Minoritised STEM workforce hit hardest by pandemic

An inquiry by a cross-party group of MPs and peers has concluded that marginalised groups in the STEM workforce have suffered disproportionately during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

This is one of the findings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM (APPG on D&I in STEM). It warns that without urgent action, the UK faces losing a generation of STEM workers which will hinder the prime minister’s efforts to turn the UK into a ‘science superpower’.

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The APPG on D&I in STEM launched its inquiry in November 2020 to detail the current state of equity in the UK’s STEM workforce, highlight the experiences of minoritised STEM workers, and highlight positive sector-led initiatives and practices. The group took evidence from over 150 institutions, businesses, networks and individuals during the inquiry.

The evidence has shown how the pandemic has intensified historic and systemic disadvantages for certain groups, but the recovery provides an opportunity to address these structural issues. It may also allow for the government to work with the sector to tackle under representation, creating more sustainable economic prosperity and opportunity for those impacted by the pandemic as well as future generations.

Key findings of the report:

  • 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.

In a statement, Chi Onwurah MP, chair of the APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, said: “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 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.”