Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in STEM
Our specialist STM team attended this insightful event hosted by In2scienceUK exploring factors contributing to the STEM participation crisis and how this can be combatted. Interestingly, the event highlighted that there is a skills gap present, with less students completing STEM related subjects at university despite jobs in STEM growing; graduates are actually more likely to be employed full time following their education. Surveys have also commonly found that there is an uneven participation seen in physics, maths and computing compared to some other STEM subjects weighted with more males than females. Professor Resmini who is the Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee has found that chemistry actually has a reasonable balance of gender and ethnic diversity. The problem is that numbers are going down in general, and there is a dramatic loss of females along the pipeline.
The RSC’s Breaking the Barriers report highlighted issues within the academic environment which aren’t supportive of females throughout their academic careers, leading them to drop out and pursue other areas. Looking at younger students in schools, there are very odd misconceptions about what being a “chemist” means – some linked it to working in a pharmacy, and some teenagers believe that chemists are polluting the planet so part of encouraging more inclusivity is about campaign to combat image of chemistry and what it means to be in the field.
Dr Julie Moote has been working on the ASPIRES project which is a decade long study following students between ages 10-19 and their parents, and tracks their choices to try to understand why there is such a skills gap present. The project aims to focus on young people’s aspirations so is not deterministic in its approach to collecting qualitative data, but encouraging students to select their own paths.
The project found that a high proportion of young students do find science interesting, but aspirations to become a scientist are low. Dr Moote described this as a “being vs doing” sort of scenario; it seems to be the case that they do want to learn about science, but might feel like they can’t; more boys want to do science and more of those from ethnic minority groups also have a higher engagement rate with scientific subjects, as well as those who have family members in scientific fields. This alludes to the constructions of science being a dominant deciding factor.
Educational factors which seemed to have an impact were that more students who took separate sciences at GCSE level were more likely to pursue a science related degree, but it was often the case that students weren’t allowed to take triple science as it is ultimately a selective decision made by teachers – 71% of students interviewed said that they didn’t have a choice. The study also highlighted that more privileged students might also have more “science capital” – engagement with science through museum visits, for example. All in all, though, the study found that there was little awareness of the scope of careers offered by science.
The RSC are taking a bigger look into gender bias in publishing after realising the disparity – there are only 50 female professors teaching undergrad chemistry in the UK. They now refuse to support conferences where organisers do not meet a quota of 30% female speakers or demonstrate that they tried. They also want to encourage more organisations across different career paths to train teams in unconscious bias to boost diversity and inclusion. This training also needs to be done in schools so that teachers can recognise biases in their resources; this training can also be rolled out to publishing teams to lessen the likelihood of biases being included. With outreach opportunities, the RSC are also focusing more on educating teachers than directly educating the students themselves as this can have a bigger impact on students across the board when looking at career paths in chemistry, for example. With more audio/visual resources, and more publishing opportunities, there are definitely more ways to engage wider audiences and educate them on what’s out there to create a more inclusive environment.
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