Diversity is hitting the headlines everywhere, and STEM is frequently criticised for its lack of diverse teams. Should STEM organisations be concerned?

The current STEM landscape

The UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering of any European country: just 10% of engineering employees are female. A study by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) also states that almost a third of LBGT young people actively avoided a career in science, technology, engineering and maths because of fears they would be discriminated against within the industry. Particularly relevant due to the impending critical skills shortage facing STEM organisations is the admission from 50% of teachers who admit gender stereotyping STEM subjects in the classroom. The same study by Accenture showed that 52% of parents were guilty of the same prejudices. Could this be the reason that just 17% of UK STEM professors are female?

The problem

The UK is facing a ‘national crisis’ in relation to STEM industries, particularly in relation to its space and defence fields. Across the pond, the STEM sector is growing faster than any other in the U.S.: vacancies are set to increase by 17% by 2024, while non-STEM employment will increase by just 12%. Currently, 84% of this workforce are white or Asian males. It should be obvious to everyone reading these statistics that this level of growth is unsustainable with such a limited talent pool.

One of the most baffling issues concerning diversity in STEM is that almost everyone agrees that it’s a great idea – 85% of executives at large global corporations ($500m+) told Forbes that diversity is crucial for innovation. If we all agree that diversity should improve, why is it proving so difficult for STEM organisations to attract and retain diverse talent?

Breaking down diversity

Part of the issue is that diversity is a huge umbrella term for a multitude of different factors. Age, sexuality, gender, race, culture, socio-economic background, disability, ethnicity, nationality… the list is almost endless. To make the task more manageable, Forbes revealed that companies with a diversity program tend to focus on one subsection of diversity; 80% focus on gender, 77% on ethnicity, followed by age (72%) and race (70%). Cultural differences also play a part – Asia-Pacific companies are more likely to focus on age and nationality, compared to European companies which are more concerned with disability and sexuality.

It may be an understandable approach, but according to Professor Scott Page, it’s an incorrect one. He is one of many thought leaders who propose that diversity of thought is more important than individual ability, and that cognitive difference may in fact matter more than talent. At first glance this statement seems strange – how could a group of less talented but diverse individuals outperform a group of homogeneous geniuses? The answer is simple – the diverse group considers many more avenues and will approach a problem from far more angles than the group of similar individuals.

Why diversity matters for STEM

STEM industries rely on their ability to keep innovating. Individual companies are in a race against competitors to engineer efficiencies, create new models and find creative ways of disrupting old ways of working. Tech corporations such as Apple, Facebook and Google need to continually find new ways of creating revenue and entering consumers lives, whereas on a national scale defence and security innovation must keep pace with digital advancement. STEM companies must embrace diversity and inclusion if they are to maintain the growth that they have enjoyed in recent years the world over, and it’s economically savvy to support diversity of thought before competitors do. Commercially, creatively and morally, it might just be the best thing the STEM industry has ever done.

Gianna Legate

Gianna Legate

Content Marketing Specialist

Gianna has degrees in English and Marketing, and spends her days with Solutions Driven researching and reporting on the latest trends and recruitment industry insights.