How Employers Can Work with Tribal Schools to Increase Diversity in STEM




There are 32 fully accredited tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in the US with over 30,000 part and full-time students. TCUs support students in the most remote and poorest areas of the country. There are 183 tribal K-12 schools in 23 states. According to the National Science Foundation, these schools - along with non-tribal colleges and universities - produce a total of about 4,000 STEM undergraduate and graduate students per year.

Despite the high demand for STEM hires, corporate recruiting looks to spend on high-leverage recruiting events. While the numbers above may not seem to be high-leverage bonanza, a better understanding of this community can illuminate tremendous opportunities to hire world class talent from the collective of the first inhabitants of North America. Hiring these diverse thinkers requires a new approach.

Tribes are matriarchal in nature. Clanships are inherited from the maternal side of the family. They are also community-based, and top priority of tribal members is community health and well-being. This innate disposition translates, in the modern workplace, to great team members that intrinsically understand the value of a cohesive team and actively work toward building community as a way of finding the common in the diverse. It also means a higher percentage of female STEM majors.

Hiring from these communities is a relationship-based arrangement built on trust. It is why college coaches go to the homes and sit with the family. Recruiting and retaining tribal STEM employees requires HR professionals to think differently – to go beyond the numbers, and to get to know both the “hardware” and the “software” of each STEM candidate.

Wouldn’t it be great if all next generation STEM talent was in the same place, so hiring could be a high-leverage activity? Most colleges and universities have student tribal groups. Most universities and colleges have student groups that support tribal students, even the Ivy Leagues. Additionally, the not-for-profit American Science and Engineering Society ( has been supporting STEM students and professionals for the last four decades.

HR professionals know that hiring diverse talent has a big payoff and requires a creative approach. Tribal schools, along with organizations like AISES can offer access to a wealth of STEM talent.




SHRM Recruiting Native Americans for STEM careers

Bureau of Indian Education


Learn more at the 2017 SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference & Exposition.



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