By Mark Newman, CEO, Chemours
Submitted by The Chemours Company
St. Elmo Brady may not be a household name for all Americans, but his influence in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with expertise in chemistry, endures to this day. Born in 1884, Brady was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. His legacy, however, would be defined by what followed. Opting for academia over private industry, he dedicated his career to building chemistry and STEM programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). His impact is still felt at institutions such as Tuskegee University, Howard University, Fisk University, and Tougaloo College.
As we celebrate Black History Month, St. Elmo Brady’s career serves as a reminder that we not only have a responsibility to honor the pioneers of our history but also a duty to carry on their work for future generations.
Although STEM industries have come a long way thanks to luminaries like Brady, Black Americans remain underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Black workers represent just 9% of the overall STEM workforce in the United States. Drill down further into the numbers and you’ll see even greater disparity in specific careers. Black Americans represent just 8% of chemists, 6% of life science jobs, and 5% of engineering jobs. Sadly, it is a similar story for Hispanics and women.
As a Black leader in the chemistry industry, I want to make clear that addressing this disparity isn’t about meeting hiring targets, it’s about ensuring that our companies and industries continue to grow and thrive. When we bring together people from diverse backgrounds, we benefit from different viewpoints, life experiences, and ideas that can uncover new discoveries and innovations and help us solve the world’s greatest challenges. The reality is the number of STEM job opportunities is expected to grow by one million from 2020 to 2030. STEM-related industries will struggle to meet those workforce needs without fostering a larger, more diverse pool of talent.
We know the issue we are facing, but what’s the solution?
The first step is tackling the root of the challenge which, as St. Elmo Brady recognized a century ago, is a lack of access to education.
According to the Pew Research Center, both Black and Hispanic adults are less likely to earn degrees in STEM than in other degree fields. To change that, we as an industry and as a society must make strategic investments in early education to create that interest in science and develop future STEM talent in communities that have been underserved, under-resourced, and overlooked.
At Chemours, we are doing this through programs like the Chemours Future of Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology (ChemFEST) School Partnership Program. Just this month, we broke ground on The Chemours STEM Hub at Eastside Charter School, a community STEM hub in partnership with Eastside Charter, a K-8 school in our headquarters community of Wilmington, Delaware. This investment is about more than the brick-and-mortar building. It’s about giving our students in underserved and overlooked communities hands-on experiences to spark a passion for STEM—a passion that may otherwise remain dormant.
By providing greater access to the sciences early on, we can help inspire students from diverse backgrounds to see a future with a greater variety of opportunities and pursue a STEM education in college and ultimately a career in STEM—contributing to a pipeline of the best, brightest, and most diverse talent.
Importantly, a commitment to a diverse workforce cannot end at the front door of a lab, building, or manufacturing site. It is incumbent upon our leaders to create workplace environments that are inclusive and equal—ones where every person is treated with dignity regardless of race, culture, religion, creed, or sexual orientation. This underscores the importance of creating a culture of holistic safety—including emotional and psychological health—as well as Employee Resource Groups which foster employee connectivity and mutual understanding. These aspects of the workplace are critical to recruiting and retaining highly capable, diverse talent and helping them achieve their full potential. They also create an environment where every person can be their authentic self, which helps individuals and ultimately companies (STEM-related and otherwise) perform better.
Our nation has come a long way in bringing more diversity into STEM fields, but we still have further to go on this journey. Sometimes that means we need to look to our past for guidance and inspiration.
Today at Fisk University—an HBCU in Nashville, TN—students walking around campus may pass by Talley-Brady Hall—a recognition of the contributions of St. Elmo Brady and fellow chemistry professor Thomas Talley. Throughout U.S. history and into the modern day, you will find similar stories of Black visionaries in chemistry, engineering, medicine, mathematics, and other STEM fields. They changed the world through their innovative work and their struggle to break down barriers for those who followed. During this Black History Month and beyond, we can honor these pioneers by continuing their work to inspire a more diverse and inclusive future for the next generation of leaders, innovators, and problem-solvers.
Mark Newman is the President and CEO of The Chemours Company. In 2022, Mr. Newman was named one of Savoy Magazine’s Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America.
The Chemours Company (NYSE: CC) is a global leader in Titanium Technologies, Thermal & Specialized Solutions, and Advanced Performance Materials providing its customers
with solutions in a wide range of industries with market-defining products, application expertise and chemistry-based innovations. We deliver customized solutions with a wide range of industrial and specialty chemicals products for markets, including coatings, plastics, refrigeration and air conditioning, transportation, semiconductor and consumer electronics, general industrial, and oil and gas. Our flagship products are sold under prominent brands such as Ti-Pure™, Opteon™, Freon™, Teflon™, Viton™, Nafion™, and Krytox™. The company has approximately 6,600 employees and 29 manufacturing sites serving approximately 2,900 customers in approximately 120 countries. Chemours is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware and is listed on the NYSE under the symbol CC.
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