The STEAM-Active (Project Number: 2021-1-ES01-KA220-HED-000032107) project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

“If We Don't Have Diversity, There's No Future to See”: High‐school students' perceptions of race and gender representation in STEM

Partners' Institution
University of Perugia
Year of publication
Educational stage
Secondary Level
Journal name
Science Education
Thematic Area
Gender Inequality, Students’ Difficulties
The purpose of this paper is to understand the perspectives, experiences, and beliefs of 34 high-school students about race and gender representation in STEM. The authors interviewed students after engaging in a 3-week STEM and teaching summer program (AFT – Academy for Future Teachers) sponsored by the Georgia state university. Through individual interviews, they sought to understand their explanations and stances toward who is included (or not included) in representations of STEM, asked them why they believed some individuals and groups were more or less likely to be included and represented in STEM fields, and finally tried to understand the implications these representations (of STEM and what it is for) had for their developing vocational plans. The research questions are:
1) What are participants' perceptions about race and gender and representation in STEM?
2) How did these perceptions influence their stance toward a future career in STEM fields?
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The majority of AFT participants were girls (78%) and identified as Black or African American (90%). The 10–15 min interviews, conducted immediately following the AFT sessions during the 3‐week program's penultimate days, were audio-recorded and based on a structured interview protocol. It focused on participants' perceptions about race and gender and representation in STEM and the impact of their perceptions on a potential career in STEM. The interview questions that students were asked include:
1) In what ways do you see STEM in your community or communities?
2) In what ways do you see people whom you identify with represented in STEM?
3) Can you picture yourself working in a STEM field? Why or why not? What kind of work do you see yourself doing? Do you envision any barriers or challenges to your pursuing that career?
4) Why do you think that most of the people with careers in STEM fields have been White men?
They analyzed interview data using a constant comparative analysis approach, which involved iterative readings by multiple researchers coding the same sections of data independently, then comparing to capture the most prominent themes, experiences, and concepts shared by high schoolers. This resulted in 6 identified categories:
1) Influence of family, friends, and mentors: Instances where participants described the presence of (or lack of) family members, family friends, or personal mentors of examples in their lives of STEM.
2) Community and STEM: Instances where participants note that they do (or do not see) STEM in their community, describe how STEM is represented in their community, or engaged in by people they identify with.
3) Barriers—gender: Instances where participants described barriers, or lack of barriers, directly or indirectly related to gender.
4) Barriers—race: Instances where participants described barriers, or lack of barriers, directly or indirectly related to race.
5) Stereotypes and bias: Instances where participants identified, reified, or referenced additive or deficit stereotypes and/or biases related to race and/or gender.
6) Targeted for STEM: Instances where participants discussed STEM programming targeted at them due to race, gender, or identity, including clubs, school programming, and out‐of‐school programming
I was hoping the paper would at least explain how the summer program was structured, but no information are reported. Moreover, the questions asked to the interview participants don’t concern the topics of the summer camp and are too vague to be effectively used to shape a new kind of teaching methodology. Lastly, the test sample is way too small and substantially skewered towards black people, which guides the analysis to conclusions that, in my opinion, are too focused on a local view of STEM and only relevant for the American educational framework.
The summary results and related conclusion reported are:
- Participant interviews revealed that they associated STEM with jobs within the construction, sanitation, culinary, cellular, film, and music industries. Their perspectives can be used to address inequity through increased exposure and opportunities for excluded groups. Data from this inquiry call for deconstructing and diversifying explicit and implicit gender and racial representations in STEM, such which careers and jobs that “count” as STEM. Jobs that are not always viewed as “prestigious” can broaden the assumed relevance, applicability, and usefulness of STEM knowledge.
- Participants in this study pointed toward their family and community as sources of support for STEM vocations. Educational policies and reform‐oriented practices implementing standardized content far from the communities and lives of students results in distancing students and their families and communities from what is perceived as valuable and worthy of learning according to the curriculum of schools and schooling.
- Closely related to the first two points, results also underscore the importance of connecting STEM and a commitment to social justice by presenting STEM as aligned with individuals who want to give back. Students' assumption that giving back and/or social justice is a topic outside of STEM indicates a failure in connecting STEM to the issues in which students are more concerned. STEM Programs must be underscored as means to make a change, impact the lives and communities of individuals placed at risk by structural inequalities, and matter in the lives of real people.
- Finally, findings reveal a need to facilitate dialogue and critically framed group discussions about structural racism, including gendered racism, and stereotypes and their long‐ranging effects to support excluded groups in STEM. Educators should incorporate this issue into discussions with students, creating and prioritizing spaces in classrooms and other educational spaces for these deconstructing and reconstructing conversations, which may lead to establish and foster a support network currently absent.
Point of Strength
The study provides some information about race discriminations in STEM.
gender, high‐school students, race, STEM education, student perceptions