The inquiry

Three weeks ago, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM launched its new inquiry into equity in the UK STEM workforce with a virtual event. The launch event welcomed five speakers to the Zoom-floor to discuss the necessity of this work which builds on the APPG’s previous inquiry on equity in STEM education.

The APPG published a ‘State of the Sector’ data analysis brief which has informed the inquiry’s new Call for Evidence. The data analysis details representation within the STEM workforce and revealed that, unsurprisingly, women are less represented than in the wider workforce. In addition, the findings reveal only 11% of STEM workers are declared to have a disability - 3% less than in the wider workforce. Within the science and maths workforce in particular, disabled people are more underrepresented than other STEM sectors (10% compared to 14%). Disabled workers of all ethnicities are also overall less likely to be STEM workers.

The APPG’s role in promoting better inclusion of people from underrepresented groups in STEM has therefore led to this second inquiry, seeking to understand and analyse the experiences of employers, individuals and relevant organisations. The STEM sector is invited to respond to the Call for Evidence describing their work (however far along this may be) around equality, equity, diversity and inclusion practises in their workplace.

Highlights from the launch event

The opening remarks were given by the APPG’s Chair, Chi Onwurah (MP for Newcastle Central and Shadow Minister, Digital, Science & Technology). Kicking off the discussion, Chi recounted her own experiences of how tiring it has been often being the only female, only person of colour, only working-class and only northerner in the room. Chi asserted that the UK cannot afford to continue excluding talent from the workforce and called upon groups who don’t typically engage with APPGs, as well as those actively driving change, to respond to the inquiry.

A couple of the speakers touched upon their own experiences of “otherness” in the workplace which reiterated how widespread inequity, exclusion and homogeneity are in STEM workforces. One recurring theme was an organisation’s external ‘face’; the speakers and Zoom audience alike agreed that, for the STEM workforce to be more diverse, employers must display and embody diversity and inclusivity. We know STEM isn’t the only industry with this problem. It was recently announced that Georgia Dawson will be the first female to lead a magic circle law firm, and just weeks ago, Greg Clarke stepped down as Head of the FA for using unacceptable terminology when discussing women and Black people. But as STEM pioneers changes that shape the future of society, it’s an area that must attract potential and therefore embrace difference. An analogy from John Amaechi, was particularly evocative:

I don't go into pubs that have England flag bunting out the front. I don't go into them because, I know that not all pubs with England flag bunting are BNP pubs, but I also know that every BNP pub has England flag bunting out the front of it. And I often wonder if organisations in STEM realise how much "bunting" they have up outside, and what it's telling people with disabilities, people of colour, women - what it’s telling them about whether they should be coming here at all.

Kayisha Payne, founder of BBSTEM, Black British Professionals in STEM , captured this point perfectly stating,

You can’t be what you can’t see.

The lively audience chat laid bare just how many barriers there are for people to begin careers in STEM. The importance of apprenticeships, and availability of financial support to those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, was also addressed by our speakers. They all maintained that negative connotations associated with such schemes prevail, despite the capabilities of workers coming into STEM from this route being no different to those of their degree-bearing counterparts. One audience member said that apprenticeships bring through some of the “brightest stars” but that they are devalued compared to graduates.

Hannah Barham-Brown, a doctor and disability and gender equity advocate, recalled her own nurse training experience. As she was entitled to a bursary, Hannah could support herself during training placements without taking on another job. Another job would have made attending these placements impossible. This paradoxical situation is one that affects those from lower-income backgrounds which includes carers and single parents. This sort of funding eases the huge financial burden of gaining this vital education, which is so valued by society, yet it remains a considerable barrier to STEM careers for a significant portion of the population.

You can watch the full launch event here:

The previous inquiry and next steps

This inquiry will build on our understanding of inequity in education – the focus of the APPG’s first inquiry – and impact on the talent pipeline. The ‘Equity in STEM education’ report was published in June and highlighted five key findings and six recommendations for the Government and other organisations to reflect on.

It follows that inequity in STEM education leads to the same in STEM working environments, which is why this next stage is so important. We hope that in gathering evidence for the current inquiry from the perspectives of those living it, the subsequent analysis will provide insights that produce tangible actions enabling Governments and organisations to tackle underrepresentation in STEM.

Responding to the Call for Evidence

The APPG are asking the UK STEM industry to respond to their Call for Evidence. You may be an employer, employee group or organisation representing either of those. We’d also like to call upon larger corporations and those who are behind in pursuing an equality, equity, diversity and inclusion agenda for their workplace. We want to gain a representative view of the environment and culture of UK STEM workplaces and can only do this if we receive responses from organisations doing well, and less well, in tackling this problem.

See here for a guidance document that might provide a helpful starting point for collecting your/your organisation’s evidence.

The closing date for submissions is 17:00 on Friday 29 January 2021.

Evidence sessions will be held in January 2021, so evidence submissions are encouraged to be submitted ahead of the deadline.

About the APPG

The British Science Association are the Secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diversity and Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

You can find out more about the APPG and its work on the website.

To enquire about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Agasty Baylon Yogaratnam.

This is not an official website of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either house or its committees.