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Latinas in STEM

March 27, 2024

Breaking Barriers and Building a Brighter Future

Calling everyone in the science industries and social change-makers! Let’s come together to break down the barriers that have been limiting our society’s potential.

Diversity has become a big topic in the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). But despite being passionate about these fields, many Latinas face disadvantages that discourage their entry and progression in these areas. We know that diversity drives progress, yet Latina representation in these professions is still lacking.

It’s time for academic institutions, forward-thinking organizations, and Latinas across the country to challenge convention. To pave the way for inclusive innovation we must first understand what is holding them back, recognize the importance of the Latina perspective in the industry, and develop strategies that empower Latinas to pursue STEM careers. Because when schools support Latinas’ pursuit of STEM, families encourage these career paths, and employers create inclusive work environments, we all pave the way for a better future.

What Keeps Latinas Out of STEM

To break the barriers, let’s start by revealing what hinders Latinas from pursuing STEM careers:

Lack of Role Models

One major hurdle Latinas face in entering STEM careers is the scarcity of role models who look like us. When only 6% of the US physician workforce is of Latino background, it’s disheartening for our youth to see themselves thriving in these fields. They simply assume that it’s not for them or that it’s out of their reach.

Lack of Mentors

Another roadblock is the absence of mentors who can guide us through our STEM journey. Many Latinas are already the first in their families to go to college, and entering a STEM major makes the gap feel even bigger. 

It’s essential for these trailblazers to have an experienced support system that provides advice and insights on this journey. Latinas need mentors who can speak their language, understand the culture, and can share their success stories. 

Limiting Financial Beliefs

Often, Latina students perceive STEM careers are financially burdensome, which leads to hesitation in pursuing these fields. The cost associated with higher education, specialized training, and access to resources can create a significant barrier; preventing Latinas from fully exploring their potential and contributing their talents to the STEM community.

Why We Need Latinas in STEM

But despite these challenges, our presence in STEM fields is crucial. Here’s why:

Diversity Matters

Imagine a team brimming with different backgrounds and experiences, working together to solve complex problems. Research, experimentation, testing, analysis – all are processes that can benefit from Latinas’ experiences and perspectives. And the data backs it up. A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that diverse teams of problem-solvers outperform groups of high-ability, homogenous individuals. 

We Contribute to a Better Future

STEM is the door to addressing pressing global challenges, and we hold the key to unlocking the solutions. From climate change to healthcare disparities, Latinas’ active participation in these fields can deliver significant contributions to solving these issues. 

What is even more impactful to our communities is that through Latinas’ growth in these fields, we can improve healthcare access for our people, develop sustainable solutions to preserve our natural resources, and pave the way for new generations of Latinos to continue in this path. There’s an undeniable snowball effect to bringing Latinas into STEM and the time to do it is now.

How to Encourage Latinas to Pursue STEM

It might seem like a daunting task, but this is how we make it possible for Latinas to pursue and thrive in STEM fields:

Pathway Programs

In a recent Chancleta Generation podcast episode, the Moira team talked to Dr. Laura Castillo-Page, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the National Academies for Science. During this inspiring conversation, Dr. Castillo-Page highlighted the importance of pathway programs that harness the power of early intervention. 

A study by the University of Massachusetts, Amherts and the University of Texas at El Paso supports the idea that many students became engaged with STEM due to isolated and chance events. This same report indicates that planned events could be the key to increasing Hispanic student participation in STEM activities and degrees.

Designed to recruit, train, and retain Latinas in STEM, pathway programs equip young students with the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue STEM careers with confidence. They offer tremendous potential in increasing diversity in STEM fields, especially when started as early as the elementary school level. 

Engaging Students and Their Families

Latino culture cherishes a sense of family and community. To truly empower Latinas in STEM, we must involve our families, showing them the opportunities and benefits that STEM careers offer.

Engaging not only the individual student but also their families and communities is essential in fostering long-term commitment and support, as shown by the case study Latina college students’ experiences in STEM at Hispanic-Serving Institutions: framed within Latino critical race theory. This research notes that “the encouragement and support parents provided to their daughters’ influence(d) their major choices and persistence in STEM fields.” Through encouragement and emotional support, Latino families increased student confidence and boosted a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

Creating an Inclusive Environment

For Latinas to thrive in STEM, it’s not just about getting our foot in the door. The real work that organizations must do is create an inclusive environment that retains diverse talent in the STEM fields.

What Latina scholars need is a safe space that values and celebrates our contributions, making us feel heard and encouraged to continue innovating. A study published by the International Journal of STEM Education outlines the following factors as the most critical in Latinx STEM student success:

  • Peer interactions
  • Cultural climate
  • Advising
  • Coursework articulation
  • Academic integration
  • Support services
  • Asset-based factors
  • Outreach

All these factors point at inclusivity and support as the key to keeping students thriving and helping them achieve their goals.

From Barriers to Breakthroughs

Growing diversity in STEM, especially for Latinas, is a comprehensive effort. It requires academic initiatives, mentorship programs, family engagement, and institutional backing to create inclusive environments where students can thrive. By shattering those glass ceilings today, we can shape a more innovative STEM community for tomorrow. 

Are you an organization looking to make a meaningful impact in diversity and inclusion within the STEM field? Contact Moira today to discuss comprehensive campaigns that can help your organization or business attract Latina students to STEM programs and retain Latina talent in the industry. Together, we can break down barriers and create a future where Latinas in STEM contribute to a better society.

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