By Anissa Alifandi, Corporate Communications Manager

Last week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity & Inclusion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) published the Equity in the STEM workforce report following an eight-month inquiry. The Group aims to promote the inclusion and progression of people from diverse backgrounds in STEM, for a sector representative of society.

Many organisations – STEM and beyond – have ramped up efforts around their Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) practices in recent years. Recently, the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy published their R&D People and Culture Strategy for a “positive and inclusive culture” across UK research and development. But with this work, what exactly are we looking to achieve?

Read the latest report from the APPG on D&I in STEM

Equity not equality?

The inquiry chose to use “equity” as its point of investigation as many studies state that “equality” (where everyone has access to the same resources and undergoes the same treatment) tends to lead to unequal outcomes. Equality assumes everyone experiences similar circumstances, underestimating the impacts of pre-existing, deep-rooted, structural inequalities.

Equity - providing individuals with what they need to succeed and minimising structural barriers - is closely aligned with social justice. The effects of historic and systemic oppression of minoritised groups continues to permeate society and is apparent in pay gaps, homogeneity of company boards and executive leadership, and disparate education and health outcomes. Policies that tackle inequity can help to address wealth and intergenerational inequalities and build a more just society.

Tackling equity in the STEM sector means actively supporting people from minoritised groups to reduce barriers to entry and progression, as well as improving inclusion and representation, in STEM workplaces.

Some key findings and statistics

The inquiry found evidence that structural inequity in the STEM workforce exists, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has made this worse. There is, however, awareness of this in the sector and the inquiry received evidence of initiatives that are currently tackling inequity and its impacts. Looking back to the findings of the first inquiry, intersectional barriers from STEM education persist in the workforce.

Graphs comparing the breakdown of the STEM and wider workforce by gender, disability and ethnicity.

  • Although women make up 52% of the overall workforce, they only account for 27% of employees in STEM.
  • Disabled people are underrepresented in the STEM workforce (11% compared to 14% in the wider workforce) and a survey by the British Medical Association (2020) of disabled doctors and medical students found only 55% of the respondents who need adjustments managed to secure them.
  • When grouped as one category (‘BAME’), the STEM workforce has a comparable share of Black, Asian and racially minioritised workers to the rest of the UK workforce (12%). This is somewhat misleading as Black workers specifically make up a lower proportion of STEM compared to the rest of the workforce (2% vs. 3%) across all sectors apart from health. Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers in science, maths and engineering make up 1% vs. 2% in the rest of the workforce.

Considering the STEM workforce comprises 5.9 million people, just one percentage point represents tens of thousands of employees.

Responses to the report

The response to the report has been overwhelmingly positive with organisations in STEM and the world of policy welcoming the recommendations.

As with any publication of this nature, there are those who disagree with some aspects of the work. For instance, one person who read the report suggested that equity is the wrong measure for this inquiry and that ‘equality of opportunities’ would be more fitting. The widely shared image below illustrates the difference between equity and equality.

Left: 3 people of different heights and abilities standing on the same size box to see over a fence, two cannot see or reach over the fence but one can. Right: 3 people of different heights and abilities standing on boxes specific to their needs enabling them to see over a fence. They can all see/reach over the fence.

Image from

'Equality of opportunity' suggests that levelling the playing field at a particular time or place solves the problem. However, this is not the case. True equity is much broader than ‘equality of opportunity’, which alludes to implementing discrete changes to improve an individual’s ability to determine their own outcomes. ‘Equality of opportunity’ also fails to consider existing structural barriers. People from minoritised backgrounds experience perpetual inequality and inequity, and this doesn’t stop when they enter STEM or other environments traditionally dominated by non-minority backgrounds.

