Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation

I became a chartered engineer for the same reason I became a politician twenty years later – to make the world work better for everyone. The American physicist Dr Michio Kaku calls science “the engine of prosperity” and – along with politics – I consider it to be the principal driver of human progress.

It’s because of this that I want to make sure everyone in the UK has the opportunity and skills to question, influence, and benefit from Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). I'm delighted to announce that I am working with the British Science Association to achieve this, by establishing the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM. We believe that now is the perfect time to establish the group, and hope to catalyse real change.

The UK’s STEM sector is far from representative, with huge swathes of the population put off or excluded from STEM study and careers. We have the smallest proportion of female engineers in Europe at under 10%, BME men are 28% less likely to find STEM work than white men, and disabled STEM students are 57% less likely to go into postgraduate study than non-disabled students. All these imbalances hamper our STEM sector, stifling innovation and excluding valuable STEM talent.

Parliament is a place in which some of society's biggest debates and reformations take place, and the debates we choose to have here can lend weight and prestige to important issues. Last month, an important and historic step was made: the first ever statue of a woman was erected in Parliament Square. The bronze casting of Suffragist Millicent Fawcett was revealed, where she will forever rub her shoulders with figures such as Winston Churchill. Prime Minister Theresa May honoured Fawcett’s impact in front of a large and – crucially – diverse crowd, reflecting the underlying societal shift that's taken place over the past 150 years to lead to this day.

Millicent Fawcett statue reveal in Parliament Square, April 2018

APPGs exemplify this collective spirit by bringing together Parliamentarians, businesses and experts to push ideas and policies forward. In partnership with the British Science Association, I will be using the APPG to put diversity and inclusion in STEM high on the agenda, to move the sector in the right direction. This means all kinds of diversity – not just gender, but also race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status and age.

Our first meeting will look at the UK’s education system and how it gives us the skills to take part in STEM. All major parties are pushing for greater emphasis on STEM, so now is our chance to make sure that the “future Britain” they speak of is genuinely fit for purpose. As part of the meeting we'll explore inequities across the regions, the needs of students with disabilities, and social mobility, plus other diversity issues. We will drive the discussion around if, and how, these are included in the Government’s education plans. We hope that by creating a comprehensive narrative inside Parliament, we’ll galvanise support from Lords and MPs for action that can help solve the problem of diversity in STEM.

We believe that science is a key part of the process in tackling the country's most intractable challenges to shape our future for the better. We also believe this can only be done properly by unlocking the potential of a truly diverse group of people.

We're still in the early stages, but we've so far had invaluable help from our knowledgeable and passionate advisory group of experts from the STEM diversity sector. I'd also like to extend gratitude to our esteemed band of sponsors – Genomics England, the Institute for Physics and Engineering in Medicine, Pearson, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Society for Applied Microbiology, University College London, and the Wellcome Trust – without whom, we'd have never got off the ground.

Together, we will be working over the next few years to champion the message that science is not just for scientists. We want to transform the diversity and inclusivity of it, opening science up for more people to access, identify with, and enjoy. You never know, you may soon be seeing statues of Stephen Hawking and Ada Lovelace standing proudly next to that of Millicent Fawcett.

Join us at the first meeting on 26 May by registering here: 

Chi Onwurah at the Huxley Summit 2017

Image source: wikicommons