HR · 2 February 2022

Diversity in STEM – How the STEM Sector Can Be More Inclusive

diversity in stem

Introduction

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) state that diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) will drive future innovation. With a growing world population, and increasing environmental demands and challenges, future innovation is imperative, not just to maintain our existing lives, but perhaps even to human life as a whole.

Innovations resulting from STEM fields have positively touched nearly every aspect of human life. Scientific innovations however do not arise on their own, each occur through the hard work and ingenuity of scientists collaborating.

What is Diversity?

Diversity is the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc. An individual alone cannot be diverse. Diversity in science refers to attracting and cultivating talent with a full inclusion of excellence across the social spectrum – including those both traditionally represented, and traditionally underrepresented.

The STEM sector has faced challenges in the uptake of diversity, with STEM subjects often heavily male dominated. In the U.K, the latest UCAS statistics show that the percentage of female students studying engineering and technology was just 19% of all students.

In 2012 I undertook a Civil Engineering degree at the University of Nottingham, and these statistics sadly seem comparable with what I experienced.

The Impact of a Lack of Diversity

A more diverse team is more likely to outperform a more homogenous team, with diversity critical to excellence. A lack of diversity represents a loss of talent. There is no evidence that the ability to develop into a scientist differs across our socially constructed lines of identity. Thus, the large and persistent underrepresentation of certain social groups represents the loss of talent.

A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean. Those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean. In a global analysis of 2,400 companies by Credit Suisse, organisations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.

Diversity in STEM

Diversity in STEM is now seen as so important that in November 2021, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee launched a new inquiry ‘Diversity in STEM’ to investigate the extent of underrepresentation amongst those working in STEM, and ask what policies the Government, industry and academia could use to address it.

In November 2020 UKRI (UK research and innovation) Chief Executive Dame Ottoline Leyser emphasised the importance of diversity in research and innovation, stating that people with ‘different ideas and different backgrounds’ needed to come together to make ‘extraordinary things happen’.

We know there is a skills shortage within STEM. The Royal Academy of Engineering has estimated that UK engineering employers need to recruit 182,000 engineers annually to keep up with demand and suggested that firms need to double their recruitment of graduates and apprentices to meet the shortfall. Without promoting diversity, the UK (and world) is missing out on key talent.


 
TAGS:

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Crowther is an award-winning Civil Engineer and Chartered Water & Environmental Manager, recognised by Forbes Magazine in their top ‘30 Under 30’ Europe list for his work in the industry.

Supply chain