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Over the past 15 years, I have been fortunate to work at the intersection of science, technology and scholarly publishing. On a daily basis, I engage with some of the world’s leading thinkers, researchers, technologists and shape, as well as communicate about, products that support the research cycle. The landscape has changed over the past 15 years; companies are making progress on issues of diversity, mainly from the perspective of gender inclusion. While that progress is welcome and necessary, we need to broaden our understanding of inclusion more consistently to include ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation and we need to start much, much earlier in helping young boys and girls of any ethnicity or ability to understand that STEM-related professions can be their future. I believe we need to start with the movies, stories and games that children consume – and that adults encourage on their behalf – to inspire and fuel the in-built creativity, passion for exploration and natural inclination to invent and imagine.

Recent research featured in Harvard Business Review highlighted in a data driven way what many of us who seek to develop inclusive and diverse teams have an intuitive sense for – that there are real top line and bottom line benefits to inclusion and diversity in teams. Within STEM and technology sectors, the ability to nurture inclusive and diverse workforces is, in part, limited by the number of people leaving universities with suitable engineering or technical backgrounds. This doesn’t discount the environments that the firms themselves create from hiring practices to general work environments, progression opportunities and so on. The reason all this matters is that recent reports suggest that STEM is one of the fastest growing sectors in the US economy. Companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and others are looking for talent.

The talent pools simply aren’t diverse enough. According to the Pew Center for Research,

“Women remain strongly underrepresented, notably in computer jobs and engineering…Black and Hispanic workers continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Blacks make up 11% of the U.S. workforce overall but represent 9% of STEM workers, while Hispanics comprise 16% of the U.S. workforce but only 7% of all STEM workers…however growth of employment in STEM has markedly outpaced the growth of overall employment.”

With this data, we can see that recruiters from large technology or STEM-related businesses are faced with a talent pool skewed largely to white males. While there is a lot more firms can and should be doing to develop and retain talent from a wide range of backgrounds, the recruitment pipeline is a real challenge.

To address the recruitment pipeline, we need to look at what is happening during key education years. For example, in the secondary school space we see some fantastic work being done through organizations like the Stemettes to build a bigger pipeline of talent to supply dynamic STEM-related companies. These organizations focus mainly on programs for children aged 10+ in order to familiarize students with STEM and to encourage them to get exposure to engineering and related fields. These are important initiatives that absolutely should be supported and scaled. It can only be a good that these initiatives are raising awareness about future study or career choices.

All that said, I believe we need to start socializing children to the sciences as an attractive field of study and STEM as a potential future career choice much, much earlier. The programs focused on STEM issues and exposure to the world of work from middle school and high school are critical, but they’re not sufficient. From my perspective, we need to shape the mental models that children have of the scientific world and its associated exciting opportunities from when they are very young. One way to address younger audiences is to look at the books that they read, the movies that they watch and, the games that they play.

Already at the age of 3, children begin to form views of who they are and start to attach labels to themselves. My nieces and nephews, my daughter and their friends are already forming mental models of the world that say “girls can do these jobs and not those.” These labels cut across perspectives on gender, physical ability, race and other important attributes. At their core though, children are avid investigators. They are eager to explore and invent. For them, everything is still possible until they receive feedback or guidance that “this is not for you” or, importantly, until they struggle to find role models who are like them.

This is why I’m passionate about how we shape the messages that children receive about STEM starting from a very young age and through media such as books, movies and games. I decided to focus on games when I founded The Remarkablz – an educational games company. We play a lot of board and card games at our house and we noticed many of the stereotypes that we are starting to see be addressed in books (e.g., Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls) and shows (e.g. Doc McStuffins) still have room for improvement in the games that we play.

The idea for The Remarkablz is very simple – take real-life scientists, engineers and inventors, turn them into superheroes and enable children to have fun learning about these incredible people and their achievements. We aspire to make STEM more accessible to young people, to enable them to see role models who look like them and who have achieved amazing things. As I was researching the superheroes team for our first game, Top Quarkz, I was humbled by the discoveries and contributions of so many different people from a wide range of disciplines from around the world. It was this very attribute – the diversity of both the people and their contributions – that I wanted the game and the brand to reflect in the hopes that children would see someone to whom they could relate.

At the heart of both of the products I have developed – The Remarkablz and Nomadict (an app that enables people to discover and rate accessible venues) – is the belief that people from a wide range of backgrounds should have the ability to explore and engage with the world around them. So the next time you’re reading a book, watching a movie or playing a card game with someone young or old, consider how we can encourage more high quality, diverse role models to inspire the next generation of science superheroes.