Learning To Navigate Institutional Markets For Next Generation

Young people today are thinking about their futures earlier than ever before. Gone are the days of, “I’ll figure out my major before I graduate.” Instead, these are the days of lemonade stands that turn into business plans, seed money, and a resulting entrepreneurial journey.

In many respects, branding comes early on the journey of the very young, also known as Generation Alpha. According to an N.C. State article, Generation Alpha’s habits and outlooks reflect that of their Millennial parents. “As health-conscious caretakers, Millennial parents seek out a lot of information about the products they buy and expose their kids to,” says author Heather Dretsch. Like their parents, Alpha’s appear to seek high-quality, health-conscious, sustainable products with technology, diversity, and immediacy at the forefront.

The youth of today has been marketed through social media, television, apps, games, and other media outlets. But, according to Common Sense Media, advertisers are keenly aware of the long-term effects of getting their brand in front of youth as early as possible. “Advertisers know that kids greatly influence their parents’ buying decisions, to the tune of $500 billion per year,” cites Common Sense on advertising for kids.

However, in some industries, such as beauty products, advertisers tend to position their marketing from already established models that cater to adults more than young people. As a result, mature messaging is portrayed to a younger audience attempting to develop their identity and explore their emotional space in the world.

Samantha Cutler, the founder of Petite ‘n Pretty, harnessed 17 years of experience in product development in the professional make-up industry with such brands as Smashbox, MAC Cosmetics, and others to launch an age-appropriate product line for younger girls just learning to explore their personal development and sense of self.

Cutler recognized that if beauty products were already being marketed to a younger age bracket, she might as well offer a healthy, age-appropriate product that educates through inspiration, empowerment, equity, and inclusion.

While working at name brands, many friends and acquaintances would ask her if she could recommend products, and she realized how many products did not align with younger kids.

“I never had an answer, the products weren’t age-appropriate. Many of the products had suggestive naming conventions, or the colors were extremely pigmented, something many parents would not feel comfortable giving their daughter or son,” says Cutler.

Product integrity is essential to Cutler, and some marketed merchandise did not represent clean beauty. In addition, some were produced overseas without proper testing that would appeal to parents wanting the safest products for their children.

As a mother herself, she knew there was a need. “I felt like there was this whitespace of opportunity in beauty, educating about beauty, and I always wanted to start a brand. But the beauty marketplace is saturated with 300 times the number of brands launching yearly than when I first started working. So I wanted to ensure there was a purpose behind what I did.”

Niche Market

Cutler concentrates mainly on the niche market from ages 7 to 12. While cutesy in nature, the company’s naming is steeped in feedback from the associations of younger kids and application principles. “I raddled off names to my three-year-old daughter and when the word ‘pretty’ came up, she instantly knew what it meant. There was a familiarity, and ‘pretty’ is a feeling that comes from within, a good feeling. Petite represents everything we produce. Everything is slightly smaller and gives a first user the best initial experience.”

At the core, Cutler is trying to bring confidence and comfort to kids by starting what she calls ‘the beauty journey’ and building within the offerings. “What I like to say is if your daughter or son is going to ride a bike for the first time, you’re not going to give them a mountain bike,” she says. “Everyone begins the journey at a different age, and we are here to support them and be their friend, knowing there are no mistakes along the way.”

Education Zoom Camps

During the pandemic, Cutler found the use of Zoom camps a tremendous educational and informative tool. “The camps were a great revenue driver for us and brand building experience. These kids were so bored and stuck at home, and ultimately it was an opportunity for us to create a fun brand-building experience with dynamic, engaging, creative activities.

Influencers

Cutler’s ability to team up with influencers such as Piper Rockelle, with almost 10 million subscribers on YouTube, is part of the process of bringing people from other worlds together. Cutler has noticed that some influencers’ numbers skyrocket after the collaborative process. “There’s a fascinating dynamic with influencers, actresses, and dancers, and we bring them together for photo shoots. As a result, different audiences come together, and everyone begins to follow and learn from one another socially.”

Competition

Many brands try to go after the younger consumer. Still, Cutler recognizes that many brands are not directly integrating them into marketing or bringing them together for learning workshops or photo opportunities. “They know there’s an audience and a consumer that sits on TikTok all day, or Instagram, but they are not necessarily hiring a 12-year-old for a photoshoot. They’re trying to get the audience to engage with their brand but not directly.” It’s a direct relationship that appears to set Cutler’s efforts apart from others.

