Inequality in STEM
Kevin Yu discusses discrimination in STEM subjects
2020 has been a turbulent year, packed full of incidents. But if one thing is for certain, it is that the entire world has now opened its eyes to the widespread issue of discrimination. This problem is present across all fields and industries, including in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). In fact, in a survey of just under 3000 STEM professionals hosted by New Scientist and SRG, nearly 29% claimed that they had encountered some form of discrimination in their workplaces.
Nearly 29% [of STEM professionals asked] claimed… they had encountered some form of discrimination
Whilst this figure is alarmingly high, it might indicate that more are coming forward with their experiences, encouraged by recent events. Following the senseless murder of George Floyd (and the mass protests which ensued across the UK and US), many scientists of a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background have detailed their encounters of discrimination. These articles, which have been posted by the likes of Science and Nature, also highlight the lack of diversity within STEM and the detrimental effects that it can have, including to potential PhD candidates as well as to senior scientists applying for research funding.
However, this problem is not just about race – there is also a gender equality problem. The New Scientist report highlights the continuing disparity in terms of salary, with men earning 20% more than women, on average, across the UK. This percentage is more than the overall UK difference of 17.3%, showing that STEM is behind other sectors in terms of striving for equality. Furthermore, female scientists are likely to have felt the impacts of COVID-19 more than their male counterparts. According to a recent report female research output has fallen compared to male output during the pandemic. This could be attributed to women generally having more childcare responsibilities to tend to whilst at home.
However, this problem is not just about race- there is also a gender equality problem
All in all, these recent reports have documented the breadth of this long-standing problem… so how can we fix it? The key is to speak out against any discrimination encountered, and to continue the conversation about these issues. This applies to both ourselves and also to the institutions and companies who can provide the platforms for our messages to be heard.
An excellent example of this is the #BlackBirdersWeek Twitter event, created by a biology postgraduate student in the US. This event not only provided a space for black scientists to share their experiences with discrimination, but also offered a platform to share their research and discoveries, which can help inspire a more ethnically diverse generation of future scientists. A number of initiatives have also been set up to tackle gender inequality, such as a funding scholarship to help support scientists with carer responsibilities (almost 80% of its scholars are female).
Whilst the different branches of STEM have undoubtedly improved the quality of life for many people, it mustn’t forget to support those who drive these industries forward.
A New Scientist report on the STEM survey is available on their website.