Panel discussion - Monday 4 December 2023

The APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM held its Autumn meeting on 4 December 2023. Hosted by the Group’s Chair, Chi Onwurah MP, the meeting brought together our members, sponsors, and other stakeholders to discuss diversity and inclusion in the five critical technologies identified by the Government: AI, engineering biology, quantum technologies, semiconductors, and telecommunications. 

The meeting was opened by Hannah Russell, Chief Executive at the British Science Association, who presented an on overview of representation in the technology sector. We then heard from Emma Maynard, Skills Strategy Lead at the Department for Education, who talked about the Government’s work on talent and skills as part of the Science and Technology Framework. 

After the opening remarks, we held a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in critical technologies. The discussion was chaired by Kevin Coutinho, EDI lead Trustee at the British Science Association, and the panellists were:

  • Nimmi Patel, Head of Skills, Talent and Diversity at techUK,
  • Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Research at Business Disability Forum,
  • Dr Rashada Harry, Enterprise technologist at Amazon Web Services,
  • Cerian Ayres, National Head of Technical Education, Education and Training Foundation.

The following points were highlighted during the discussion.

An overview of representation in the technology sector

  • Technology roles employ roughly 1.6 million workers and are concentrated in London and the South East;
  • The sector has the lowest proportion of workers aged over 50 of the STEM sectors, with 23% of the workforce compared with a national average of 33%;
  • It has a lower proportion of female workers than the rest of the workforce, with 21% compared with a national average of 52%;
  • It has a lower proportion of disabled workers than the rest of the workforce, with 11% compared with a national average of 14%;
  • It has a higher proportion of racially minoritised workers than the rest of the labour market (16% compared to 12%). This is driven by an over-representation (relative to the rest of the workforce) of Indian workers in the part of STEM.

Government work on talent and skills as part of the Science and Technology Framework

The interplay between talent and skills is a crucial aspect of driving innovation and crafting superior products. However, the current STEM workforce composition falls short of reflecting the diversity of our society. Encouragingly, trends indicate a positive shift towards greater STEM participation among A-level students. Additionally, the number of women embarking on STEM apprenticeships has steadily increased year-over-year. Nonetheless, significant disparities persist within the various STEM disciplines.

Ensuring that every student has access to exceptional STEM teachers to inspire and equip young people is a priority for the Department of Education– there is a lot of investment to support STEM teacher recruitment and CPD. Investing in strengthening technical education routes, working with employers and education partners is another priority; alongside maintaining world class HE. The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology funded university partners to develop master's level courses in AI and cyber and provide scholarship funding – greater employer sponsorship will unlock more government funding here.

Government and industry need to continue working together to address the challenges and fostering a more inclusive STEM ecosystem. Initiatives such as the UKRI STEM Ambassadors network and Tomorrow's Engineering Code are playing a pivotal role in promoting STEM– thanks to the employers and ambassadors that support these programmes.

Unit for Future Skills is set to release a dashboard on STEM skills. It will be the first use of new data that bring together Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) data with data from the Longitudinal Education Outcomes study (LEO). It will show the pathways that current early-career employees in STEM occupations took, alongside wider supply and demand data.

Championing representation for equitable growth in the tech sector

Representation is a cornerstone of progress, particularly in fostering a diverse and inclusive technology ecosystem. The publication of the Science and Technology framework in March identified five key sectors within the tech industry, highlighting the government's commitment to nurturing a science superpower.

Amidst this pursuit of excellence, we face the crucial challenge of ensuring equitable growth for all. Inequality permeates various aspects of society, and our collective endeavours must strive to mitigate its effects.

Aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Ensuring access to technical and academic pathways for all, irrespective of background or location, is crucial to cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce.
  • Embracing devolution, sharing best practices within the UK, and adopting a global perspective on skills development and sustainability strategies are essential for comprehensive progress.
  • The SDG framework provides one lens for action. The SDGs are interdependent, and we can draw valuable lessons from international best practices to inform our own strategies. Tackling inequality alongside health and wellbeing is paramount to achieving equitable growth, with quality education serving as the foundation for this endeavour.

Changing attitudes in the technology sector

  • A shift in perception is taking place, acknowledging the significance of diversity and inclusion for innovation and good practice.
  • Understanding the repercussions of neglecting diversity and inclusion is essential, as it leads to talent loss and impedes progress.
  • Encouraging individuals to become inclusion ambassadors, fostering open and honest conversations, and integrating diversity and inclusion discussions at all levels, including boardroom discussions, are crucial steps forward.
  • Measuring the impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives and holding organisations accountable is key to ensuring meaningful progress.

Understanding the experiences of disabled people

  • A significant challenge identified is the high dropout rate of disabled students pursuing engineering degrees halfway through their programs. Investigating the underlying reasons for this phenomenon is crucial to address the barriers faced by disabled individuals in STEM careers.

