The Council on Competitiveness has received a $2.3 million grant to support the establishment of BEST, a new nonprofit organization designed to turn around the critical shortage of women and minorities in the high technology workforce, U.S. Representatives Connie Morella (R-Md.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) announced today (April 5).
The National Science Foundation awarded the grant, which includes funds from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce-NIST, Defense, and Energy.
Speaking live via satellite from Washington, D.C. at the Council's Second National Innovation Summit at the University of California, San Diego, Congresswomen Morella and Johnson said that BEST (Building Engineering and Science Talent) will implement the recommendations of the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development. The bipartisan commission, which conducted a 16-month assessment of gender, racial, and ethnic imbalance in the nation's technological workforce, was established by legislation introduced by Congresswoman Morella.
"More than ever, our economy depends on the talents of skilled, high-tech workers," said Congresswoman Morella. "But until our scientific and technological work-force reflects our diversity, we are not working up to our potential as a nation." Morella pointed out that the commission found white males 40 percent of the nation's overall workforce occupying 68 percent of all science, engineering, and technology jobs, while white women, at 35 percent of the national workforce, hold only 15 percent of these jobs. African Americans and Hispanics, accounting for almost 21 percent of the workforce, are in just 6 percent of the high-tech positions. Those with disabilities, at 14 percent of the workforce, represent 6 percent of the technology workforce.
Congresswoman Johnson, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, added, "We could largely end the shortage of skilled American workers in the technology field if women, underrepresented minorities, and those with disabilities were infused in and successfully navigate the math and science pipeline on a par with their representation in the U.S. work-force. Instead, they are discouraged from the early grades and through college and graduate school."
Morella said the Council was chosen to "get a new organization moving quickly" to implement the Commission's recommendations due to its past work in strengthening the U.S. technical talent pool. "The Council's relationships with leaders of industry, universities, and labor are unmatched," she commented. "Its imprimatur will be a crucial asset in launching BEST and opening the way for long-term private sector support."
"Our technology-based society needs to expand the pool of science and engineering talent," said Rita Colwell, director, National Science Foundation. "BEST will help meet the Commission's call to develop the largely untapped talent of women, minorities and people with disabilities and bring more of them into the technology workforce. Our science and engineering workforce should reflect the make-up of the workforce as a whole."
Once fully incorporated, BEST will spearhead a three-year, $10 million initiative to broaden the demographic base of the technical workforce by increasing public awareness and private financial support, and launching new policy initiatives.