Recruitment bias is barrier to STEM employment

Recruitment bias based on factors including age or race must be challenged by employers if industry is to become more inclusive, a survey has by STEM Returners has found.

Recruitment bias
Image by RAEng_Publications from Pixabay

In the annual STEM Returners Index - a survey of over 750 STEM professionals on a career break who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work - recruitment bias was revealed to be the main barrier preventing them from returning to work.

In the survey, 37 per cent of participants said they experienced bias in the recruitment process due to their age, while 43 per cent of people who identified as BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) said they had experienced bias due to race or ethnicity.

According to the survey, female engineers are more likely to be victims of recruitment bias with 27 per cent of women feeling they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to eight per cent of men.

Natalie Desty, director of STEM Returners, believes recruiters across STEM must update their processes and challenge unconscious bias so that highly skilled people can gain employment and for industry to become more diverse and inclusive.


She said: “There is a distinct lack of diversity and inclusion in STEM industries – that is not news. But there is a talented pool of professionals who are being locked out of roles, which is severely hindering efforts to be more inclusive.

“The pool of STEM professionals attempting to return to industry is significantly more diverse than the average STEM organisation. Those attempting to return to work are 51 per cent female and 38 per cent from black and minority ethnic groups, compared to 10 per cent female and six per cent BME working in industry.

“Companies need to do more to update recruitment practices, challenge unconscious bias and actively seek out diversity, which is proven to increase business success.”

The STEM Returners Index supports the findings of an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on diversity and inclusion in STEM, which said there was an overall lack of representation in the STEM sector of groups such as black people, women, disabled people and those from the LGBTQ+ community. Consequently, the STEM sector is losing valuable skills, experiences and perspectives, and cannot reach its full potential without greater equity in the workplace. The report said the COVID-19 pandemic had made the situation worse.

Case study

Rushna Nawaz is due to start a placement with Babcock International as a design manager, supporting the ongoing operation of the Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth. Rushna left her previous role in early 2020 as the pandemic hit to look after her children but has since found it hard to get back into employment.

“I did a mechanical engineering degree at university and have always worked within the STEM industry, which I have loved,” Rushna said. “But when COVID took hold I decided to take a step back. After a while I applied for a few roles but didn’t have any response. COVID has made it very hard to get back in to the industry. A gap on my CV, even because of a global pandemic, seems to have slowed my progress in getting a new role.”