Equitable Access to Careers for All Students

Equity in the workplace starts with equitable education that leads to occupations that offer fair treatment in access, opportunity, and advancement for everyone. This includes identifying and working to eliminate barriers to fair treatment for disadvantaged groups from an individual level through systemic changes in organizations and industries.

In order to achieve equity, we first need to understand that the societal systems in which we currently work do not demonstrate equitable opportunities.1 When looking at the national workforce, there are some well-known, glaring inequities, along with some that are a little less obvious.  For example, labor market and census data indicate that black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in service occupations and underrepresented in occupations in STEM fields, as well as management and professional occupations.2, 3, 4, 5  Furthermore, women are underrepresented in manual trades, such as welding and automotive occupations3, and also have lower employment numbers in  STEM and executive-level occupations.4, 3, 6   However, women are overrepresented in nursing, teaching, and accounting.6, 7, 8

Major underlying reasons for the underrepresentation of African Americans and Hispanics in STEM occupations tend to be limited access to quality education that prepares them for these fields and a lack of encouragement to pursue these types of jobs from an early age.9 Access to higher education is also a significant limiting factor for specific racial and ethnic groups. Overall, the share of all young adults age 25 to 29 with at least a bachelor’s degree was 36% in 2018. This share ranged from 19% for Hispanics and 23% for blacks to 43% for whites and 66% for Asians.5, 10 These large differences further the equity gap in the workforce because individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to earn more, higher positions, and are more likely than others to be employed and move up the socioeconomic ladder.

The best way to find out if our students have equitable access for their futures is to look at the current labor market. Unfortunately, the labor market shows that not all occupations portray equity. Labor market data is a collection of data complied primarily by government agencies for the purpose of analyzing job trends, wages, employment status, and economic changes related to workforce development.15 This data provides a breakdown in the demographics of the national workforce. This helps show the racial and gender disparities in different types of occupations (see table below).

Occupation Women White Black or African American Asian Hispanic or Latinx
Totals in the workforce 47.0 77.5 12.3 12.0 18.0
Healthcare Support 85.1 64.5 24.5 6.8 20.9
Elementary and Middle School Teachers 79.2 83.8 10.0 3.4 10.7
Construction and Extraction Occupations 3.9 87.2 7.1 1.7 38.9

This data shows that, at a national level, women are overrepresented in healthcare and teaching professions and underrepresented in computer, math, construction, and extraction occupations. It also shows racial inequities, such as an overrepresentation of Asian individuals in computer and math occupations, Hispanic or Latinx individuals in construction occupations, and Black individuals in healthcare occupations.16

How can this information be useful in supporting career readiness for students?

Acknowledging the inequities and understanding the reasoning behind them are the first steps in creating a more equitable labor market. Social factors, such as limited diversity in books, media, and pop culture with substantial lack of representation in careers, play a key role in educational and occupational inequities. When students have little to no representation in media or their immediate environments, they lack awareness of the opportunities they have and consequently assume they are destined to be what they see.

Once we understand the inequities and where they are in various occupations, we can begin to make changes. Being able to see the inequities within states is a critical step toward change in showing state leaders and educators where they can direct attention and resources to better represent their population within the local workforce. Academic interventions throughout standard K-12 education with integrative career exploration and work experiences help combat these inequities.18 Additionally, aligning CTE programs to the workforce connects careers to education and shows students, through representation, that they can be what they want to be because when they can see it, they can be it.19

Resource References

  1. Resources & Tools. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/pages/default.aspx
  2. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/race-and-ethnicity/2016/pdf/home.pdf
  3. Fry, R., Kennedy, B., & Funk, C. (2021, April 1). Stem jobs see uneven progress in increasing gender, racial and ethnic diversity. Pew Research Center Science & Society. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2021/04/01/stem-jobs-see-uneven-progress-in-increasing-gender-racial-and-ethnic-diversity/
  4. Change the Equation. (2015). Solving the diversity dilemma. Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED564127.pdf
  5. College Board. (2016). Trends in higher education. https://research.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/education-pays-2019-full-report.pdf
  6. Fast facts: Occupational segregation. AAUW. (2020, April 6). Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.aauw.org/resources/article/occupational-segregation/
  7. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Women in the labor force: A databook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/2017/pdf/home.pdf
  8. Pew Research Center. (2018, March 15). Gender gains – and gaps – in the U.S. Pew Research Center. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/ft_18-03-08_gendergains_feature/
  9. Funk, C., & Parker, K. (2019, December 31). Blacks in STEM jobs are especially concerned about diversity and discrimination in the workplace. Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/01/09/blacks-in-stem-jobs-are-especially-concerned-about-diversity-and-discrimination-in-the-workplace/
  10. NCES, Digest of Education Statistics, 2018, Table 104.30
  11. How children’s toys and play affect adulthood. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/communication-success/202005/how-children-s-toys-and-play-affect-adulthood
  12. Akosah-Twumasi, P., Emeto, T. I., Lindsay, D., Tsey, K., & Malau-Aduli, B. S. (2018). A systematic review of factors that influence youths career choices-the role of culture. Frontiers. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2018.00058/full
  13. Nickerson, C. (2021). Individualistic cultures and behavior. Simply Psychology. simplypsychology.org/what-are-individualistic-cultures.html
  14. Nickerson, C. (2021). Understanding collectivist cultures. Simply Psychology. simplypsychology.org/what-are-collectivistic-cultures.html
  15. Introduction to LMI. NS4ED. (2018). Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://p2c.org/gated_content/no/
  16. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, January 20). Employed persons by detailed occupation, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm
  17. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/MS,TX,NM,ME,US/LFE041220. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2022.
  18. Egalite, A. J., Kisida, B., & Winters, M. A. (2015). Representation in the classroom: The effect of own-race teachers on student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 45, 44-52.
  19. Lindsay, C.A. & Hart, C. M. D. (2017). Exposure to same-race teachers and student disciplinary outcomes for black students in North Carolina. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 39(3).
  20. Advance CTE state leaders connecting learning to work. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://cte.careertech.org/sites/default/files/AboutAdvanceCTE_FINAL.pdf
  21. Brembeck, C. S., & Hill, W. H. (1973, November 30). Cultural challenges to education: The influences of cultural factors in school learning. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED091457
  22. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten (public use data), 2006.