My diversity story

By Elizabeth Dellar, Campaign for Science and Engineering & University of Oxford         
CaSE New Icon and Title SMALLOver the last three months I’ve been working as an intern at the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE). During this time, I’ve focused principally on updating our work on diversity and inclusion in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine), involving creating an evidence base resource for our website and writing a short briefing document, which will be published in the new year. While I have been focusing my work on actions that Government can take to improve diversity and inclusion, spending so much time reading, talking and writing about it has caused me to start viewing what I do with a diversity lens. So what have I learnt over my three months?

Diversity is about more than just gender

Coming from an academic background (next week I move back to Oxford to continue with my PhD), a lot of what people know about and talk about (if at all) is the ‘leaky pipeline’ of women in science. However, spending so much time looking at statistics, what’s become even more clear to me is that other disparities, such as by ethnicity, disability and socio-economic background, are just as great, and need to be talked about more.

In particular, looking at what data there is on intersectional characteristics has highlighted that a lot is dependent on interactions. For example gender differences in STEM subject choices are highly dependent on socio-economic status and there are large differences in the proportions of black and minority ethnic (BME) and white women in senior positions in academia  (see table).

2009/10 2015/16 Women of BME backgrounds are particularly underrepresented relative to the total academic population.

CaSE analysis of Equality Challenge Unit Statistical Reports 2017 and 2011 and  associated data tables. If the number of professors and senior managers were representative of the total academic population who are UK Nationals (both STEMM and non-STEMM), these figures would be 100%.


Be proactively aware of what you can do

The past few months have also made me realise that there are many actions I can take. Many people have talked about the importance of mentoring for supporting career progression, but it’s also important to mentor young people considering careers in STEMM. There’s always someone who could benefit from mentoring from you, so it’s something I’ve been doing some research on for when I move back to Oxford. Other small actions you can take include taking time to consider diversity when asked for suggestions for seminar speakers, and at conferences simply being much more aware of actions taken to promote accessibility, such as live subtitling or sign language interpretation.

Talk to different people

Having attended many conferences and events over the past few months, I’ve realised how much, in a situation where I know no-one, I unconsciously gravitate towards other young women ‘like me’. Even at some events specifically on the topic of diversity, if you take a look around the room you can see many people doing the same. Recognising that, and challenging myself to approach a broader range of people, is something I’m now actively attempting to do more (with mixed success!).

Tell your story

A lack of understanding of what different STEMM careers are available, what they involve and how to get there has repeatedly been raised as a barrier to increasing diversity, which is why one of CaSE’s key policy recommendations is around a careers strategy. However, my favourite point from the Royal Academy of Engineering event “Diversity and inclusion: can the engineering profession rise to the challenge?” was when, towards the end, the chair of the discussion asked each panellist totell a story – an engineering story, or a story about an engineer, a story that brings engineering to life”. The importance of telling your story, how you got to where you are, your successes and your failures, is something many people have raised as key to making science and engineering a more open, inclusive and diverse place.

Biochem blog meAbout me

I am a 2nd year PhD student in Interdisciplinary Bioscience at the University of Oxford, spending three months as a policy intern at the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE). You can follow me on Twitter at @LizzieDellar  and CaSE at @sciencecampaign.

The Biochemical Society is committed to promoting equality and diversity within the molecular biosciences, with the ambition to foster an inclusive environment across the life sciences to ensure that involvement in science becomes accessible for all. As part of the Society’s work to achieve this aim, it awards a number of Diversity in Science grants every year . These grants provide up to £500 to fund projects dedicated to addressing diversity issues within science and breaking down the barriers and stereotypes that surround accessibility to science. 

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