Mediaplanet: Why do we need more women and minorities in STEM careers?

Mae Jemison: The importance of developing the STEM talent of women and minorities is not just about improving the United States' competitiveness by having greater numbers who can create more technology or products. The critical leaps in innovation result from defining, researching and building products and services with the full intellectual capacity, experiences, ambitions, vision and perspectives available to us.

MP: What effect will their increasing involvement have on the economy?

MJ: Bringing more women and minorities into STEM garners more people with insight and the wherewithal to recognize and address the widest range of new technological and scientific challenges. We will have expanded the possibility for business growth. (After all, more new businesses are being started by women than any other group.) The more ideas, the greater the potential for innovation and more economic competitiveness. 

Dr. Mae Jemison listens as students present their solutions to science problems.

MP: What value do you see STEM playing in this changing economic environment?

MJ: STEM has a profound impact on our economy. In 1987, Dr. Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize for his work demonstrating this very factthat a nation’s economic prosperity is tied directly to the scientific and technological advancements made by its technical workforce.

The country’s shifting demographics, growing minority populations coupled with the graying of the current STEM workforce, demand that we take advantage of the full range of our talent pool. If we’re serious about building our STEM workforce and fortifying innovation, diversity must be a top priority. And it’s not just about filling job openings with warm bodies.

In several recent surveys, CEOs of U.S. STEM companies, large and small, say diversity brings diversity of innovation and improves the overall company performance.

Think of all the advances made over the last 50 years; weather satellites that track hurricanes and GPS directions, implantable heart defibrillators, high R-value thermal materials to efficiently insulate our homes, DNA sequencing to detect illness, not to mention how information technology has revolutionized our world, creating brand new industries like online retailing, computer gaming and cybersecurity. How much more would we have accomplished if we had been operating on all cylinders with the potential of all of our citizensboth genders, all races and all ethnic backgrounds—that’s powerful.