Whilst focusing on increasing women’s representation in STEM isn’t a bad thing, far too often the conversation around workplace diversity and inclusion is limited to just gender equality.
It was a privilege to be named as the Diversity in Engineering Award winners at the Enguinity Skills Awards in March.
We have always been proud to make the case for a radical change in recruitment and working practise to encourage women back into or to transfer to STEM.
Only one in ten engineering roles in the UK are currently occupied by a woman despite them making up more than half of the working UK’s population. It is quite right that gender underrepresentation and pay disparity are some of the most prominent issues in the D&I (diversity & inclusion) conversation.
But is the focus on gender diversity side-lining those from other diverse backgrounds?
The UK is woefully behind when it comes to racial diversity in STEM. A 2016 study by the Royal Academy of Engineering found that despite 26% of UK Engineering graduates coming from an ethnically diverse background, they only make up 6% of full-time employed engineers.
It’s important not to limit the discussion to ethnic diversity also. Other groups face their own unique barriers when forging a carrier in science, technology and engineering.
LGBTQ people are approximately 20 per cent less represented in STEM fields than expected, and male LGBTQ undergraduates are much less likely to stay in STEM degrees than straight men whilst the STEM industries have 75% fewer people with disabilities, all of these underrepresented groups must be present in the conversation.
It is morally right to ensure STEM is truly representative of society at large. We need young people from a wide variety of backgrounds and genders to want to become engineers, scientists and tech professionals. Our need is urgent, Covid-19 has caused unemployment to rise rapidly, something that is only going to exacerbate the STEM Skills gap currently costing UK businesses billions.
The sound business case for an ethnically diverse workforce
McKinsey & Co’s 2019 report titled ‘Diversity Wins’ underlines the businesses benefits from recruiting and accommodating ethnically diverse candidates. It shows that by not just fulfilling generic diversity quotas, but actively increasing ethnically diverse professionals in executive teams, the business and its clients benefits as well as society as a whole.
In McKinsey’s 2015 ‘Why Diversity Matters’ report, they found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
It isn’t just about attracting ethnically diverse STEM professionals though.
The focus must be on creating an inclusive environment for underrepresented groups to bed into following diversity programmes. Creating this inclusive environment from the top down is the key to encouraging the next generation of ethnically diverse STEM professionals to continue into the STEM workforce.
This summer, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) will report their findings into the diversity and representation of the STEM (including health) workforce as it stood in 2019.
In a previous inquiry into STEM Education by the APPG, they outlined “The need for a more joined-up approach by Government to tackle the causes of inequality beyond the lens of gender, economic disadvantage or ethnicity in STEM education.”
Embracing an inclusive environment for STEM, therefore, requires a complete overhaul in attitudes.
There is no other explanation as to the lack of ethnic diversity in STEM education and the UK workforce as a whole, than a set of systematic barriers. Whether these barriers are consciously or unconsciously biased against diverse candidates is immaterial, the fact is that they deny these underrepresented groups a place in STEM.