How culturally diverse is British engineering?

With recent statistics showing a massive scarcity of BME engineers in the United States, PIF takes a look at the current levels of diversity in British engineering.

Nearly 75% of US scientists and engineers are white. That was the damning, but perhaps not altogether surprising, headline statement in a recent Guardian column from Sophia Shaw, CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Despite making up 26 per cent of the American workforce, a mere 11 per cent of African Americans and Hispanics are represented in STEM industries Stateside it was revealed.

Culturally diversity in the engineering industry
“Addressing this lack of diversity is key if the US wants to be a leader in STEM fields,” said Shaw, who oversees the Science Career Continuum mentoring programme that prepares young people for STEM careers in the environmental sciences.

The gaping chasm of ethnic diversity in the US, which echoes the much publicised gender divide and the wider equality issues facing engineering today, got us thinking here at PIF. Just how ethnically diverse is the engineering industry in the United Kingdom? Is the STEM workforce representative of our island nation's rich cultural melting pot?

BME men are 28 per cent less likely to work in STEM subjects

The Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE) is the leading independent advocate for science and engineering in the UK. In May 2014, they released a report entitled 'Improving Diversity in STEM', in collaboration with King's College London, which uncovered some fascinating trends.

Interestingly, although similar proportions of white and BME women gain undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in STEM subjects, BME women are more likely to go on to work in STEM occupations. However, the reverse was found for BME men who are apparently 28 per cent less likely to work in STEM subjects than white men.

On the flip side though, CaSE also did note that in 2010-11 there were significantly higher proportions of UK national academics from a BME background in medicine, dentistry and engineering (18 per cent) in comparison to the overall proportion (8 per cent).

So is there enough diversity in British engineering? Well no. There is still much to be done. But there are some measures being taken to address the situation.

Connecting STEM teachers programme

The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society run a programme of work to address the issue of diversity in the STEM workforce. They work across a number of initiatives (including data gathering, pilot activities, and showcasing role models) and events to launch research findings and programme activities.

On 9 July 2015, the RAEng was due to hold an event to showcase inspiring STEM learning. The programme aims to help teachers engage with a greater number and a wider spectrum of students with STEM, by providing them with ideas for great STEM learning through free termly training that is led by Teacher Coordinators.

Starting to bridge the gap in schools is a great place to start. But how long will it take for the STEM industries, particularly engineering, to become more of a level playing field? It's going to take time and a collective will. But anything is possible – and that's the message we need to get across.

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