Big Picture

With 30% to 40% growth rates last year, Petite ‘n Pretty is looking to scale at a 30% rate this upcoming year. Online sales on Amazon and others have been a success and Cutler is moving back into Ulta.com stores this coming year. The projection is to build the branding in stores in the U.S. with international efforts on the horizon.

Cutler’s approach is a more hands-on collaborative effort. An iterative educational process that learns about the younger generation while at the same time generating consumer behavior habits that are authentic to their consumer needs. Cutler recognizes that the younger generation isn’t necessarily and habitually brand loyal, but more driven by a loyalty found in authentic experiences that speaks to them and caters to the world they are forming.

Samantha Cutler found her entrepreneurial groove with her motherly instincts intact. Her thriving business illustrates the scale companies can grow if brands and proprietors maintain a sense of self along the way and educate themselves on the needs and understanding of the younger generation.

Even though cosmetics tend to be viewed as ‘outer’ oriented, Cutler is building a company of substance that stays true to the consumer base with the sensibility of market trends, sustainability, and safety.

I am an education and health care industry strategist having covered thought leadership and entrepreneurship for Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Scholastic and Huff Post.

Source: Learning To Navigate Institutional Markets For Next Generation

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Related contents:

Learning To Navigate Institutional Markets For Next Generation Forbes

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The CEO’s Role Is Changing. What It Takes To Get The Top Job Now

Recruiters, leadership experts and board directors say the path to the top job, and the skills needed to succeed in it, has changed.

The mission of a CEO used to be fairly straightforward. Set the vision and strategy of your company and make sure the right people are in the right roles. Be sensitive to the needs of employees, customers, suppliers and others in your orbit but make shareholders your top priority. Above all else, grow as fast and as big as you can.

But as the world has changed, so have the demands of the CEO job— and the skills needed to succeed in it. Between the pandemic and polarization, climate change and cancel culture, the role has evolved in ways that few would have imagined a few years ago. CEO contenders lack a clear grasp on how the jobs they’re pursuing will change while those at the helm can offer only limited guidance.

What many CEOs increasingly realize is that the change has to start from within. Dick Patton, who co-leads the global CEO practice for recruitment firm Egon Zehnder, detected a mood of deep reflection among the 972 global CEOs they surveyed in a study last year. Nearly 80% of CEO participants said they needed to transform themselves as well as their organizations, and be more adaptive and self-aware.

Part of what’s fueling a new mindset is the recognition that trust and transparency have become vital to business success. Stephen Miles, an executive coach and founder of the Miles Group, argues that the CEO has gone from being the leader who runs the company to the person who must also promote the company’s purpose, impact and credentials as an employer of choice. In short, they must defend the company’s license to operate.

That requires “more influence-building, team-building, people-related skills,” says Miles, not to mention the courage to initiate change on weak signals and be open about their own struggles to connect with people. Emotional intelligence becomes more critical as the demands for CEOs to engage in political hot-button topics mount.

“You have to anticipate whether someone will have the instincts and the intestinal fortitude,” says Jane Stevenson, a vice chair at Korn Ferry who leads its global CEO succession practice. “The expectation of CEOs to take a stand—and to know when to take the stand and when to be quiet—is huge. It’s always been about who the person is. Now it’s who the person is, squared.”

A Need For Bolder Boards

Boards are starting—slowly—to think more broadly about the skills and profile needed to succeed as a CEO in this environment. Experience in operating and running a business is still essential—but a wider range of resumes and roles is under consideration. Diversity candidates are in higher demand, as are traits such as agility, resilience and political judgment.

“Boards are bucking conventional wisdom a bit more,” says Tim Conti, managing partner of executive search firm ON Partners. “The best boards recognize a CEO is just one member of an executive team, and if complemented properly, can come from a lot of new backgrounds.”

That doesn’t mean directors are rushing to take risks. CEO turnover dropped during the pandemic, as many boards put a premium on stability and familiarity to get through the crisis. While CEO openings among Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies have picked up, most of those slots are filled through internal promotions, according to the latest Crist Kolder Volatility Report of America’s Leading Companies. Only 18.9% of new CEO hires through July were external candidates, versus 30.7% in 2019.

