Diversity in STEM means both views and people, says Karen Folkes.
The issue of diversity in the world of STEM has been a theme for Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) over recent months.
Engineering for all
The practical need – as well as the moral imperative – to ensure we break down the barriers for all those with a potential STEM career ahead of them was highlighted by Vince Cable in a speech at two meetings in February: the Engineering Employers Federation, and a Government Manufacturing Summit near Coventry. At this event, the Science & Society team ran a session for employers on ‘Making the Most of Our Talents’ with a particular emphasis on engineering.
The Royal Academy of Engineering ran ‘Designed to Inspire’, a series of workshops aimed at increasing black and ethnic minority participation in engineering. We were pleased to have BIS Ministers David Willetts and Jo Swinson both attending this event.
Nicely timed to coincide with National Science & Engineering Week, the Science Museum’s British Innovation poll was another good example of how to bring science and society together. A public vote on what people thought was the most important innovation of the last 100 years and the recent one most likely to shape our future, it attracted over 90,000 unique visitors and polled over 50,000 votes for favourite British innovations.
To the exam question, ‘To what extent should our personal views and preferences affect what we consider great science?’ I have no ready answer except to say I was intrigued to see what was heading the innovation field only days before the final result – The Mini and The Mallard – until a late surge by the Universal Machine sealed the win. I wonder if I’m missing the point of the exercise though. Was it more about generating interest and a diversity of views rather than just ‘winners’ and ‘losers’?
This is perhaps also true when a single issue of scientific and ethical importance is presented to the public and they are asked to exercise their judgement. It is the diversity of views, not necessarily consensus, that benefit policy makers.
On 28 March the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)  published the results of a consultation and public dialogue (carried out in partnership with Sciencewise) on the acceptability of new mitochondria replacement techniques to prevent the transmission of potentially fatal mitochondrial disease from affected mothers to their children.
The results showed broad public support for the use of these techniques in clinical treatment, but subject to strict controls. Science Minister David Willetts said, ‘This is an important example of public consultation on this issue.’ The HFEA has recommended that the Department of Health move towards introducing the necessary regulations; the government is considering its response.
I thought an interesting feature of Great British Innovation was the use of Audioboo to sing the praises of each innovation. Our own digital team are keen fans of the medium’s ability to capture the feel of events. They have recently introduced a new BIS Science and Innovation podcast series to enable those in the Department to talk directly with the public about what they do. Have a listen  and let us know what you would like to hear more about.
Science & Society Review
At the bottom of this article but at the top of my list ‘going forward’ is the Science & Society Review. There’s not room here to bring you up to date on all that we’ve been doing, but you can find out on the S&S microsite  which we’ll continue to keep updated with progress.
Image caption: Diversity in STEM is an interest of BIS minsters. Women and Equalities Minister, Jo Swinson MP (centre) with students in the ‘Women in STEM’ debate held at the Big Bang Fair and with Young of the Engineer winner (2012) Jessica Jones (second from right)