Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA) is a STEM initiative that seeks to educate, inspire and encourage the next generation of UK STEM talent into industry.
In 2018, women made up only 24% of the STEM workforce in the UK. With only one in four being female, clearly more work needs to be done to redress this imbalance, which is actively being pushed in the UK. However, the reflection of women from diverse backgrounds within the STEM industry is even more underrepresented throughout the industry. This is specifically the case for women from Black, African and Caribbean backgrounds.
In 15 years of working in tech across England and Europe, I have often found that the emphasis of discussions within companies, working groups and among individual peers are seeking to redress the gender imbalance in STEM, however the female narrative as it pertains to race is often only loosely touched upon.
Race and gender taboos
From my experience, far too often, when it comes to discussing the issue of race in the workplace, many still feel that the conversation is uncomfortable or a taboo subject. Occasionally, some feel that by raising the issue they may be judged or subjected to assumptions and fear of potential career hindrance. Similarly, some people from non-diverse backgrounds have said that they do not feel qualified to speak on the lived experiences of others, or that saying something may cause them serious repercussions should offence occur.
Open and collaborative dialogue
I bring this up not to stop colleagues from ‘non-diverse’ backgrounds opening up a dialogue about race, but quite the opposite in fact. By working backwards from any potential fears of being labelled ‘racist’, ‘offensive’ or ‘misunderstood’ and holding honest and constructive conversations, we will be led to a position of awareness and understanding. Across teams, companies and the industry, we can and should embrace the different lived experiences and challenges faced by those in the minority and, in particular, from ethnic minorities who hold positions within the STEM industry.
There is also a responsibility on individuals from ethnic backgrounds to not only stand as role models for the next generation, but to also educate and communicate their experiences to those from other backgrounds in a way that is safe, free from bias or judgement or assumptions.
By working together in this way, we will be able to remove the perceived taboos and begin to redress the imbalance for the greater good of the industry. I believe this will foster greater understanding and appreciation of the experiences of woman from ethnic minority backgrounds working in STEM. In turn, this will break down misconceptions and bias and foster the drive of talent to the industry, diversity of thought across all echelons and undoubtedly innovation within STEM.
Next generation STEM
The next generation of female STEM students is seeking role models that they can identify with and organisations that reflect the global communities they seek to serve. The onus is on today’s individual to open the doors of opportunity to a range of candidates from a range of backgrounds and to educate, inspire and encourage the next generation and demonstrate to them that STEM is indeed an industry for everyone.