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UK ‘could lose generation’ of Stem workers after pandemic


MPs warn of pandemic’s impact on “minoritised” science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers

Without urgent action from government, the UK faces losing a generation of workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has warned in a new report.

The inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on diversity and inclusion in Stem has found that marginalised groups in the workforce, such as those from ethnic minorities, disabled people and women, have suffered disproportionately during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Sadly,” said the APPG’s chair and shadow science minister Chi Onwurah, “diversity and inclusion in the Stem workforce was bad before Covid hit, and our inquiry’s findings show how the pandemic has preyed on this disadvantage and exacerbated it even more.”

She added that the result would be the loss of a generation of Stem workers from diverse communities unless the government takes action.

The report notes the closure of communal working areas as a significant barrier during the pandemic, meaning that researchers and people in Stem industries “lost access to their laboratories, fieldwork facilities and training programmes”.

Those with young children or caring responsibilities, those from working-class backgrounds, and people from Black or other ethnic minority groups were particularly affected by setbacks of this kind, it found.

Other Covid-related barriers identified include short-term funding and contracts, loss of income, altered working patterns, redundancies, and inequalities in health and access to treatment.

Katherine Mathieson, chief executive of the British Science Association, which acts as secretariat for the APPG, said the inquiry has uncovered “just how disastrous the pandemic has been for many already disadvantaged members of the Stem workforce”.

“The severe disruption has meant many people from minoritised groups have had to leave their research and their jobs,” she added. “I fear that unless we take collective action now, we risk losing a generation of talented Stem professionals who could be instrumental in the country’s Covid recovery plan over the coming decades.”

‘Stem diversity decade of action’

The group urges the government to “quickly look to address and reverse the worsening inequity within the Stem workforce, which has been brought about by the pandemic”.

Its report makes a number of recommendations, including that the prime minister and government lead a “Stem diversity decade of action” campaign to tackle the “historic and systemic underrepresentation of minoritised groups at all levels in the sector”.

It says the Cabinet Office and Office for Science and Technology Strategy should lead a cross-government review into the issue, and it urges the recently announced National Science and Technology Council to put “pace and backing” into ensuring the UK’s diverse communities believe that working in Stem is “for them”.

The group also calls on the government to deliver a “statutory workforce data strategy” to improve policy and support employers. This could include mandatory reporting of pay gaps across protected characteristics and a review of award criteria for funding.

“The government must take on board the recommendations in this report and support the sector in turning this situation around,” said Baroness Brown of Cambridge, who is an officer for the APPG. “A more diverse and inclusive sector will support economic growth, improve lives, enhance prosperity and help us tackle global challenges like climate change.”

Research Professional News has approached the government for comment.