New project to engineer diversity into STEMM workforces

The University of Nottingham is leading an innovative pilot to transform white, male-dominated workforces in engineering and science to ones that comprise top talent from diverse backgrounds.

The UK’s economic future depends on broadening the engineering recruitment net to boost innovation and to tackle a growing national skills shortage across Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) subjects.

The collaborative project aims to uncover and remove barriers to inclusivity in the recruitment process to change workplace culture and behaviour long-term.

The goal is to radically overhaul how staff in STEMM roles are recruited, retained and rewarded at the University and beyond, and for the first time, in every job family – from academic to technical.
Principle Investigator and Programme Manager, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Sam Kingman, Faculty of Engineering, explains that a lack of diversity has been an acknowledged problem in the sector for years.
“There are a lot of discussions on improving diversity, charters and awareness days, but nothing really changes beyond tokenism,” Professor Kingman said.
“It is vital to attract underrepresented groups to STEMM roles, but the process we currently use repeatedly gives us the same outcome – white, male recruits.”
The two-year project – STEMM Change – secured £524K from the EPSRC Inclusion Matters research call, begins in September and will focus on three areas: researching, innovating and embedding. The project is underpinned by a commitment to providing lasting solutions, challenges to current thinking and practice and new tools to embed diversity in ongoing activities.
STEMM Change is also informed by research from across the University; different disciplines are working together to shape the project from start to finish – psychology, linguistics, medicine, English, systems analysis and data visualisation, physics and engineering.
The first work strand uses linguistic analysis to identify and challenge the language of exclusion used in current job adverts and recruitment materials from different institutions. This strand involves several partner organisations: Universities of Warwick, Bradford, Liverpool, Kent, Nottingham Trent, Newcastle and Virginia Tech in the US, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing, the Science Council, the Royal Academy of Engineering; an industrial partner, Kohler Mira Ltd and Diversity by Design.
Diversity by Design, a consultancy run by Stonewall co-founder, Simon Fanshaw and his business partner Roy Hutchins, has developed an original approach to diversity that designs out bias from recruitment processes through use of an evidence-based process.
PVC Kingman explains: “Together with Diversity by Design we have developed a process that recognises the value diverse staff bring to the workplace. We are now actively creating teams that are made up of people who bring difference. It’s proven that diverse workforces perform better.”
Although in its early stages, the methodology has been tested twice in recent Faculty recruitment drives. On both occasions females were successfully appointed. That initial success is now set to be tested for the duration of the project across different subjects, universities and sectors to build strong statistical data.
The project will also design programmes to build and embed sustainable cultural understanding in-house. This includes large-scale reverse mentoring for 120 people from under-represented groups, with further participation from at least 40 senior leaders both at Nottingham and its partners.
“The reverse mentoring scheme offers a unique opportunity for higher education leaders to gain a deep understanding of the perspectives, issues and challenges faced by staff who are less well represented in the organisation,” explains Kelly Vere, Director of Technical Skills and Strategy at Nottingham, who leads on the project’s embedding work strand.
In addition to a mentoring programme, a ‘Change Maker’ placement scheme hopes to transform career progression for technical staff. It enables technicians from under-represented groups to apply for funding for secondments to partner universities or industry to broaden skills and experience in a new working environment.
At the end of the two years, the project intends to produce an electronic tool to reduce bias in recruitment which could be licensed and used worldwide along with an accredited training programme.
PVC Kingman said: “We will also create an open access, national ‘Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Library’ enabling easy access to EDI policies, data, literature and research. This is a living resource, informed by our research, that will provide a road-map for organisations wanting to effect transformational change.
“The overarching goal is to ensure EDI becomes “business as usual”. Cultural change will take longer than the duration of the project, but we hope to make great strides in the first two years.”
Using itself as a test bed, Nottingham and its partners expect to train more than 50 senior managers and 250 colleagues using the new tools and methodologies.