Accessibility in STEM
Catherine Lloyd explains the barriers preventing many minorities from entering STEM, and discusses the actions needed to be taken to encourage more diversity in science.
STEM has long been a domain closed-off to minorities, whether BME or LGBTQ+, high-achievers who are passionate in their field, should have a seat at the table irrespective of their race, class, gender or sexuality. There is a desire in the sector to effect change but first there must be a riddance of the hostile culture in STEM. A culture where barriers to the marginalised student are persistent and unwavering, where the traditional notion of ‘engineer’ alienates those that don’t fit into its narrow definition and where minorities must rail against bias.
“…minorities are burdened with an imposter syndrome that is exacerbated when they’re unable to see themselves represented in the socio-economic background of their colleagues, supervisors or board of directors.”
Dissuaded to approach such domains that to them are inaccessible, minorities are burdened with an imposter syndrome that is exacerbated when they’re unable to see themselves represented in the socio-economic background of their colleagues, supervisors or board of directors. Why is it that their undergraduate completion rates are lower than their white, male counterparts?
Minorities often hail from disadvantaged backgrounds where they overcame the odds stacked against them. Strained class-sizes; under-resourced classrooms; free-school meals: this is their reality. When they must navigate an environment of competitive, academic rigor they are deficient of the experiences, mentoring, assistance and financing that their fellow white peers have had access to. To address issues such as educational inequality, peer mentors of a similar background should aid them through their academic journey to instil a self-assuredness in their ability and to act as a confidant, a pillar of support.
“A diversity of people will bring with it a diversity of thought, and those who bring different experiences to a problem provide unencountered solutions and scientific breakthrough.”
We should emulate the success of US mentorship programs notably SOARS: a platform providing financial assistance and access to national conferences for marginalised groups. Diversifying STEM however, is a multi-faceted problem; the entry to these spaces is not enough, and minorities must retain their place in industry. To change the very makeup of STEM, minorities should, early in their school career, engage with the sciences to broaden their academic horizons and in turn, the pool of aspiring, minority scientists. When the financing of their studies and career is an inhibitor to their success, financial assistance is crucial. In an effort to build a rapport between parent, student and faculty, particularly when a first-generation student, conversation is key.
When a small subset of people are in the places of authority, we need to call time on a defunct system. With such a drought of STEM talent, why are we deserting talent when we should be welcoming it? A diversity of people will bring with it a diversity of thought, and those who bring different experiences to a problem provide unencountered solutions and scientific breakthrough.
Here are some links which provide further information on how to create accessible materials for STEM courses.