By Anissa Alifandi, Corporate Communications Manager

The inquiry and evidence session

In late 2021, the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee launched an inquiry into diversity in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to investigate the extent of underrepresentation across the industry, and what can be done to address it.

Experts from within the sector were invited to attend an oral evidence session on Wednesday 23 February. The session, occurring after 92 pieces of written evidence were submitted to the committee, aimed to further understand the experiences of marginalised groups such as women, certain ethnic minorities, disabled people and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds in the science sector.

Houses of Parliament in the UK

The BSA’s role

Central to the British Science Association’s (BSA) mission and vision is our commitment to improving equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the science and science engagement sectors. The BSA provide the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) in STEM, and EDI practices are embedded throughout our public programmes, grant schemes and policy influencing work.

After providing written evidence to the Committee, Katherine Mathieson, our chief executive, was invited as a witness to the inquiry at the Houses of Parliament.

View and listen to the session on Parliament TV

What we know

Investigating ‘Diversity in STEM’ is a huge undertaking as ‘STEM’ itself doesn’t just comprise science professionals and businesses, but education and culture too. The range and reach of the BSA’s programmes give us a unique perspective on different areas that interact with STEM:

  • The STEM sector makes up 18% of the UK’s total workforce. Despite this, it remains exclusionary for marginalised groups such as Black people, women, disabled people, and people from LGBTQ+ communities, and this exclusion is present from education and training all the way through to the workforce.

  • There is also a lack of diversity in the groups of people who feel engaged in science. The most recent Public Attitudes to Science survey (2019) found that women are twice as likely as men to feel disconnected from science (30% vs 14%).

    The BSA’s own research suggests that racially minoritised groups, people from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and people with lower levels of education are more likely to feel unconnected to science than White people, people from more privileged backgrounds, and those with higher levels of education.

  • The BSA’s Community Engagement programmes demonstrate that grassroots and community-led initiatives effectively reach minoritised groups with STEM activities. Since 2015, an estimated 77,000 people have taken part in activities funded through the British Science Week Community Grant scheme, for example.

  • In its 2020 report, the APPG on D&I in STEM found several barriers to equity in STEM education. It found that STEM teaching quality varies and that training and professional development is inconsistent; there is a lack of access to good careers education meaning that pupils are unaware of the breadth of STEM careers open to them; and that schools’ roles in GCSE option selection is leading to inequity, especially in the most disadvantaged areas where access to Double and Triple Award science varies greatly.

  • The APPG’s most recent inquiry into equity in the STEM workforce finds it is less diverse than the wider workforce, and that consistent data collection is lacking. The report recommends that the Government take a multi-pronged approach to drive equity in the STEM workforce. The inquiry also saw evidence that intersectional barriers persist from STEM education into the workforce.

What the BSA recommends

Commitment from Government and industry

As per the findings of the APPG inquiry on equity in the STEM workforce, what’s needed from the Government and wider industry is “a bold vision for a diverse and equitable STEM sector at the heart of their ambitions for the UK to become a ‘global science superpower’”. This may include ministerial accountability and increased collaboration between departments.

Two women in a factory environment talking

A system-wide solution to a system-wide problem

The ‘leaky pipeline’ analogy, which is used to depict people ‘dropping out’ of the STEM system, currently places the onus on people rather than the wider system. In addition, minoritised groups will experience barriers more acutely. Understanding why the system leads to people not feeling confident, comfortable or offers a sense of belonging in it, is key to tackling longstanding issues around inclusion and underrepresentation.

Focusing on intersectionality to paint a comprehensive picture of ‘diversity’

Across all settings, data collection is lacking an intersectional approach that focuses on the impact of multiple diversity characteristics on peoples’ lived experience of STEM. Also, data tends to report on single characteristics, which prevents us seeing a full demographic overview of a given population, such as the workforce.

Visibility and accountability, and a concerted Government approach

The introduction of a Workforce Information Bill, for instance, would expand pay gap reporting across all protected characteristics in the Equality Act (2010). Additionally, the Equality Act (2010) could be expanded to include characteristics like paternity, and should be updated to reflect current language around gender reassignment.

Many organisations use the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) data to help them benchmark, so if ONS were to reform which data they collect, and how they present it, it would make it easier for other organisations to follow suit. Finally, the system for considering EDI when awarding government contracts, known as Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) could be better enforced.

Taking the lead from underrepresented groups

The BSA believes that marginalised communities should drive their own involvement in science and this is the ethos underpinning a number of our programmes, including The Ideas Fund and British Science Week community grants. By providing flexible and responsive support to our network, those who know their audience best and understand their needs lead activities that serve their communities most effectively.

Though this approach is more costly, both resource-wise and financially, the outcome is invaluable. Nudging people into science and engineering jobs isn’t the only benefit to diversifying STEM. A society where people from all backgrounds are confident in participating in science on their own terms is extremely worthwhile.

We look forward to following the progress of this important inquiry.

Thank you to the Science & Technology Committee for inviting us to share our learnings and insights. For more information about the inquiry, visit

Find out more about the APPG on D&I in STEM

Explore our Community Engagement programmes