The importance of BAME representation in STEM

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 Race for Opportunity has  published a Sector Factsheet on Ethnic Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  The factsheet aims to provide insight into Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation in the sector and recommendations to STEM employers who want to increase BAME representation within their organisations. I have also attended a round table event with Baroness Verma, Energy Minister, Race for Opportunity Board Member Peter Prozesky from EDF Energy and the Race for Opportunity Youth Advisory Panel – all showing that this is an issue we need business to take seriously.

It's not enough to just reach out early to potential BAME applicants. If employers in the STEM sector are going to increase diversity within their organisations, they also need to ensure their recruitment processes do not contain any unintentional barriers to BAME candidates.

The STEM sector is one of the fastest-growing in the UK. Yet it also has one of the lowest numbers of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees. For example, in the electricity and gas sector, just 12,000 employees come from BAME backgrounds, and there are only 6,000 BAME employees in the water sector. However, there is also a significant appetite from young BAME people for STEM careers – one in five UK-domiciled BAME students is studying a STEM-related subject with people from African backgrounds most likely of all the ethnic minority groups in the UK to be studying a STEM subject.

So what can employers do to encourage young BAME people to consider a career in STEM? Firstly, widening their ‘milk round’ and looking outside the universities they usually recruit from is likely to be beneficial, as many BAME STEM students are not studying at ‘traditional’ universities but instead are staying close to home. Our 2014 Gender and Race Benchmark also shows that organisations where the rate of conversion from application to hire is similar between BAME and white candidates are more likely to target diverse candidates at recruitment fairs. This type of pre-application engagement can help give young people an idea of the STEM roles available to them, the future career opportunities as well as insight into what to expect from the application, assessment and interview process.

However,  Mandatory unconscious bias training for all staff involved in recruitment, as well as having BAME people involved in the various stages of the recruitment process including ethnically diverse recruitment panels, have been shown to help increase BAME representation within organisations. I would encourage all STEM employers to think about how they could implement this.

With large parts of their workforces due to retire in the coming years and a need to replace these skills, the time is ripe for STEM employers to tap into the BAME talent pool and it is important that STEM employers expand Apprenticeship options as routes into their sectors.  Many organisations are doing just that, such as the Royal Air Force, National Grid, BT and Shell – but we need others to do more. This is a huge opportunity to invest in the workforce of the future and reduce youth unemployment at the same time; now it’s up to employers to collaborate and take action.