An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on diversity and inclusion in STEM (APPG on D&I in STEM), a group of cross-party MPs and peers, has found that marginalised groups in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) workforce have suffered disproportionately during the Covid-19 pandemic. Without urgent action, the UK faces losing a generation of STEM workers, preventing this vital sector from fully contributing to the prime minister’s science and technology agenda.
The APPG on D&I in STEM launched its inquiry in November 2020 with the ambition to detail the current state of equity in the UK’s STEM workforce, highlight the experiences of minoritised STEM workers and shine a light on positive sector-led initiatives and practices.
Hearing from over 150 institutions, businesses, networks and individuals, MPs and peers learned how extreme the impact of Covid-19 has been for people of marginalised groups in the STEM sector, largely preying upon the existing inequity seen in the workforce, from finances and career opportunities, to health and wellbeing, to recruitment, retention and the loss of vital funding and research.
However, while the evidence has shown the pandemic has exacerbated historic and systemic disadvantage for certain groups, the recovery provides an opportunity to address these structural issues. It may also allow for the government to work with the sector to tackle underrepresentation, creating more sustainable economic prosperity and opportunity for those impacted by the pandemic as well as future generations.
In summary, the key findings of the report are:
- The STEM workforce is less diverse than the wider workforce but consistent data collection and sharing is lacking.
- There is a need for the government to take a multi-pronged approach to drive equity in the STEM workforce.
- Intersectional barriers continue from STEM education into the workforce.
- There is awareness of structural inequity in some large STEM organisations, but no consensus on solutions.
- There is considerable inequity in STEM but Covid-19 is making it worse.
The report makes three key recommendations:
- The prime minister and government must lead on a bold vision for a diverse and equitable STEM sector at the heart of their ambitions for the UK.
- The government must improve equity by delivering a statutory workforce data strategy to drive forward changes in policy and support employers.
- The government must quickly look to address and reverse the worsening inequity within the STEM workforce which has been brought about by the pandemic.
Chi Onwurah MP, chair of the APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, commented: “From the development of the vaccine and our heroic NHS to driverless cars and renewables, it is clear the STEM sector is critical to our future national economy and therefore, key to our recovery from the pandemic.
“Having worked as an as an engineer before entering parliament, I know too well the barriers that minoritised groups in STEM face. Sadly, diversity and inclusion in the STEM workforce was bad before Covid hit and our inquiry's findings show how the pandemic has preyed on this disadvantage and exacerbated it even more. Regrettably, the result is that a generation of STEM workers from diverse communities, in particular, black people, women, disabled people and those from the LGBTQ+ community, will be lost from the STEM workforce unless the government takes action.
“By taking the three key recommendations in the report we are publishing today, the government will be supporting this vital sector to repair some of the damage caused by the pandemic and create a more sustainable and equitable footing for future generations.”