That could indicate more robust succession planning and leadership development—or a lack of imagination at a time when companies need it most. Jim Citrin, who leads Spencer Stuart’s CEO practice, argues that many boards are being too conservative at a time when they need the courage to make bold choices. “Some of the best-performing CEOs were not the obvious choices,” says Citrin.

“Boards basically define success as an internal promotion; failure as having to go outside. In this moment of change and dramatic stakes, all of us need to be creative and courageous.” While the usual route to the CEO’s office is through the president’s or COO’s job, that is not always the best path. A recent report from Spencer Stuart found that over the past 20 years, 85 percent of S&P 500 CEOs have come from one of four “last mile” roles: chief operating officer, a division-level CEO role, chief financial officer and “leapfrog” leaders who held executive jobs another rung or two from the top.

The most successful CEOs were those promoted from a few levels down; the least were CEOs who came from the CFO function. While the latter group knew how to turn a profit, the study found they weren’t as strong at driving top-line growth.

“Some of the best-performing CEOs were not the obvious choices … In this moment of change and dramatic stakes, all of us need to be creative and courageous.”

Jim Citrin, Spencer Stuart

The message is not to discount the value of leading the finance function but rather to supplement it with other responsibilities and C-suite roles. Bonnie Gwin, co-managing partner of the global CEO and board practice at Heidrick & Struggles, says there is demand “for CFOs who are strategic and have played really strategic thought partner roles with their CEO.”

There’s a growing appreciation for experience in other C-suite roles, too. A stint as a chief marketing officer or chief customer officer can be essential for running consumer-facing companies. The chief product officer is also gaining ground as a stepping stone to the CEO job, according to Mark Oppenheimer, CEO of Modern Executive Solutions, as it often “brings together sales, product, strategy and operational responsibilities.” Jeff Christian, who leads the search firm Christian & Timbers, agrees, adding that “product people are becoming the next generation CEOs.”

Perhaps the most common resume builder that indicates a CEO could be destined for the corner office is experience on a high-profile public board of directors. “Getting on some of these major boards is a very interesting corollary to someone getting CEO calls,” says Jana Rich, founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based Rich Talent Group. “You’re networked in a different way. You’re getting incredible exposure to people in the boardroom.”

A Premium—But Limited Progress—On Diversity

Whatever their background, one promising sign is that new CEOs are more likely to be women or people of color. Of the 682 CEOs tracked in the Crist Kolder report, 7.3% were women as of July 31 – up from 6.9% last year and 1.9% in 2010. Heidrick & Struggles took an even broader look at 1,095 CEOs in 24 countries and found women accounted for 13% of new CEOs during the first half of last year, about double from six months earlier.

Racial diversity is a slower climb, although Indian-born leaders continue to ascend to CEO roles, most recently at companies like Starbucks and FedEx. When it comes to the skills in demand for CEOs, some measures of potential remain constant. After studying data from thousands of CEO assessments, Elena Botelho, a partner at leadership advisory ghSMART, distilled the core behaviors for success to the acronym DARE – decisive, adaptable, reliable and engaging for impact.

While the framework is unchanged, Botelho says “adaptability became really paramount” amid the pandemic, which is less about the ability to spot a shift than to immediately respond to it. Resilience is critical. For current CEOs, the exhaustion of the last two years is real, despite it being a job where the median pay was a record-high $14.5 million last year for S&P 500 CEOs, according to an Equilar/Associated Press study.

The rinse-and-repeat series of crises and the dizzying rate of technological change is shifting how CEOs lead, how quickly they’re ready to pass the baton, and what their ambitions may be. While the current generation of CEO-ready leaders has arguably lived through more booms, busts and industry-shattering innovations than the people who came before them, many still feel unprepared. Faced with the prospect of added stress and scrutiny, some recruiters say a lot of candidates also want the job less and less.

They can earn millions through other C-suite roles without the constant scrutiny and stress. Still, for as long as there have been ambitious people, there have been people ambitious to lead. Increasingly, the brass ring is likely to go to those who are ambitious to learn. As Matthew Smith, an executive coach and former chief learning officer at McKinsey puts it: “Leaders who adapt and pivot with speed in the face of opportunities will outperform those who are over-reliant on the skills and habits that got them to the top.”

