Analysis

Lack of inclusion in STEM must be addressed at source, says 3M

27th September 2022
Sam Holland

The vast majority of Britons (84%) believe it’s important to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields, according to 3M’s SOSI (State of Science Index). However, the majority (76%) agree that there are barriers standing in the way of students currently accessing a strong STEM education.

Barriers to entry

There is an indisputable urgency for STEM skills across Europe – indeed, Eurostat figures suggest that across the whole of Europe, only 2 million STEM graduates leave tertiary education each year, which can also be calculated as 17.4 STEM graduates per 1,000 young people (aged 20 to 29).

Access and affordability are cited as the top barriers to STEM entry. 76% of Britons say there is a lack of access to STEM including too few STEM educators/teachers or classes in school (47%) and a lack of Internet access (15%). 46% of Britons believe they are unable to afford a quality STEM education. A further 30% cite personal responsibilities such as earning money and providing for their family as the main obstacle. The data reflects an underlying perception amongst Britons that STEM education has a high economic bar for entry.

“Addressing the disconnect between education and employment is a core pillar of 3M’s advocacy within STEM fields and we believe the private sector has an important role to play in broadening access to STEM opportunities for everyone,” said Sarah Chapman, Technical Leader and Advocate for Diversity in STEM, 3M.

“That is the driving factor behind 3M’s drive to raise the profile of STEM among students in primary and secondary education through sponsored programmes such as the 3M Young Innovators Challenge in the UK, career resources, and employee mentoring and volunteering in schools through the STEM Ambassador programme. Through initiatives like these, we hope to begin that integration of STEM subjects and career building at an earlier stage and address the need for a STEM-skilled workforce.”

Broadening the talent pool

The majority (78%) of Britons believe science companies would have a greater positive impact on society if there was more diversity within their workforce. Specifically, 84% of Britons agree that women are a source of untapped potential in the STEM workforce. Yet, 61% say women are leaving STEM careers due to a lack of support, demonstrating there is tremendous room for improvement.

Chapman continues: “As in any career, representation matters. At 3M, we are encouraging greater recognition of the contributions of women in science and proactively engage in mentorship programmes to show young women the way into STEM and the wealth of opportunities available to them.

"As a strategic partner of the British Science Association, 3M has supported its ground-breaking Smashing Stereotypes campaign for the past three years, showcasing the diverse and inspiring teams and individuals that are working in the STEM field, and helping break misconceptions about STEM experts further.”

Commenting on the findings, Kay Hussain, Chief Executive of WISE, said: “Considering these latest figures on attitudes and access to STEM careers, it’s clear that work needs to be done at an institutional level if things are to improve. Both employers and educators need to remove the barriers to entry for women and those from diverse backgrounds and seriously consider how they can access the untapped pool of talent from overlooked groups.”

With just 24% of non-STEM workers having considered a career in STEM, far below the global average of 37%, more must be done to drive talent into STEM careers and to ensure Britain remains skilled and competitive in an increasingly science-led world.

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