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Diverse initiatives to promote diversity in science, engineering and maths: Part 1

Posted by on June 24, 2013

By Paul Richards, BBSRC Policy Fellow at the Society of Biology

Tomorrow, Parliamentary Links Day will bring together policy makers and representatives from the STEM community for talks and discussions about ‘science and diversity’. The run-up to Links Day presents a timely opportunity to highlight some of the excellent initiatives aimed at promoting greater equality and diversity STEM education and employment. This post will cover all forms of diversity, and tomorrow I will focus on gender inequality. Information on the Society of Biology’s own equality work, and that of some of our member organisations, can be found on our website.

A couple of broad diversity programmes well worth looking at are those run by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering; both have received Government funding to take the lead in removing barriers to increasing diversity in science and engineering respectively. Their activities include data gathering, policy studies and outreach work.

For instance, as part of its ‘Leading the Way’ programme, the Royal Society held a very successful Wikipedia ‘edit-a-thon’ last October, in conjunction with Ada Lovelace Day, to improve articles on women scientists. The Royal Society has also commissioned an oral history project which will examine the life stories of scientists from different ethnic groups within the UK.

In spring, the Royal Academy of Engineering held both an event to highlight actions engineering organisations can take to increase participation of people from socially disadvantaged and minority ethnic backgrounds, and a series of ‘Designed to Inspire’ role model events, where a diverse range successful engineers spoke to students.

The Royal Society of Chemistry is highlighting the diversity of successful chemical scientists with its ’175 Faces of Chemistry‘ initiative over the 175 weeks leading up to the Society’s 175th anniversary in 2016.

February saw Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) History Month, which this year was dedicated to celebrating the contribution of LGBT people to STEM. The pre-launch event last November was held at Bletchley Park and focussed on the work of Alan Turing. The LGBT History Month website and this Guardian article  provide links to some of the useful resources developed for schools as part of History Month.

Anyone looking to promote STEM to school children with diverse backgrounds and needs certainly should also take a look at the advice, contacts and resources provided by the Equality and Diversity Tool Kit and STEMNET; the latter runs both a STEM ambassadors and a STEM club scheme.

For those working to improve diversity in higher education research careers, Vitae is developing an online network and set of practical resources and information as part of its ‘Every Researcher Counts’ initiative.

Greater attention is now also being given to increasing opportunities and practical provision for disabled people working in STEM. The STEM Disability Committee has an online portal with links to a wide variety of practical information and resources for disabled students, employees, employers and organisations. The Committee, in collaboration with the Scottish Sensory Centre, has also developed 116 physics and engineering terms in British Sign Language.

Disability Rights UK offers practical advice on issues such as finance and support. Another good scheme is Deaf Apprentice run by Positive Signs, which helps employers to offer inclusive apprenticeships and practical support to deaf applicants; recently they worked with some employers in the engineering sector.

Finally, the Equality Challenge Unit is looking to tackle inequality in higher education employment by developing new gender and race charter mark schemes for higher education institutions; a consultation survey about the charter marks is open until 21st June for anyone wanting to contribute views and ideas. A number of organisations also recently signed a ‘Diversity in Engineering’ concordant at the Royal Academy of engineering.

There is too much happening to mention everything in these posts, so please do follow the links and also visit the websites of other STEM organisations; many have produced, or are working on equality statements, policy studies and activities to promote diversity. Be sure to check out my post on gender equality initiatives tomorrow.

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