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STEM need to face issue of race

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Sandra Kerr CBE

Race Director, Business in the Community

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people continue to be under-represented across STEM sectors and organisations need to remove the barriers to having an inclusive workforce.


Why we need a diverse workforce

All organisations want to recruit from the widest pool of talent, to help them progress; it is key to future productivity and performance. This will be more important than ever as STEM organisations work to meet the economic and technological challenges that have arisen due to Covid-19: we need the best people working on solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

Employers can set themselves apart by showing that they are a truly inclusive place, where people of all racial backgrounds can succeed. However, there are still persistent barriers to achieving true diversity, at all levels, in many workplaces.

BAME representation

Within the top tech firms in the UK, over 70% of boards and senior executive teams do not have a BAME member; furthermore, women of BAME backgrounds only make up around 2% of all boards and senior executive teams1.

Across the UK economy, BAME people continue to be under-employed and despite a clear desire for progression, continue to be underrepresented at senior levels. Business in the Community’s ‘Race at Work’ report found that at the highest level, just 1 in 16 senior managers is from a BAME background, and BAME employees are less likely to access fast-track schemes despite being ‘more ambitious’ than their white counterparts.

Bias in education

There are also concerns about bias in decision-making for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic young people as well. Evidence2 is suggesting that teachers’ expectations of Black students, and their working-class peers, tend to be systematically lower than is warranted by their actual performance in class.

Research in 2019,3 by the University and College Union, showed that BAME staff in universities are less likely to hold senior jobs and are paid less than their white colleagues.

Improving BAME representation in STEM

In order to achieve a fairer workplace, STEM employers must hold themselves accountable and be transparent about where they are and what direction they are headed. For example, over the last year, ethnicity pay gap reporting has evolved, where more and more employers are measuring their pay gaps and taking action. However, our recent survey showed that many employers are still hesitant to speak publicly about ethnicity pay gaps.

The pipeline of new talent continues to be created, with just over one in four (27%) students in higher education from BAME backgrounds studying STEM subjects. More than 400,000 people are employed by higher-education institutions in the UK and it’s critical that we tackle every stage of racial inequality, from recruitment through to retention and progression.

What can STEM organisations do to address this inequality?

Organisations and academia can show their commitment to sign BITC’s Race at Work Charter: more than 250 employers have already signed. Signing up means organisations can collaborate and learn from each other, all the while taking practical steps to ensure their workplaces are tackling barriers in recruitment and progression, and ensure that their organisations are representative of British society today.


1https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/landig/PIIS2589-7500(20)30067-4.pdf | 2Predicted grades and BME students (2020); Runnymede Trust | 3https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10360/Black-academic-staff-face-double-whammy-in-promotion-and-pay-stakes

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