Young people

How can we improve diversity in engineering and why is it important?

29 April 2021

We are Futures recognises that providing equality of opportunity, valuing diversity, and promoting an inclusion culture are vital to our success, and we want this to be reflected in the work we do with our clients. That is why we are proud to join the conversation around diversity in engineering, driven by our client EngineeringUK. Their conversation point this week focuses on the importance of improving diversity, aiming to help people learn by asking questions and contributing to the discussion. With the world changing faster than ever, it is vital that we push diversity in all aspects of our lives and careers.

Our research shows that there is a critical need to influence children and expose them to science at a younger age. Gendered stereotypes remain embedded in young woman’s career choices, and this needs to be targeted at the root of the problem, as science aspirations are largely formed within the critical 10 to 14 age period. Moreover, girls are less likely to pursue STEM at A level, making up only 14% of Engineering, 22% of Physics, and 39% of maths. Overall, the number of students taking ICT qualifications decreased by 45% from 2017-2018, despite the ‘technology industry [being] one of the most dynamic in the UK and […] demand for IT professionals […] sky rocketing’.[1] Simply put, there is still a lot of work to do.

The engineering sector is constantly changing and evolving, and maintaining a diverse workforce is key to keeping up with it. Gender diverse companies financially outperform others by 15%, ethnically diverse companies outperform by 35%, and a diverse and inclusive workplace improves individual effort by 12% and intent to stay by 20%. So, the case for doing it – and doing it well – is a strong one.

So, how can we improve diversity?

BP, King’s College London, and the Science Museum came up with the concept of ‘Science Capital’. Science Capital is a person’s affinity for science. It is split into four main types:

What you know, how you think, what you do, and who you know.

Everyone has different amounts of Science Capital, and this affects whether a person feels drawn to science or not. By understanding this, and how it can affect a person, Science Capital can be used as a tool to develop more effective ways of supporting young people to engage with science.

Increasing young people’s Science Capital ensures that everyone has access to the opportunities needed to further their interests into STEM careers that they otherwise may have not considered. In simple terms, if people feel supported in their career decisions, then they are more likely to pursue it. This support can be in the form of STEM extracurricular programmes, competitions, grants, or informal science learning experiences that speak directly to those most lacking in science capital.

We need to work together to reimagine the future of engineering, ripping up the outdated stereotypes and refusing to let anything stand in the way of the fresh wave of upcoming talent. Recently we worked with Engineering UK to increase the number of young people from underrepresented groups who chose school subjects that could lead to careers in engineering. We reimagined their existing Energy Quest programme, bringing the voices of the key audiences into its very DNA through collaboration sessions with our Young Leaders Network.  Putting young people at the heart of the creation process allowed an authentic programme to be created, that will truly benefit those most in need of a boost in Science Capital.

More organisations should put young people truly at the centre of ideation and activation. That way the balance of inequality can start to be redressed by those who are most in need. By speaking to those who have not traditionally been given a voice in the world of science, we can start to understand why their needs are not being met and put into place initiatives that see the trend reversed. Young People are very quick to dismiss poorly conceived or inauthentic attempts to understand them. Listening allows you to challenge your pre-conceptions. By putting genuine co-creation and cooperation at the heart of what you do you will end up with better ideas.

Join the conversation today with #BigEngConversation, and let’s create a more inclusive community of STEM thinkers.


[1] https://www.robertwalters.co.uk/solving-the-uk-skills-shortage/technology-research.html

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