Report Calls for Greater Diversity in Hiring

WASHINGTON (07/13/2000) - With the unmet demand for high-tech workers reaching "crisis proportions," a special congressional commission said today that women, minorities and people with disabilities are vastly underrepresented in science and high-technology jobs, and it called on government and private employers to do more to diversify the work force.

As the need for high-tech workers grows rapidly, the U.S. is "exhausting the intellectual capital that is fueling our economic expansion," said Elaine Mendoza, chairwoman of the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology. Congress formed the commission in 1998 to study high-tech workforce issues.

The report, released as Congress debates bringing in more foreign technical workers by raising the H-1B visa cap, analyzed what Mendoza termed "disturbing" trends in job training and hiring that are keeping women, minorities and people with disabilities from high-tech jobs.

For instance, racial and ethnic minorities will comprise nearly one-third of the U.S. workforce by 2020, the report said, but Hispanics make up only 3% of those holding high-tech jobs and African-Americans comprise 3.2%. People with disabilities comprise nearly 14% of the workforce, but hold less than 6% of science and technology jobs.

Meanwhile, women make up only 9% of engineers and 27% of the computer scientists and programmers in the U.S., the report said.

"Growing the American talent pool will require a nationwide call to action and a major shift in how we educate, train and recruit citizens" in high-tech fields, said Mendoza, president and CEO of Conceptual MindWorks Inc., a software development firm in San Antonio.

Meta Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based consulting firm, estimates that there are 400,000 IT job openings today. The report also cited figures from the U.S.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, which said that some 5.3 million jobs will be created in technology fields between 1998 and 2008.

The report cited wide-ranging educational, financial and cultural barriers that keep minorities and women out of high-tech jobs, including prejudice and an absence of mentors. The commission recommended educational reforms to push for high-quality standards in technical areas and significantly expanded financial help to underrepresented students. The group also called for a public-private partnership campaign to implement the report's recommendations.

The report was also discussed at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Technology. Eileen Collins, an astronaut who has been on three shuttle missions, testified at the hearing about problems she faced as a teenager seeking technical training. The peer pressure in high school has "an incredible influence," and she said she was "more comfortable taking classes with my friends then branching out to mostly male classrooms." But when she graduated from high school, Collins said she pushed herself to pursue the training she needed.

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