By Katy Petherick, Chair of our Brighton and Hove Branch

Diversity in science, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) is a hot topic right now. There is huge pressure on the industry to increase representation of minority groups in STEM, and rightly so: only 12 per cent of those working in engineering occupations in the UK are women (Engineering UK 2018: The state of engineering), and BME men are 28% less likely to work in STEM than white men (Case Diversity in STEM report, 2014).

But we’re not all going to go into STEM-related work, so how do we make science a part of everyday life? Actually science already is a part of our everyday life; we take medicine developed by chemists, ride carefully engineered bikes and go for walks in conserved forests. So the real question is: how do we change societal culture so we feel a part of the science that surrounds us?

The BSA have made diversity and inclusion in science a core component of their mission, aiming to increase accessibility to science for everyone. To put this into action, the BSA relies on volunteers. The BSA has 36 branches across the UK, which are run by over 700 volunteers all committed to making science more accessible. These volunteers organise a range of events in their local area to raise the local science capital (a measure of a person’s relationship with science). These volunteers are essential for the charity, who otherwise couldn’t reach nearly as many individuals throughout the UK.

"Science in the park" branch event - diversity in science isn’t just about scientists

In line with the scientific workforce, we are looking at how we as volunteers can be more diverse and better represent our local communities. It makes sense that if we are going to organise events that are of interest to different groups, we need these people involved in building the events. When our branch started in 2016, we all identified as scientists. While it’s fantastic that scientists want to share their enthusiasm for the subject, it was evident there would be limitations on what we were able to achieve. We have put time into broadening our reach and encouraging a range of people to get involved in our work. This has been essential to us growing as a branch, and I have certainly seen that having a more diverse committee definitely does produce better discussions and therefore better events. We are now working more closely with under-served audiences, and encouraging and supporting them to lead projects that they are interested in.

While increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce is essential, it’s important to recognise that we won’t all be the engineers of the future. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have an opinion on the latest scientific findings. Volunteering for the BSA provides a fantastic opportunity to encourage more people to see science as for them, even if it’s not performed by them.

Katy Petherick is the Chair of the British Science Association Brighton and Hove Branch.

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You can contact the branch at [email protected]