Washington, D.C.--The United States could erase a shortage of high-tech workers and reduce its dependence on foreign labor if the number of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering matched their percentage of the overall workforce. That's the conclusion of a new congressionally mandated commission that issued a set of broad recommendations today on what the country needs to do to remain competitive in a global economy.
"Our recommendations are aimed at ensuring that our future work force utilizes the full range of American expertise and talent," says Elaine Mendoza, chair of the commission and CEO of the Texas software company Conceptual Mindworks Inc. "But growing the American talent pool will require a major shift in how we now educate, train, and recruit citizens in the fields of science, engineering, and technology."
The Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development was created in 1998 thanks to the efforts of Representative Connie Morella (R-MD). Congress repeatedly shot down her initial idea for a panel on women's underrepresentation in science and engineering, but finally approved one with a broader focus. In addition to parity in the workforce, the commission calls for more federally funded college scholarships for underrepresented groups, better elementary and secondary science and math education, a stronger commitment to diversity by industry, a campaign to improve the public image of science, and a new oversight panel of government, industry, and academic officials to monitor progress.
The commission ploughs much of the same ground as a 1988 report on the same topic, also mandated by Congress, that highlighted the growing share of women and underrepresented minorities in the U.S. workforce. But commission members and government leaders say that many of the problems flagged by the earlier panel are still unresolved. "Our goal was to produce a set of action-oriented policy statements that would push some buttons that haven't been pushed before. I hope we've done that," says George Campbell Jr., newly installed president of Cooper Union College in New York City and one of just two men on the 11-member commission.
A full report will be released at the end of the month. Morella says that the next step will be to raise money for the oversight body. Although she has no plans for additional legislation, Morella says that "I'll be watching closely to make sure that something happens. We don't want this report to just sit on the shelf."