I am an assistant managing editor at Forbes, overseeing our editorial team that runs the C-suite communities, careers, ForbesWomen, 30 Under 30, and related coverage.

I am a Senior Editor at Forbes, leading our coverage of the workplace, careers and leadership issues. Before joining Forbes, I wrote for the Washington Post for more than a decade covering

Source: The CEO’s Role Is Changing. What It Takes To Get The Top Job Now

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Diet For a Hotter Climate: Five Plants That Could Help Feed The World

Over the course of human history, scientists believe that humans have cultivated more than 6,000 different plant species. But over time, farmers gravitated toward planting those with the largest yields. Today, just three crops – rice, wheat and corn – provide nearly half of the world’s calories.

That reliance on a small number of crops has made agriculture vulnerable to pests, plant-borne diseases and soil erosion, which thrive on monoculture – the practice of growing only one crop at a time. It has also meant losing out on the resilience other crops show in surviving drought and other natural disasters.

As the impacts of the climate crisis become starker, farmers across the world are rediscovering ancient crops and developing new hybrids that might prove more hardy in the face of drought or epidemics, while also offering important nutrients.

“You hear all the statistics like, ‘We’ve lost 90% of our varieties’. It’s only recently that I realized the greatest sadness isn’t that we’ve lost that diversity. It’s that we don’t even know that we’ve lost that diversity,” says Chris Smith, founder of the Utopian Seed Project.

Here’s a look at five crops, beyond rice, wheat and corn, that farmers across the world are now growing in hopes of feeding the planet as it warms:

Amaranth: the plant that survived colonization

From leaf to seed, the entirety of the amaranth plant is edible. Standing up to eight feet tall, amaranth stalks are topped off with red, orange or green seed-filled plumes. Across Africa and Asia, amaranth has long been eaten as a vegetable – whereas Indigenous Americans also ate the plant’s seed: a pseudocereal like buckwheat or quinoa.

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While amaranth leaves can be sautéed or cooked into a stir-fry, the seed is commonly toasted and then eaten with honey or milk. A complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, amaranth is a good source of vitamins and antioxidants.

In the Americas, Spanish colonizers banned the Aztecs and Maya from growing amaranth when they arrived on the continent. However, the plant continued to grow as a weed and many farmers saved amaranth seeds, passing them down for generations, until their descendants were allowed to grow it again.

Today, Indigenous farmers in Guatemala, Mexico and the US are collaborating to grow this drought-resistant crop. Like fonio, an African grain, amaranth is not a new crop, but one that is experiencing a resurgence as communities adapt to the climate crisis. “Everything that’s new was old once,” said Matthew Blair, a professor at Tennessee State University and co-president of the Amaranth Institute.

Amaranth has found its way into European kitchens, with Ukraine coming in as the crop’s largest producer on the continent.

Fonio: the drought-resistant traditional grain

For thousands of years, farmers across west Africa have cultivated fonio – a kind of millet that tastes like a slightly nuttier couscous or quinoa. Historically, fonio is considered to be Africa’s oldest cultivated cereal and was regarded by some as the food of chiefs and kings. In countries such as Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali, fonio would be served on holy days, like at weddings and during the month of Ramadan.

Today, attention is increasingly focused on fonio for its resilience and health benefits. As the climate continues to change, fonio’s drought resistance and ability to grow in poor soil has made it a standout crop in water-scarce regions. It also has important nutritional value as a low glycemic, gluten-free grain – making it a good source of amino acids for people with diabetes or gluten intolerance.

While Europeans once called fonio “hungry rice”, European companies are now manufacturing their own fonio. The Italian company Obà Food helped introduce fonio to the EU in December 2018. And in the US, the Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam sources fonio from the aid organization SOS Sahel for his brand Yolélé, also the name of his cookbook celebrating west African cuisine.

Cowpeas: the fully edible plant

In the 1940s, more than 5m acres of cowpeas were grown in the US – the majority, as their name suggests, for hay to feed livestock. But long before cowpeas – also called southern peas or black-eyed peas – came to the Americas, they were grown for human consumption in west Africa. Although cowpea production has declined in the US in recent decades, the crop is hugely important in much of Africa. Nigeria is the world’s largest cowpea producer.

