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Tackling America’s Racial Disparities in Science

Scientific advances are helping America and the world to tackle major global challenges, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. By empowering members of underrepresented groups to capitalize on their talents, advances toward racial and gender parity in science would accelerate the pace of progress, benefiting everyone.

URBANA, ILLINOIS – Kamala Harris made history earlier this month by becoming the first woman, and the first black person and South Asian American, to serve as vice president of the United States. But despite these occasional big wins, America is far from achieving racial and gender parity in many fields, from government to science, the field in which I work.

According to UNESCO, just 30% of science researchers globally are women, and black women account for only a small proportion of that number. Similarly, one US study last year revealed that science textbooks feature only a small number of scientists of color, including black women, thus providing few role models for the diverse range of students who use them.

This disparity reinforces the status quo. In 2016, students of color received just 22% of US bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering and 9% of doctorates in those fields. After graduating, their numbers dwindle further: black people account for less than 10% of America’s scientific workforce.

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