Some examples evidenced in the report:

  • BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT reported that 38% of Black, Asian and racially minoritised people in the UK have experienced discrimination in the workplace because of their ethnicity (2021) with 29% stating they feel they are not taken seriously at work (Hired, 2019).
  • A London Business School Survey from 2014 found that 70% of women in business feel anxious about taking a career break.
  • According to a report from the Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Society of Chemistry (2019), 16% of LGBTQ+ physical scientists personally experienced or observed exclusionary behaviour or harassment. In a 2018 survey, 29% of people identifying as LGBTQ+ would not consider a career in STEM due to fear of discrimination (Institution of Engineering and Technology).

One person on social media commented that they did not see the benefit of declaring their disability other than acting as a ‘tick box’ for a hirer. Although this indicates a more inclusive recruitment process, this is another example of how one action alone is not sufficient to achieving equity.

Representation in other sectors

TV is one area where, over the past couple of years in particular, there has been some visible change in the makeup of its workforce. Previously male-dominated comedy and sports panels now often include women and Ofcom’s Diversity in Broadcast report (2019) reveals that the gender breakdown for UK-based workers in TV is 54% male and 45% female. On the other hand, Rise – a group for women in broadcast, state that there are still ‘significantly low numbers of females in technical roles’ and that a ‘comprehensive census of the industry and sector’ should be carried out.

An example of a diverse panel on BBC's Mock the Week. There are two women and four men.

Image courtesy of the BBC.

Elsewhere in the arts, there is more disheartening news. The UK music industry remains dominated by White males, with the proportion of Black employees falling from 12.6% to 6.4% between entry and senior level (2020) and high-profile, mainstream artists continuing to call out sexism behind the scenes, which brings to light concerns over the experiences of up-and-coming musicians. The most recent report on diversity in the sector from Arts Council England mentions improvements in the representation of workers from minoritised groups compared to previous years, but data remains patchy with high levels of ‘not knowns’ around sexual orientation (38%), disability (29%) and ethnicity (24%).

Initiatives in STEM and beyond

As mentioned above, the inquiry heard of many organisations developing their own initiatives aimed at addressing inequities in STEM. Many are in their early stages and results aren’t yet available, but this is encouraging news nonetheless; the sector is taking steps to be welcoming to all employees.

Outside of internal programmes run by employers, there are a range of networks and campaigns that have come about to support minoritised groups. Although they are built around professional life, they also offer guidance and resources which are helpful beyond the world of work. Below are a just a few examples:

  • BBSTEM – a non-profit organisation campaigning for balance and representation of Black individuals in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
  • Pride in STEM – a charitable trust run by an independent group of LGBT+ scientists and engineers from around the world. Pride in STEM aim to showcase and support all LGBT+ people in STEM fields.
  • Women in STEM – an initiative to showcase the different opportunities for women in the STEM sector, whilst also trying to bridge the stereotypes of STEM subjects – with the ultimate goal being to close the gender gap.
  • The Black Fund – The Black Fund is based on the traditional Paadna, a traditional Jamaican savings scheme. Everyone contributes to each collecting round, and the proceeds are paid out to a member of the group.
  • #Merky Books – an imprint within William Heinemann, dedicated to publishing the best new fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Curated by Stormzy, #Merky Books forms a home for a new generation of voices. The programme also includes the #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize, an open submission competition to find news works across a range of genres.
  • Breaking Through The Lens – a pioneering initiative connecting female and non-binary directors to finance at top-tier film markets. The aim is to be a practical resource for underserved filmmakers, one that is multi-cultural, intersectional and results-driven.

The British Science Association’s mission

At the BSA, our work centres on transforming the diversity and inclusivity of, and engaging under-served audiences with, science. We believe science should be open to everyone, regardless of background, experience or knowledge.

Like the arts, media and sports, science is a huge part of society and people from all walks of life should feel empowered to participate in it. Achieving equity within the sector is just one way we can ensure science, on the whole, is as open and representative as possible in everyday life.

Visit the APPG website for more details about the inquiry.

To find out more about the BSA’s commitment to EDI, visit the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion section of our website.