As scientists look for alternative crops, Blair said it was important to identify ones where the entire plant is edible. Although historically people have mostly eaten cowpeas’ seeds, the leaves and pods are also a good source of protein.

Because cowpeas are highly drought tolerant, they’re also a good candidate as the climate changes. At Tennessee State University, Blair is part of a team studying the introduction of cowpeas to Latin America, as an alternative to beans, like pinto and black beans, with similar flavor profiles that may soon become more difficult to grow.

Taro: adapting the tropical crop for colder climes

In the tropics of south-east Asia and Polynesia, taro has long been grown as a root vegetable, not unlike the potato. But as rising temperatures threaten cultivation of the crop in its natural habitat, farmers in the continental US are trying to adapt the tropical perennial to grow as a temperate annual, because it cannot survive the cold of US winters.

At the Utopian Seed Project in North Carolina, founder Chris Smith and his team have been experimenting with tropical crops, looking for ways to help the plants survive the winter. Today, they’re growing eight varieties of taro, including ones sourced from Korea, the Philippines, Hawaii, China and Puerto Rico.

“We want to introduce taro because we truly believe that that will give us a more secure food system,” Smith says. “But the beautiful byproduct is that that also allows us to engage with foods that are traditionally from either Indigenous or peasant farming communities. And I think it really gives those traditionally underserved populations an opportunity to engage with the food system that they don’t usually get.”

Like fonio, amaranth and cowpeas, taro isn’t a new crop – it’s just new to the US food system. Which is why the Utopian Seed Project isn’t just learning how to grow taro, but also teaching people how to cook it. “These crops are just foods that are embedded in cultures around the world in a way that they’re not embedded here,” Smith said. “It takes work to build that community and desire for that crop.”

Kernza: the crop bred for the climate crisis

While many alternative crops are just plants that were grown somewhere else in the world generations ago, others have been cultivated specifically to withstand climate change.

In the 1980s, researchers at the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute identified a wheat-like grass called intermediate wheatgrass as a perennial cereal crop that could be developed as a substitute for annual grains like wheat. The goal was to minimize the environmental impacts of grain production.

In 2019, the Kansas-based Land Institute, a non-profit research organization focused on sustainable agriculture, introduced Kernza, a cereal crop developed from intermediate wheatgrass and trademarked to ensure farmers know they’ve bought seeds from the official breeding program. Although researchers are still working to improve the grain’s yield, farmers in Minnesota, Kansas and Montana are today growing nearly 4,000 acres of Kernza.

“Growers immediately understand the benefits of perennials on their landscapes,” said Tessa Peters, director of crop stewardship at the Land Institute, “and for those working in grain-producing areas, Kernza is very appealing.”

After two years of wrangling, false starts and disappointments, it finally happened: America has passed its first-ever climate legislation, moving the country closer to its goal of a decarbonized future and taking a significant step toward helping the planet avert the worst scenarios of climate catastrophe.

But it’s not a time to rest. We have always held power to account – on climate and  every other major issue – from the fossil fuel companies responsible for heating the planet to the politicians representing their interests. The country responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions in history has indicated it will change course; we will relentlessly report on what comes next, who will benefit and the remaining obstacles to progress.

With daily reporting and analysis on the climate emergency, we aim to ensure that even more people are made aware of the dangers – and opportunities – of this moment.

Source: Diet for a hotter climate: five plants that could help feed the world | Environment

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How Microsoft Makes Money: Computing and Cloud Services

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), one of the world’s biggest tech companies, sells personal computing devices, cloud systems and services, software, and other products.1 With products geared toward both consumers and businesses, Microsoft competes in a broad range of industries against companies including Apple Inc. (AAPL), Amazon.com Inc. (MZN), International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), and Oracle Corp. (ORCL).

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft sells computing devices, cloud systems and services, software, and other products to consumers and businesses.
  • The company’s intelligent cloud segment is the largest source of profit, as well as the fastest-growing.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has had positive impacts on certain aspects of Microsoft’s business, including its cloud business and productivity tools.
  • Microsoft announced in mid-January plans to acquire popular video game company Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion.

