Representative democracy — a type of government founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people. It is the kind of government the United States has, or at least is supposed to.
It is no great secret that the of middle-aged Christian white men that dominate congress are anything but reflective of the American melting pot, but that is changing, slowly. According to the news organization The Hill, “[the] 115th Congress will be the most racially diverse in history,” with 102 of the 535 members of Congress being minorities. In terms of gender, 104 members are women, four of whom are women of color.
While we push for diversity in terms of race and gender, a category that is often overlooked is occupation. The top three professions that dominate Congress are business, law and public office, which together comprise around 70 percent of total seats. The number of engineers and scientists pales in comparison, sitting at less than one percent of congress.
With the huge push towards STEM fields in the recent years, why don’t more people in those professions partake in one of the most influential aspects in the development of a nation?
I believe one of the reasons for this is because government does not move at the same speed as the technology industry and therefore does not easily lend itself to being a track that STEM professionals can venture towards without essentially saying goodbye to working in the industry.
Because of the rapid rate at which science and technology progresses, it is difficult to re-enter the field. This is not the same case for the professions that dominate in congress. Working in government provides an edge for business people and lawyers and helps them significantly should they choose to go back to their professions after serving in government.
Additionally, while technological advancements have concrete and long-term impact on a society, the way they are built toward is through many short-term projects — think agile development. This approach to building technology is based on short-term deliverables that are constantly and consistently improved upon. Government does not work the same way. With so much overhead, making progress in government is a slow and encumbering process for a number of reasons. But I believe that if more engineers took part in the political process, things could get done more efficiently. However, we run the very real risk of entering a vicious cycle if people who can help make government more efficient are turned away from it due to its inefficiency.
To attract more people in STEM fields to enter politics, institutions of higher education must introduce students to the possibility of a career in politics highlighting the overlap between scientific and technological advancements and policies. Yes, policymakers can have STEM professionals as advisors, however it is not the same as having a lawmaker proficient in the subject. Not to mention, policymakers are under no obligation to heed the advice of their advisors.
The importance of diverse groups has been discussed ad nauseum and the argument does not change when it comes to STEM professionals taking part in the lawmaking process. Where race and gender contribute to diverse thinking based on personal experiences diversity in profession is carefully and meticulously shaped through rigorous training on how to approach and solve problems through formal education.
Having people who are logical and whose careers are largely dependent on producing effective results should be a sought out to take part in government. If STEM professionals and those proficient in the art of policy making worked together, our government would thrive.