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The Project

This project embraces the experiences and expertise of members in the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists (INWESLink opens in a new window).

It is still the case that women, disabled people and those from ethnic-minorities or socially-disadvantaged groups are consistently underrepresented, particularly at senior levels, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Although diversity and inclusion issues also persist in other sectors, this project focuses on improving access to and participation in STEM research and innovation due to the existence of STEM-specific barriers and challenges, and due to the significant benefits that improving diversity in STEM would bring for individuals and for the wider UK society.

In some STEM disciplines, the underrepresentation is mainly governed by individuals choosing not to study the subjects that lead to STEM careers. In others, women, disabled people and people of colour may be well represented at early stages of study and career, yet they fail to be retained and to progress to senior levels. For example, in specific disciplines like chemistry, it is more of a retention issue, whereas in engineering and physics it appears to be a recruitment issue. The leaky pipeline in academia describes the gradual loss of underrepresented groups working at each career stage following postgraduate training, from Postdoctoral to Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Professorial roles, with HEIs losing a substantial proportion of the pool of talented staff available to them.

The differential access to and participation in STEM research influences the nature and process of knowledge production and the ways in which HEIs and industry can influence discourses and practices. It is recognised, for example, that the historical absence of women in STEM research – as leaders, participants, subjects, and beneficiaries – has resulted in science having more evidence for men than women, and in the 'male' being accepted as the norm in study design, and in the application and communication of research.

Progress has been made in the last two decades to inspiring people from all backgrounds to follow careers linked to research and innovation in STEM fields. It is, just as important as creating interest in STEM among pupils and undergraduate students, to achieve and retain diversity in STEM at later stages, from postgraduate study and beyond.

Contributing to a culture that supports the development of strong identities and academic mindsets to underrepresented groups in STEM research is the focus of the project. By extrapolating, analysing and discussing policies, initiatives, projects and interventions delivered across the world in the last 20 years (2002-2022) for equitable and inclusive access and participation in STEM academia and industry, this project aims at consolidating intrinsic experiences, mindsets, attitudes and insights that feed into a reimagined culture for enhancing access to and participation in STEM research and innovation.

The project recommends a conceptual framework for introducing an inclusive culture, providing underrepresented groups and individuals with an equal opportunity to participate and advance STEM research and innovation. The framework identifies best practices, lessons learnt, barriers and opportunities alongside implications for policies, strategies and interventions to be taken into account by beneficiaries such as HEIs, industry, researchers and educators.

The project is intended to be a pilot study (conducted at regional levels around the world) and could lead to larger projects in the future.