Microsoft’s Financials

Microsoft announced in late January financial results for Q2 of its 2022 fiscal year (FY), the three-month period ended Dec. 31, 2021. Net income rose 21.4% to $18.8 billion. Quarterly revenue expanded 20.1% year-over-year (YOY) to $51.7 billion. Microsoft uses operating income as its profit metric for gauging the performance of its individual business segments. Operating income for the quarter grew 24.3% YOY to $22.2 billion.

Revenue for the fiscal second quarter benefitted from strong growth in Microsoft Cloud and other cloud services.3 Microsoft also noted in its quarterly filings that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on its business operations and financial results, but that some of the effects have lessened. The company said that its commercial and consumer businesses have benefitted from demand for its cloud and productivity tools.

Microsoft’s Business Segments

Microsoft divides its business into three reportable segments, breaking out results by both revenue and operating income: productivity and business processes, intelligent cloud, and more personal computing. These segments are categorized according to both product type and customer demographic. Productivity and business processes, for instance, includes products across multiple platforms and devices relating to productivity and communication. And more personal computing focuses on products designed with end-users, developers, and IT professionals in mind.5

Productivity and business processes

Microsoft’s productivity and business processes segment includes a portfolio of products designed to enhance corporate productivity, communication, and information services. One of its major products is Microsoft’s Office software suite, including both the commercial and consumer divisions. The segment also includes business solutions products such as dynamics, as well as the professional networking site, LinkedIn.5

In Q2 FY 2022, productivity and business processes generated $15.9 billion in revenue, comprising 31% of Microsoft’s total revenue. This amounted to an increase of 19.3% from the year-ago quarter. Operating income for the segment grew 24.4% YOY to $7.7 billion in Q2 FY 2022, accounting for less than 35% of the total.6

Intelligent cloud

The intelligent cloud segment comprises all of Microsoft’s public, private, and hybrid server products as well as cloud services for business. These include Microsoft Azure, SQL Server, Windows Server, GitHub, Enterprise Services, and more.5

For Q2 FY 2022, Intelligent Cloud generated $18.3 billion in revenue, accounting for over 35% of total revenue. Up 25.5% compared to the year-ago quarter, Intelligent Cloud was the fastest-growing revenue segment in the company’s fiscal second quarter. It was also the fastest-growing segment in terms of operating income, which was up 26.3% YOY to $8.2 billion. Intelligent Cloud operating income accounts for just under 37% of Microsoft’s total operating income, making it the most profitable of the company’s three segments.6

More personal computing

Microsoft describes its more personal computing segment as consisting of products and services aimed at putting “customers at the center of the experience with our technology.” The Windows operating system, surface device, gaming products, and search and news advertising are all included in this segment.

In Q2 FY 2022, more personal computing generated $17.5 billion in revenue, comprising about 34% of total revenue. While revenue grew 15.5% YOY for the segment, operating income rose 21.8% YOY to $6.4 billion. More personal computing accounts for about 29% of the company’s total operating income.6

Microsoft’s Recent Developments

On Jan. 18, 2022, Microsoft announced a plan to acquire video game developer Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. The deal is expected to close in fiscal year 2023. According to Microsoft, the acquisition will make it the third-largest gaming company by revenue, behind only Tencent and Sony.7

How Microsoft Reports Diversity and Inclusiveness

As part of our effort to improve the awareness of the importance of diversity in companies, we offer investors a glimpse into the transparency of Microsoft and its commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and social responsibility. We examined the data Microsoft releases to show you how it reports the diversity of its board and workforce to help readers make educated purchasing and investing decisions.

By: Nathan Reiff

Source: How Microsoft Makes Money: Computing and Cloud Services

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How to Fix The Minority STEM Crisis

Boasting a stellar academic record, a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and an MBA, Carla landed a plum job at one of the nation’s leading computer and information technology companies. She was excited to join the tech world and contribute to the Texas-based company where she hoped to make her career.

