Blog by Sandra Kerr, OBE, Director, Race for Opportunity
Next week the Science Council launches its Declaration on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, which aims to raise the profile of the importance of diversity as an issue of concern for professional bodies and to galvanise and foster an increase in effective action that will deliver positive change. I have been part of the Strategy Group which has developed the declaration and am delighted to see this show of leadership to increase diversity in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and manufacturing) sector.
We know that there is chronic BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) under-representation in STEM. Department of Work and Pensions data shows that BAME staff make up just 7% of people employed in the energy and gas sector, 6.2% of those employed in mining and 5.3% in construction. This is in stark contrast to the overall working age population, where one in eight people comes from a BAME background. “
If we applaud every step of progress we have made whilst continuing to learn from examples of best practice, we can create truly diverse STEM workforces with the skills they need for success
“ If we applaud every step of progress we have made whilst continuing to learn from examples of best practice, we can create truly diverse STEM workforces with the skills they need for success ”
Our recent report ‘Race at the Top’ also found that the number of BAME managers in sectors such as energy & water, construction and manufacturing has changed incredibly little between 2007 and 2012. This strongly suggests that BAME candidates are not being attracted to these fields or supported into leadership opportunities within the sectors.
Meanwhile, whilst almost one in five UK-domiciled students studying STEM subjects comes from a BAME background, BAME graduates are less likely to be in work or further education six months after graduation than their white counterparts. With one in four children at primary school now BAME, complaints from employers that graduates lack the necessary skills for STEM roles, and graduate STEM jobs paying up to £1,500 more than the average graduate salary, it’s increasingly pressing that employers address this gap.
However, we are making progress. Two of this year’s Race for Opportunity Awards winners were from the STEM sector – BP’s Charles Thompson, winner of our Champion Award, and Developing Talent Award – Attraction winner National Grid - for their work towards increasing BAME representation in the sector through engaging with senior leaders within their organisations and developing BAME talent pipelines. Last year EDF Energy also won our Employee Network Award – particularly cheering as we know how important having good networks is to BAME workplace progression. I hope other organisations in the STEM sector will learn from the good practice they offer.
28 organisations from the STEM sector have also completed our 2014 Race and Gender Diversity Benchmark, and 22 of those submitted data on the ethnic make-up of their workforce. It’s great they are doing this and recognising the importance of STEM careers for the future both in the UK and globally. I look forward to sharing further findings from the benchmark with you later this year.
Finally, a number of STEM organisations including EDF Energy, Google, Weir Group, Thames Water and Doosan Babcock took part in our recent Mentoring Circles for Unemployed People, which provided workshops with advice on routes into the sector and walk-throughs of application and interview processes. 52 of the 90 young people who took part are now in full-time work, suggesting that this type of engagement can have a real impact on supporting young BAME people entering STEM industries. I would encourage STEM employers who want to increase their BAME representation to start by using some of these strategies to reach out to schools and develop long-term action plans for engagement with young people and inspiring them to consider STEM careers.
There is still more work to be done by STEM employers to increase BAME representation in the sector. But if we applaud every step of progress we have made whilst continuing to learn from examples of best practice, we can create truly diverse STEM workforces with the skills they need for success.