Victoria Knight, Strategic Campaigns Director at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, explores the importance of education in overcoming the STEM diversity gap
STEM careers have taken centre stage over the past few years, with the technology industry continuing to grow at an unprecedented rate. However, finding the right talent and digital skills to match this growth has become a huge challenge for many STEM employers.
Despite a significant rise in the use of technology across sectors, participation in digital skills training is declining. On top of this, starting as early as nursery school, there is a clear pattern of disadvantage for STEM students based on race, ethnicity, gender, and class. This is resulting in missed potential and failure to unlock a broad range of digital talent.
This is exemplified by recent data from PNAS, which reveals only 25% of STEM jobs were held by women in 2020. We must also look at social mobility and racial equity within these industries. For example, facial recognition technology is currently failing to identify black females. With bias present in automated facial analysis algorithms and datasets, fundamental changes within STEM fields have never been more necessary.
Steps have been taken in recent years to close the STEM diversity gap, but more needs to be done to encourage people from all backgrounds to pursue these fields. This starts with promoting inclusivity in STEM education and inspiring underrepresented groups from an early age. In turn, this will help to develop tomorrow’s STEM talent, increase the likelihood of success for underrepresented minorities and bridge the growing skills divide.
So, what can be done to make STEM more diverse and inclusive in the UK?
Encouragement and inclusivity in the early years
The national curriculum for STEM learning is growing, but there is still a lack of information, advice, and role models out there to encourage young people from all backgrounds to consider a career in these fields. STEM subjects are therefore still widely perceived Victoria Knight as exclusionary, and this rings true from nursery school all the way up to the boardroom.
To combat this disparity, steps must be taken from an early age to inspire underrepresented groups to pursue STEM careers. For example, it has been found that role models for minority students will help them to develop a greater sense of belonging, by enabling people with similar backgrounds to envision themselves working in these fields. The importance of visibility is also highlighted by data from Microsoft, which found that young girls with female role models are 50% more likely to consider STEM subjects and careers.
Essentially, embracing diversity in students, recognising their differences, and adapting the curriculum to meet their unique needs is crucial to fostering a wide range of digital skills. However, changing the curriculum alone will not be enough to tackle this shortage.
Opening doors through alternative education
To help bridge the STEM skills gap, schools, universities, and organisations must also focus on promoting alternative routes into STEM careers. For example, digital training courses, bootcamps, workshops and apprenticeship programmes have proven to be effective ways of nurturing high-level talent from an early age.
To attract talent from all backgrounds, organisations and institutions must watch out for exclusionary language in advertisements. They must also reposition their marketing strategies and make learning opportunities more accessible for all. For example, when designing a training course, it is important to consider the diverse needs of a range of learners. This will include tailoring activities to various social and cultural backgrounds.
Here at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, we host a range of seminars and events aimed at increasing diversity within STEM fields, as well as organising regular cyber courses to encourage women from different backgrounds to develop their digital skills. This includes our partnership with Code First Girls, in which we are sponsoring its CFGdegree programme to encourage greater workplace diversity.
Ultimately, we must all work together to help tackle the diversity challenge in STEM and provide greater opportunities for people from all backgrounds to enter these careers. A diverse and inclusive workforce not only contributes to greater innovation but will also enable organisations to resolve problems swiftly with a wide range of skills to draw on.
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