For the past two decades, advocates have focused on creating a more diverse workforce by engaging more girls and Black and brown youth in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education programs. On the surface, this strategy makes sense — if more girls and Black and brown youth enter the education-to- career pipeline, the workforce in these fields should eventually mirror our diverse society.

Yet, after decades of work to improve representation in STEM careers, the results are still dismal. Black women still only hold 1.8% of STEM jobs in the United States; Latina women hold only 2.4%; and Indigenous women still only hold 0.1%. We have to stop and ask ourselves why.

The simple answer is that we are trying to solve the wrong problem. We focus too often on how many Black and brown youth can be pushed into the STEM pipeline without stopping to deeply assess the pipeline itself, which is riddled with leaks that cause young people to fall out and not persist into STEM careers.

At Techbridge Girls, a national nonprofit improving STEM education for Black and brown girls for over 20 years, we have seen this play out firsthand. Our experience working with girls in after-school programs taught us that we needed to change how we’re approaching the problem. So, we stopped focusing on the number of Black and brown girls entering these programs and started homing in on the experiences they are having along their journeys. And we started asking ourselves questions. What if we redefined what quality STEM education looks like? What if we acknowledged how standard STEM education is grounded in a white male-dominated culture that Black and brown girls will never fit into? What if we changed how we assess whether programs are successful — evaluating girls’ experiences within a program the same way we do representation data? What if tech sector executives and corporate boards held themselves as accountable for creating a culture of belonging as they are for their company’s financial health?

Asking questions like these helped us develop solutions that we believe can move the needle on diversity in STEM broadly. The solutions start with creating a sense of belonging. It doesn’t work to expect Black and brown girls to simply “fit in” and mold to existing environments that weren’t designed for them — they need to feel seen and valued.

Read the full article about diverse girls in STEM by Nikole Collins-Puri at EdSource.