A lack of diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. Women and certain ethnic minorities are just some of the people who fail to have appropriate representation in these sectors. So, what can be done to resolve this imbalance? And what are the benefits of ensuring that STEM is a much more inclusive – and representative – career path?
The impact of STEM's lack of diversity
There is clear evidence that STEM is lacking diversity and equality. A 2021 report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM laid bare the inequitable state of affairs. Two-thirds (65%) of the current workforce are white men, with white women less likely to be STEM workers than ethnic minority women on a proportional basis.
In addition, the report shows that people with disabilities are most under-represented in STEM.
What is the potential impact of this ongoing lack of representation? To start, the problems and challenges that STEM can help us overcome are only seen through one demographic viewpoint. The failure to include other perspectives leaves us with solutions that work for some – but not all. And there is also evidence that more diverse teams can out-perform non-diverse ones.
STEM diversity: Why is it important?
If this is indeed the case, does it not underline the importance of diversity in STEM? We stand to gain in so many ways. First, it supports the pursuit of excellence when it comes to creating solutions to the most pressing real-world issues. Take climate change, for example. This is an issue that affects everyone – and, therefore, shouldn’t everyone be part of the response?
In addition, promoting greater diversity and inclusion within STEM sectors will ensure that we aren’t losing talented individuals. As stated in a 2014 Royal Society report, “a lack of diversity across the scientific community represents a potential loss of talent to the UK”. And by letting that talent escape to other industries, STEM misses out on the contributions they can make.
What practical measures can we take?
One place that we must start is in the classroom, says Dr Martha-Elizabeth Baylor – associate professor at Carleton College. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are a part of being a physicist, just as much as knowing about quantum mechanics or using an oscilloscope,” said Dr. Baylor. And this means placing inclusion at the heart of the curriculum, not as an ‘optional extra’.
School-based measures is one approach put forward as part of a UK government inquiry into increasing STEM diversity. And this could be so broad in its scope. It could mean starting the STEM pathway earlier in education. Or taking steps to remove unconscious bias. But this can stretch even further too – maintaining/offering financial support to under-represented people.
There is work to be done on increasing diversity in STEM – and a willingness for it to be done. But theory is one thing, practice is another. And the time for tangible action is long overdue.