Diversity in STEM Roundtable Blog

Published: 18 July 2023

Learn more about this recent roundtable discussion and valuable knowledge exchange opportunity hosted by the Addressing Inequalities IRT to help identify practical solutions for addressing equity issues in STEM fields.

On 22 May 2023, the College of Social Sciences ‘Addressing Inequalities’ Interdisciplinary Research Theme (IRT) in collaboration with the School of Education and the Centre for Research and Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning (CR&DALL) at the University of Glasgow hosted a roundtable event entitled Addressing the Lack of Diversity of Academic Staff in STEM, in the Context of Increasing Job Precarity: A Call to STEM Academics, Policymakers, and Academic and Non-Academic 'Change-Makers'. The event was co-sponsored by the UKRI-funded project Gendered Journeys: The Trajectories of STEM Students through Higher Education and Into Employment, in India, Rwanda, and the UK.

The increasing job precarity within the academic sector and the persistent underrepresentation of diverse academic staff in STEM disciplines served as the impetus for the roundtable. Attendees recognised the urgent need to address these interconnected issues and create a more inclusive and equitable environment within STEM academia. The roundtable brought together academics from diverse fields and institutions to engage in knowledge sharing and identify practical solutions for promoting equity in STEM fields. It featured the following speakers who shared their expertise and insights on the subject matter:

Highlights from the Roundtable:

A hand drawn illustration to depict highlights from the roundtable event discussion

1. Decolonising British Higher Education:

Mr Abodunrin emphasised the need to tackle the underrepresentation and limited visibility of women academics, particularly women of colour, in STEM. He stressed the importance of addressing issues around women’s access to STEM academia, as well as reshaping the academic culture and practices within STEM disciplines.

A slide depicting the research questions under investigation

2. Promoting diversity:

Professor Nazira Karodia outlined some of the key factors she perceived as contributing to equity issues within higher education STEM. She argued that although higher education institutions may appear committed to tackling inequality in STEM, they are often complicit in reproducing structural barriers towards achieving greater diversity. For example, leadership positions within research groups are often inherited, a practice which can re-enforce the dominance of white, male academics within STEM fields. Such practices must be critically addressed and by STEM academics, with meaningful, structural changes consequently enacted.

3. Eliminating structural barriers:

Dr Okay-Somerville shared her research on social disadvantage on labour market outcomes. She discussed how differences in individual knowledge, skills, and abilities alone do not explain systematic barriers to entry. Rather than meritocracy-based arguments which focus on ‘fixing the individual’ and runs the risk of ‘blaming the victim’, the focus should be on weakening systemic cognitive and social barriers to labour market entry.

4. Raising awareness:

Dr Rodolico investigated diversity in STEM by presenting her recent project, titled 'Enhancing Internationalization and Understanding of Sustainability through Remote Hands-On STEM Challenge.' The project's goal was to promote awareness of STEM and sustainability among primary and secondary school students. Through collaborative challenges delivered remotely, the project aimed to foster student’s engagement in STEM activities. Dr Rodolico shared her reflections on the project, highlighting the valuable opportunities it provided for students under-represented within STEM, to gain confidence and knowledge in these fields. Part of her experiences of collaboration in STEM are described in the chapter “Tutors, Students and Other Stakeholders at the Roundtable: A Matter of Equal Partnership” from the book ‘Collaboration in Higher Education.’

An academic researcher at the STEM roundtable event

5. Intersectionality and personal narratives:

Dr Salehjee called for a rethinking of intersectionality by moving beyond sociological generalities to embrace the particularities of personal narratives. She highlighted the significance of celebrating the personalised stories of successes of women of colour in STEM to create positive images and combat negative stereotypes. Learning from the stories of UK-based South Asian women presented in her co-authored 2023 book, Dr Salehjee recommends educators to design and implement effective strategies to: (i) promote and strengthen the feelings of happiness and self-contentment among girls and women of colours’ STEM lives, (ii) support them to go (sustain) against (sometimes above) multiple challenges, (iii) self-empower their altruistic attitudes, (iv) reinforce their understanding of success as a non-linear process, and (v) encourage their continuation of the informal learning of STEM.

Action Points and Recommendations:

A hand drawn illustration depicting some recommendations from the roundtable

1.       Promoting STEM awareness.

Community-based learning projects create opportunities for authentic learning and dialog between academics and non-academic STEM professionals as well as community members from pupils to adults of any background. The knowledge and experience can be exchanged in an ethos of equity and profound mutual enrichment.

2.       Strengthening links between primary, secondary and higher education.

Confidence and support towards STEM subjects start at primary level education. Therefore, there is a need for greater linking up of institutional approaches towards equity in STEM across education institutions. The development of STEM capacity in pupils, Pre-Service and In-Service teachers could be achieved by collaborative projects that happen in the real world of the school with a triangulated approach School-University-Home.

3.       Supporting access for women in STEM.

Increased scholarship opportunities for women would be best coupled with mentoring programmes, as well as periodic unconscious bias training for academic staff across STEM higher education faculties.

First published: 18 July 2023