Editor's comment: In STEM, diversity matters...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 August 2020

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

As we start to emerge from lockdown – and try to figure out what the ‘new normal’ will look like for all of us – STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) has a vital role to play in the process. Critically, scientists are leading the search for a vaccine & other drug therapies to combat the virus – as well as doing the research & providing the advice to help inform government policy decisions.

A version of this editorial was originally featured in the August 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Meanwhile, engineers are also helping tackle the pandemic – manufacturing ventilators and establishing Nightingale hospitals in record time – as well as designing and building the technology to support the transition to a COVID-secure environment – from effective facemasks and PPE, to occupancy counting ‘traffic light’ systems, proximity warning systems and thermal imaging systems to screen for fever. And much of the government’s ‘new deal’ plan for economic recovery will rely on engineers – from infrastructure investments to its net zero commitments.

In June, STEM also opted to reflect wider society, after the killing of the Black American man, George Floyd by a White police officer in the US at the end of May sparked a wave of #BlackLivesMatter protests and debate – not only across the US, but in the UK and worldwide, despite the coronavirus lockdown. Thousands of researchers and scientists around the world pledged to pause their work (under the hashtags, #ShutDownSTEM, #ShutDownAcademia and #Strike4BlackLives) on the 10th June to support the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts against systemic racism in the scientific community and society at large.

These events should give us pause to once again consider the well-documented issue of diversity (or lack thereof) in STEM. In the UK, it has a pretty poor record, with much lower levels of minority ethnic representation than in the wider population. The same is also true for gender, with far lower levels of women within STEM than in the wider workforce. And though the data is perhaps less unequivocal, diversity is also lacking in terms of other factors, including disability, social disadvantage, neurodiversity, age and sexual orientation.

Given the ongoing recruitment crisis and skills gap in STEM, actively addressing diversity – primarily by building an inclusive working environment – represents an obvious opportunity to help address this shortfall, by providing access to a wider talent pool. But diversity is also vital for innovation and growth – of both individuals and organisations. The more heterogeneous the group, the more it brings diverse perspectives, viewpoints, interests, priorities and experiences – helping it ask new and tougher questions, and find creative new solutions. There is also plenty of research and evidence that diversity helps build better performing, harder working and more successful teams.

Fundamentally, the people working in STEM should represent the people using STEM technologies, products and services – in other words, they need to be representative of society as a whole.

EPDT August’s issue also contains features on Manufacturing technologies & Medical applications. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...

Mark Gradwell
EPDT Editor

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