Initiatives must focus on inclusion in the workplace

  • Tackling bias is key. Proximity bias, where individuals physically present in the office gain more opportunities for advancement, is a prevalent form of bias.
  • Sixty percent of women report feeling excluded from important team meetings, highlighting the importance of flexible and remote working arrangements.
  • The utilisation of AI in recruitment must be carefully considered, as AI systems reflect the biases of their creators and the society they operate within.
  • Leveraging AI for recruitment, as considered by two-thirds of business leaders, requires thoughtful implementation to avoid perpetuating existing biases.


Panel question: What are the challenges of developing the critical technologies into inclusive and diverse sectors? What groups might be the most impacted if this doesn’t happen (e.g. women, people with disabilities, rural communities, people over 50, returners)?

Prioritising teaching and training:

  • Nurturing a pipeline of skilled talent begins with investing in quality education, particularly in teacher training.
  • Equipping teachers across all critical technology domains with comprehensive knowledge and the ability to inspire students is essential. Seeking feedback from teachers and trainers on the framework for the five critical technologies is crucial.
  • By the time students reach further education (FE), it's often too late to remedy gaps in their understanding of critical technologies. Significant investment is required to address the shortage of science specialists in schools, where non-specialists often teach subjects like physics.

Involving in design and delivery:

  • Stemming the loss of tech talent requires a proactive approach that considers the inclusiveness of decision-making processes. Addressing the needs of individuals from all walks of life is essential to foster a truly inclusive and equitable tech ecosystem.
  • We must broaden our perspective to encompass the diverse individuals who will be impacted by technological advancements. Early engagement is paramount when considering the implications of AI and other critical technologies for diverse populations.

Sharing challenges and success stories:

  • Striking a balance between showcasing the challenges and celebrating the achievements of individuals from diverse backgrounds is essential to provide a comprehensive and realistic representation of lived experiences in STEM.
  • There are issues around inclusion and assistive technology. For example, there are instances of teenagers who have never had access to technology that enables communication in the classroom. In higher education, people are failing their PhD and degree engineering courses due to inaccessible work experience placements. In many cases this leads to exclusion from the sector. Integrating assistive technologies into apprenticeship programs and workplaces is paramount to ensuring equitable access and opportunities for disabled individuals pursuing STEM careers.
  • Providing tailored support to address the unique needs of individuals aspiring to study STEM is essential to foster their academic success and career progression.  Alongside this, recognising and celebrating the lived experiences of individuals who have excelled in STEM fields is crucial to inspire and empower others from diverse backgrounds to pursue similar paths. Exposing children to a wide range of career options is crucial to prevent them from limiting their choices based on proximity alone.

Supporting lifelong learning:

  • The tech workforce presents a wealth of untapped potential that can be harnessed through initiatives that support individuals returning to work, upskilling them in AI, quantum computing, and other emerging technologies.
  • Fostering a culture of openness to new learning experiences is crucial to enable individuals to adapt and thrive in an ever-evolving tech landscape.

Panel Question: What would help different technologies and sectors make progress on EDI? What role does industry/academia/government have to play and how can they work better together? Note – our APPG work suggests that industry are doing a lot, but would welcome more coordination from Government to drive progress.

Use supplier agreements to drive change

There is a concentration of large companies in the STEM space. Identifying the characteristics that distinguish a good supplier or partner from an unsuitable one, particularly those who do not align with our values, is crucial. Enhancing the capabilities of organisations that require support in this area is essential for fostering a more inclusive and equitable STEM ecosystem. This strategy has proven effective in promoting positive change and enhancing collaboration within the STEM sector.

Evaluate and share more effectively

Gathering and analysing comprehensive data while maintaining transparency is essential for fostering accountability and driving meaningful progress. Embracing learnings from both successes and failures is crucial for continuous improvement and achieving better outcomes. Adopting an agile approach to problem-solving and solution-oriented thinking is paramount to overcoming challenges and navigating the complexities of the STEM landscape.

Encourage openness and leadership

Openly discussing and addressing diversity and inclusion issues is vital for tech businesses to establish credibility and attract top talent. The fear of 'diversity washing' should not deter tech businesses from engaging in genuine efforts to promote equitable outcomes. A study revealed that 55% of Gen Z individuals would not consider applying for a company lacking a publicly stated D&I commitment and a net-zero strategy. While words hold significance, translating them into tangible actions is equally important to sustain progress and demonstrate genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Form collaborations across education and industry

Fostering collaboration among various educational sectors, including IoT, chambers of commerce, and employers, is essential to bridge the gap between education and industry needs. Employers often raise concerns about the disparate nature of education, emphasising the need for a unified educational sector voice. For instance, the recent BSA report highlighted that young people would have considered the nuclear sector if they had been exposed to its potential earlier.

Enhancing career visibility and providing clear pathways from education to employment is crucial to attract and retain talent in emerging STEM fields. Recent reports indicate that 80% of our 2030 workforce is already employed, emphasising the importance of upskilling and retraining initiatives to prepare them for future demands.