STEM careers have taken centre stage over the past few years, with the technology industry continuing to grow at an unprecedented rate. For example, the demand for AI to solve complex problems and improve standards of living has increased considerably.

However, while the need for STEM skills across industries is growing, finding the necessary talent to fulfil this demand is becoming increasingly difficult. This talent gap stems from a lack of diversity in STEM fields, as well as limited support for people from diverse demographics. 

The fact is that minorities remain significantly underrepresented throughout the industry. According to recent research, only 5% of leadership positions in the UK tech industry are held by women and only 15% of the workforce consists of people of colour. 

Starting as early as nursery school, there is a clear pattern of disadvantage for STEM students based on race, ethnicity, gender, and class, resulting in missed potential and failure to unlock a broad range of digital talent. Women of colour, for example, comprise less than 2% of all engineering professionals, which is a significant disparity that must be addressed moving forward.

Steps have been taken in recent years to close the STEM diversity gap, but more needs to be done to encourage people from all backgrounds to pursue these fields. This starts with promoting inclusivity in STEM education and inspiring underrepresented groups from an early age. In turn, this will help to develop tomorrow’s STEM talent, increase the likelihood of success for underrepresented minorities, and bridge the growing skills divide.

So, what can be done to make STEM more diverse and inclusive in the UK?

‘When I returned to work, I just didn’t feel myself’

Encouragement and inclusivity in the early years 

The national curriculum for STEM learning is growing, but there is still a lack of information, advice, and role models out there to encourage young people from all backgrounds to consider a career in these fields. 

When we look at the demographics of UK students enrolled in STEM subjects at universities, for example, only 6.2% are black. STEM subjects are still widely perceived as exclusionary, and this rings true from nursery school all the way up to the boardroom. 

To combat this disparity, we must take action to inspire underrepresented groups to pursue STEM careers. Creating role models for those who are underrepresented within these industries will help instil a greater sense of belonging as they may be able to better envision themselves in these careers. 

The importance of visibility is also highlighted by data from Microsoft, which found that young girls with female role models are 50% more likely to consider STEM subjects and careers. 

Essentially, embracing diversity in students, recognising their differences, and adapting the curriculum to meet their unique needs is crucial to fostering a wide range of digital skills. 

Opening doors through alternative education

However, changing the curriculum alone will not be enough to tackle this shortage. To help bridge the STEM skills gap, schools, universities, and organisations must also focus on promoting alternative routes into STEM careers. 

Digital training courses, bootcamps, workshops, and apprenticeship programmes have proven to be effective ways of nurturing high-level talent from an early age. 

To attract talent from all backgrounds, organisations and institutions must watch out for exclusionary language in advertisements. They must also reposition their marketing strategies and make learning opportunities more accessible for all. 

For example, when designing a training course, it is important to consider the diverse needs of a range of learners. This will include tailoring activities to various social and cultural backgrounds.

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Here at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, we host a range of seminars and events aimed at increasing diversity within STEM fields, as well as organising regular cyber courses to encourage people from different backgrounds to develop their digital skills. This includes our partnership with Code First Girls, in which we are sponsoring its CFGdegree programme to encourage greater workplace diversity. 

Ultimately, we as an industry must all work together to help tackle the diversity challenge in STEM, and provide greater opportunities for people from all backgrounds to enter these careers. A diverse and inclusive workforce not only contributes to greater innovation, but will also enable organisations to resolve problems swiftly with a wide range of skills to draw on.

‘Starting from zero is a challenge – but also exciting’