A poll conducted by FTI Consulting asked policymakers, investors, and the general public how they felt about CEOs becoming involved with public policy. For the most part, people were skeptical about the influence that CEOs should have on national policy discussion with less than 40 percent of both policymakers and the general public supporting their involvement. This is understandable: people want policy decisions to be made based on the merits of a particular position and not on whether it can benefit a certain company's bottom line.
Because of this, business leaders oftentimes have been left out of the STEM education policy discussion. However, when the question was phrased in the context of STEM education, opinions shifted. As long as the CEO headed a company that was related to one of the STEM fields, over 60 percent were interested in what they had to say about STEM education and 70 percent were interested in their job creation advice. These numbers clearly show that the general public, policymakers, and opinion elites all find value in what CEOs have to say about STEM education. Why is this, though?
First, CEOs are in a unique position to understand the needs of the modern marketplace. They know what sorts of fields are being unlocked every day in their industries, and they understand what sorts of employees they will need to fill these positions in the future. CEOs have a vested interest in ensuring that every new generation of workers is adequately prepared to take on the needed roles in the companies of both the present and the future. They can further assess current deficiencies held by those in the job market, and they can help policymakers and parents in shifting student-learning patterns to make sure that students are competitive in the future. No one is better informed about the job market than the people doing the hiring, and their knowledge can help make sure that every student's STEM learning is targeted for the greatest amount of success.
Further, the demographic makeup of CEOs is shifting all the time. With more women and racial minorities rising to the top of the business world than ever before, these leaders may have valuable insights into how to empower groups traditionally left behind in STEM learning. For instance, though progress has been made, Hispanic and African American students take longer to earn doctoral degrees, and women still lag behind men in a number of STEM fields. CEOs can serve as role models to these students by showing students that people who look just like themselves have succeeded and excelled in a field that the students may think is closed to someone like themselves.
Lastly, getting important businesspeople involved in the STEM education discussion keeps this issue in the spotlight. CEOs have the potential to expand their help with STEM education into a deeper involvement. This may be in getting their company involved in providing grants, creating partnerships with local education efforts, or by personally providing mentoring to promising students in the STEM fields. No one can say where the benefits of their involvement will ultimately lead, but getting CEOs involved in policy discussions is a first step that not only provides the discussion with their vaunted expertise in the field but also unlocks the potential for effective and vital partnerships for years to come.
Obviously, no one is suggesting that CEOs should take the place of teachers, parents, and education experts in the STEM education debate. However, they could prove to be valuable partners in the conversation, and their knowledge should be used whenever appropriate. By providing industry expertise, leadership, and partnerships in STEM education, CEOs can use the support that they have from the policymakers and the public at-large to have a positive influence on STEM education in the United States.