Carla’s excitement didn’t last. A Black woman, she felt overlooked and excluded from opportunities to advance. She found herself fighting for her annual raise. “I honestly felt,” she said, “like it was because I was a woman. I had probably one other woman on my team at various times, and it just seemed like the men weren’t having the same problems we were having …

I felt like at some point they weren’t listening to me.” After being asked to clean out the office of a colleague who had left the firm, she came across one of his old pay stubs. She discovered that he’d been making four times her salary despite having just one more year of experience. She abandoned her dream of working in technology and now works as a human resources officer for a law firm.

Carla’s story is one of 25 qualitative interviews at the core of a new report, STEM Voices: The Experiences of Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Occupations, published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). (Subjects spoke to us on condition of anonymity.) Carla’s account—and others—echoes many of the themes discovered in an earlier AEI survey of STEM worker perspectives, which identified sharp differences in perception about workplace environment, support, and opportunities.

In that survey, conducted in 2020, white and Asian men saw the workplace as collaborative, open, and friendly and believed that women and minorities experienced their jobs in similar ways. Female and minority respondents said quite the opposite: They felt overlooked, not included as teammates, and cut off from the kind of coworker support their white and Asian male coworkers said they enjoyed. The survey data showed two almost entirely different worlds.

For STEM Voices, we tracked down 21 participants from the 2020 survey to paint a clearer picture of the people behind the survey data (interviews with a handful of other STEM professionals supplemented this research).

Our findings help explain why diversity remains elusive in STEM: Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives (DEI) can get workers to the foot of the ladder, but they don’t help them climb.

Despite myriad recruitment programs and initiatives to boost the number of women and minorities pursuing science and tech careers, women make up just 34 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the National Science Foundation. At the same time, Black and Hispanic Americans are underrepresented, especially among workers with a bachelor’s degree or more.To be clear, the problems for women and minorities in STEM start well before employment and even before graduation from post-secondary institutions.

One reason for these failures is a faulty “pipeline” of female and minority students into STEM. Blacks and Hispanics, for instance, are less likely to attend college, major in STEM, or complete a degree than whites. In 2017–19, Black and Hispanic students earned just 7 percent and 12 percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees, respectively, according to the Pew Research Center, though they collectively represent 31 percent of the U.S. population. But as Stem Voices reveals, the pipeline isn’t the only problem. Our interviews delved deeply into workers’ personal and career trajectories to understand their experiences and the challenges they faced on the job.

Over and over, female and minority workers recalled confronting barriers to success, including social isolation, lack of mentors, and outright discrimination. Though STEM careers might be among the most lucrative and in demand in today’s economy, many of the female and minority workers we interviewed did not believe that those opportunities were available to them.Many said they felt shut out from opportunities for advancement and lamented the lack of supervisors and mentors who looked like them.

As the computer instructor Michelle P. told us, “I never had a female manager. Ever.” A majority of women and workers of color interviewed also said they had experienced some sort of stereotyping, discrimination, or bias because of their race or gender. Out of 19 female and nonwhite interviewees, only two said they had never personally experienced discrimination or disparate treatment.

Many reported hurtful comments based on stereotypes about their intelligence or capabilities, which affected their morale, performance, and perceptions about their field. Others said they were passed over for promotions and other opportunities. John D., a Black computer programmer, said he overheard colleagues at his firm say they “had to overlook qualified white people to hire unqualified Black people.”

Tiffany C., an Asian doctoral student, said she was labeled as “difficult to work with” at the engineering design firm in Austin, Texas, where she worked before returning to graduate school. Carla A., the engineer, was told she needed “to smile more.” Another interviewee said one of her supervisors micromanaged her work but not those of lesser-qualified whites. “There is some sort of preconceived notion that Black people don’t do well in sciences,” J.S., who holds a doctorate in veterinary science and works for the federal government, said.

Many interviewees said they confronted unwelcoming office cultures and that they struggled to fit in. Women with children said balancing work and family obligations was a particular challenge, while other women said they kept to themselves to avoid sexual harassment. “One of the things … I kind of learned early on, too … was to really make clear that … I was happily married and not looking for anything,” said the IT instructor Michelle P. David B., a Black engineer, said he felt the need to seem unthreatening to white colleagues and bosses at the naval shipyard where he worked.

