UK science community underwhelmed by government commitment to diversity in STEM

30 June 2023 | Muriel Cozier

‘It is disappointing that the government has not taken forward our recommendations, including updating the national curriculum with more diverse examples of notable scientists.’

The UK government’s response to a report from the Parliamentary Science Innovation and Technology Committee Diversity and Inclusion in STEM: Government Response to Committee’s Fifth Report, has been met with criticism from large segments of the UK’s scientific community.

The Committee’s report, which was published on 24 March, 2023 stressed the need for action to address ‘underrepresentation of women and other groups in STEM.’ In its recommendations, the report called on the government to detail how the newly-created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology intends to drive greater levels of diversity and inclusion across the UK’s STEM sector.’

In response to this recommendation the government said: ‘The Department for Science Innovation and Technology is committed to cross-government efforts to deliver the ambitions of the UK’s Science and Technology Framework, which includes our stated ambition, that by 2030, we will have expanded opportunities for participation in STEM and ensure that a more diverse range of people enter the science and technology workforce.’

‘The industry still is predominantly male’ – SCI CEO Sharon Todd recently spoke to INEOS' Tom Crotty about women in science based industry.

Branding the government’s response to the Committee’s report as ‘A plan to have a plan,’ the Committee’s chair Greg Clark said: ‘It is disappointing that government has not taken forward our recommendations, including updating the national curriculum with more diverse examples of notable scientists.’

Also expressing disappointment; Deputy Executive Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) Dr Daniel Rathbone said to SCI: ‘A lack of diversity means the STEM sector is losing valuable skills, experience and perspectives, and it cannot reach its full potential without greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. That’s why the government’s response to the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee was so disappointing, with a failure to set out concrete actions to improve diversity in STEM.’

The Institute of Physics added: ‘[The government response] is a study in inaction, which contains no plan and nothing new to encourage and support young people from underrepresented and underserved groups who face huge barriers blocking them from pursuing physics.’

Expressing the Committee’s ongoing concern, Greg Clark said: ‘Without a clear strategy to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM, it will be harder for the government to achieve its ambition for science, innovation and technology to power the economy. We will continue to press the government for action in this area.’

UNESCO used this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which was held on 11 February, to call for science to be open to all, especially women. In a statement to mark the day Audrey Azouley, Director-General of UNESCO said: ‘Today, just one in three researchers is a woman, according to the latest UNESCO Science Report. In higher education women represent just over 35% of graduates in STEM-related fields, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. If these gender inequalities are so significant, it is because they are deeply rooted in our societies.’

Later this year SCI will be hosting a three-part series of SCItalks on diversity in STEM. Speakers will be confirmed soon.

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