experiences.
Academic institutions have a wealth of research and knowledge, and approaching the market together can lead to solutions that accelerate DEI. This is not just a matter of funding but instead access to experiences that prepare college students for the professional workforce.
Deloitte is working with Morgan State to develop an AI fluency training, which includes instruction from subject matter experts and also experiences where students can see how their knowledge translates to rewarding careers. This approach can have direct benefits for the enterprise when it comes to recruiting.
“What makes a student select one company over another for employment?” asked Claton Lewis, director of student success and recruitment at Morgan State University. “This is where we talk about strategic investment and influencing choice and decision, building good will among students in terms of what is this company about? Are they about enhancing certain community values that are also values that we hold within our community? Investing in brand equity builds the trust and connection between having an opportunity and that opportunity being viewed by students as a viable option because there are mutual values held by both parties.”
- 2 out of 3 US women say they were not encouraged to pursue a career in STEM.
- 38% of all US workers were women and 8% were STEM workers in 1970. In 2019, women made up 48% of all workers, 27% specializing in STEM.
"In the past, companies have had a specific recruiting agenda. [Businesses] come in and pay for and fund to be part of career fairs and career-related events on campus. But when we’re talking about genuinely moving the needle in terms of filling the talent gap and recruiting prepared and skilled individuals, there has to be more than just a recruiting agenda. Companies need to reimagine how we engage with the private and public sectors so the investment is sustained."
Overcoming the digital divide
The business competition for recruiting AI-fluent employees will likely only become more critical as AI solutions and use cases proliferate. With that, there is value in upskilling and reskilling the current workforce. As an example, Deloitte and the National Association of Black Accountants, Inc. (NABA) are collaborating to help professionals in accounting and finance develop AI fluency, which can both enable them to better perform in a fast-changing AI ecosystem and access opportunities in the workforce.
This kind of thoughtful approach helps meet professionals where they are, acknowledging the need for continuous education that begins to overcome the digital divide that exists in communities of people of color, said Saint Juste.
It can deliver cascading benefits that transform DEI. It can prepare professionals to shape how AI solutions are developed and used by the organization. Better solutions can lead to better AI outcomes that impact the bottom line. And when enterprises have a diverse workforce, they can attract young professionals—in part—by having employees become ambassadors and mentors that inspire students to explore STEM, AI, and emerging technologies. With this, the talent pipeline can grow wider.
- Black workers make up 11% of the US workforce but represent 9% of STEM workers.
- Latino STEM workers make up 16% of the workforce, but only 7% of all STEM workers.
"Our task is to figure out how we can help people of color develop AI skills and knowledge so they can have the opportunity to advance and enhance their careers and be part of the new digital economy. One of the top skills needed to thrive is being a motivated self-learner, and the organization needs to make opportunities to learn available, be it by leveraging partnerships with associations like ours or internally through self-paced learning."
Moving from inspiration to action
Teaching, mentoring, and providing access to experiences like internships can forge a relationship with the next generation of professionals, which is a powerful lever when recruiting the best and brightest minds from under-tapped communities. It is a strategic decision to fund, support, and champion DEI in education and throughout the workforce. That strategy should be shaped by the reality that true, enduring diversity takes time.
Yet, it may be challenging to cultivate buy-in for long-term investments. For business leaders, Phillips said the next step is to look within the company and identify where talent gaps exist and define where the enterprise aspires to be in the next 5–10 years.
“Bring other people to the table to have a conversation about this and then go out and do the research upon which decisions can be based,” said Guylaine Saint Juste. “If this is going to be a transformational shift in how the organization is moving forward in working with community, it is important to understand from an internal perspective, what have we done to this point, how much have we invested, and what have we seen for the investment?”
Investing in the future of work
A component of the internal communication is inspiring every employee to consider their individual contribution. A company “Impact Day,” for example, is an opportunity to educate employees about how they can participate in these kinds of endeavors. Meanwhile, enterprise leaders should also look to potential partners in academia, including HBCUs and minority-serving institutions (MSIs). Lewis noted that an essential starting point is understanding what institutions need to up-level their offering.
“Connect with our provost for academic affairs and see how companies can contribute,” he said, as an example. “Companies can come in and learn about the culture and value of institutions like mine, and then begin to craft a comprehensive investment strategy as to how the values of the company align with the institutions and vice versa.”
While the longer term effort is developed, a more immediate tactic for effecting change is offering internships to nurture student interest in AI subject matter and the company. This is not relegated to working with data scientists and engineers. AI application spans practice areas.
"By the time high school students are juniors, they may not even know if the emerging tech and AI fields are something to pursue in the business realm. A lot of underserved students don’t get the opportunity to form that perspective. Companies can provide more internships, even if unpaid, and develop partnerships with multiple schools."
- 80% of future jobs will require technical skills. The engagement of U.S. children in STEM education is the key to companies filling an estimated 9 million jobs in the industry by 2022.
Moving from inspiration to action
From exposing young students to AI subject matter to foster academic interest to providing real world opportunities for students in higher education, building the talent pipeline is inherently collaborative. It takes businesses, schools, and community groups working together to identify a community’s specific needs, address them with action and investment, and then track the data to measure the results over time.
Societal impact in DEI can happen when professional skills and resources are used to improve educational outcomes and access to opportunities. AI is a vehicle that can help turn this from aspiration to reality. This is an era of humans working with intelligent machines and succeeding in and advancing the technology demands a diversity of voices. AI’s own potential depends on this, and so too does business growth and prosperity.