“I had to downplay the fact that I went to a good engineering school,” he told us. “As a matter of fact, I had to downplay that I even had an engineering degree, and I was going for a master’s degree.” Compounding these issues are the vastly different perceptions alluded to above, held by white workers in STEM. According to our July 2020 survey of STEM degree holders, more than 50 percent of women and nonwhite STEM workers said they believe that women and minorities encounter more obstacles in STEM than in other industries.

AEI’s 2020 survey also found, however, that many white workers don’t agree that their female and minority colleagues face difficulties in advancement, which perhaps presents the thorniest challenge to improving diversity in STEM. To these white workers, there is no problem to fix. Just 26 percent of whites in AEI’s previous survey, for instance, thought Black workers face more obstacles in STEM than in other fields compared to 51 percent of nonwhite workers.

While only 34 percent of men said women face more hurdles to advancement, 54 percent of women said they did. The white men we interviewed for STEM Voices also reflected these sentiments. “I didn’t see people, females, and the few minorities that were there held back,” said the retired chemist Jack H., who spent his career in the Army and is white. “If you have the ability and the drive, people will see that.” Moreover, some interviewees, such as the wildlife biologist Todd B., said they believed that concerns about racism and sexism are overblown.

“When you have a fire and you let the fire burn down to nothing but an ember, when you start blowing on that ember, it’s going to break out into a flame again,” he said. “My opinion is if we stopped focusing on all the racism … if we just let it die down, it would eventually go away.” This chasm in perceptions between white male workers on the one hand and their female and minority colleagues on the other means that STEM’s diversity crisis defies an easy fix. Culture, moreover, is notoriously difficult to change through policy.

This is something of a tautology: One of the best ways to solve the STEM diversity problem is simply to increase the number of women and minorities in the sector. To do that, we need complementary strategies that boost the numbers of women and minorities in the STEM pipeline and “stop-loss” efforts focused on retaining those already in the field who can strengthen diversity and inclusion efforts on the job and provide more mentors for those in the pipeline.

Historically black colleges and universities play a crucial role in building the pipeline. Many of the interviewees in STEM Voices, for instance, attended an HBCU, where they had mentors, felt challenged in their courses, and belonged to a community. These foundational experiences, interviewees said, instilled the confidence and self-reliance they’ve needed to survive in challenging work environments.

One obvious step, therefore, is to increase investment in HBCUs, which produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s Black STEM graduates. Nearly half of the Black women who earned degrees in STEM between 1995 and 2004 graduated from an HBCU. Although the American Rescue Plan granted HBCUs a historic $2.7 billion, this much-needed infusion didn’t reverse decades of chronic underfunding.

Another pipeline strategy is to dramatically increase the number of Black and Hispanic K–12 teachers in STEM. Just 6 percent of K–12 STEM teachers in 2012 were Black, and only 6 percent were Hispanic, according to research by Tuan Nguyen of Kansas State University and Christopher Redding of the University of Florida. Increasing the number of minority teachers in STEM would provide more minority students with the role models and mentors that many of our interviewees said were critical to their decision to major in STEM fields in college.

Expanding internships and early work experience would also allow minority students to develop mentors and professional networks for future guidance and support. The retention challenge is rooted more in culture than in formal education and is, therefore, harder to address. The answer is not, however, more “diversity training.” As Frank Dobbin of Harvard University and Alexandra Kalev of Tel Aviv University write, these efforts can backfire because “anti-bias messaging tends to provoke resistance in white men who feel unjustly accused of discrimination or worry that their employers’ commitment to equity threatens their careers.”

Most of the disadvantage women and minorities experience is subconscious and unintentional, rather than overtly racist or sexist. This accounts for the wildly different interpretations of working conditions and opportunities we discovered in the survey and STEM Voices. Everyone understands the awkwardness and discomfort of being outnumbered in a social setting. Alerting managers and employees to “go the extra mile” to ensure that women and minorities are integrated into day-to-day work will do much to break down barriers.

As Dobbin and Kalev suggest, managing diversity should not be “relegated” to women and workers of color but be part of every manager’s job description. Over time, structural investments and human resource efforts like these will produce the numbers of women and minority professionals necessary to shift the culture of STEM for the better. In the interim, those in positions of authority and advantage in the workplace need to redouble their efforts to build resilient workers who can succeed despite the odds against them.

Source: How to Fix The Minority STEM Crisis | Washington Monthly

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