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STEM: Recruitment bias preventing the industry’s progress to be more inclusive

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) leaders need to do more to challenge recruitment bias within their own organisations to help the industry become more inclusive, according to a STEM recruitment scheme.

In the annual STEM Returners Index, a survey of a nationally representative group of more than 750 STEM professionals on a career break who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work, recruitment bias was revealed to be the main barrier preventing them from returning to work.

In the survey, 37% of participants said they experienced bias in the recruitment process due to their age, while 43% of people who identified as BME said they had experienced bias due to race or ethnicity.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners

Female engineers are more likely to be victims of recruitment bias, according to the survey – 27% of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to 8% of men.

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, is urging recruiters across STEM to update their processes and challenge unconscious bias, so this highly skilled group of people can gain employment and the industry can become more diverse and inclusive.

She said: “There is a distinct lack of diversity and inclusion in STEM industries – that is not news. But there is a talented pool of professionals who are being locked out of roles, which is severely hindering efforts to be more inclusive.

Rushna Nawaz is due to start a placement with aerospace and defence firm Babcock International as a Design Manager

“The pool of STEM Professionals attempting to return to industry is significantly more diverse than the average STEM organisation. Those attempting to return to work are 51% female and 38% from black and minority ethnic groups, compared to 10% female and 6% BME working in industry.

“Companies need to do more to update recruitment practices, challenge unconscious bias and actively seek out diversity, which is proven to increase business success.”

The STEM Returners Index supports the findings of a recent inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on diversity and inclusion in STEM, which said there was an overall lack of representation in the STEM sector of minoritised groups such as black people, women, disabled people and those from the LGBTQ+ community and  the STEM sector is losing valuable skills, experiences and perspectives, and cannot reach its full potential without greater equity in the workplace. The report said the COVID-19 pandemic had made the situation worse.

STEM Returners, based in Hampshire, returns highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements. More than 200 engineers have returned to work through the scheme across the UK.

Rushna Nawaz is due to start a placement with aerospace and defence firm Babcock International as a Design Manager, supporting the ongoing operation of the Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth.

Rushna left her previous role in early 2020 as the pandemic hit to look after her children but has since found it hard to get back into employment.

“I did a mechanical engineering degree at University and have always worked within the STEM industry, which I have loved,” Rushna said. “But when COVID took hold I decided to take a step back. After a while I applied for a few roles but didn’t have any response. COVID has made it very hard to get back in to the industry. A gap on my CV, even because of a global pandemic, seems to have slowed my progress in getting a new role.”

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