Raising aspirations of young people and inspiring the next generation are two of the Farr Foundation’s core values and to do this, we need to ensure that there is equal access to STEM learning for all. However, it’s widely recognised that the STEM industry lacks diversity and although it won’t be a quick fix there are options for making it a more inclusive space in the near future.
The Royal Society claims the proportion of ethnic minority groups entering the STEM industry has increased over the past decade but that these members are also leaving in greater numbers at all career stages. They suggest change is needed to tackle this problem – whether it be through more peer support or accessible membership. These claims are backed up by STEM Learning’s own website, which adds that women, the disabled, the disadvantaged and members of the LGBTQ+ community are also underrepresented in every area of STEM – from education and research to employment.
A House of Commons Committee Report, published on 24 March 2023, further elaborated on this disparity, confirming the reasons behind it as being very complex and offering advice to amend the National Curriculum so that children could see themselves in real-life examples (e.g. more focus on female scientists) or giving them the chance to study more of the subjects they’re passionate about e.g. Triple Science. It recommends that improving diversity and inclusion should be part of a mission for the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Education and Research sectors.
The STEM fields have traditionally been male-dominated, but there are increasing levels of awareness of how this has to change, with many companies actively encouraging more opportunities through diversity schemes and outreach programs aimed at those who are underrepresented in STEM fields. There’s a clear gender imbalance at the age of 16 when more people identifying as male than female study Maths, Physics and Computing at A Level, and this has an impact on entry-level STEM opportunities.
From mentoring and networking opportunities to work placements and apprenticeships that provide hands-on experience of the chosen industry, there are so many options to choose from. Companies are also investing in unconscious bias training that can help existing teams understand the importance of inclusivity. In addition to providing the courses mentioned above, many companies are also adapting their ways of working to provide more flexible, remote and family-friendly opportunities, which in turn provides a chance to pursue a STEM career that fits into different people’s lifestyles.
One option for encouraging young people from all backgrounds to aspire for a career in STEM is to spark an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths from an early age. To do this, when teaching or introducing these subjects, we can be open, welcoming and non-judgmental and show the range of jobs and possibilities on offer. We can also share stories of success – especially from those of different backgrounds – and recommend resources including books, games, TV shows and coding that can further enhance this enjoyment of learning.
The Farr Foundation is a charity that supports organisations dedicated to inspiring school-aged children, raising their aspirations through STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) activities. We do this through the provision of grant funding throughout the calendar year.