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Five key takeaways from the Race in Stem roundtable

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Five key takeaways from the Race in Stem roundtable

​The IN Group’s London office hosted the latest Race in STEM roundtable on Thursday 25th January. Host Steven Fuller was joined by a panel of Rapulu (Ral) Ogbah, Dr Wayne Mitchell, Marcia Philbin, Stephen Vinter and Mandy Budwal-Jagait, to discuss ways of increasing multicultural representation in STEM and share personal experiences and insights from their own careers. Here are five key takeaways from the discussion.

1. The power of intention

When it comes to DEI, there has to be an intention behind what you’re trying to do, allied to clear objectives. If there’s no intentionality for change, change will not happen. Intentionality gives clarity and credibility to your objectives, and the seriousness of your intention will invariably be reflected in the result you achieve. Giving yourself something tangible to aim for will help you achieve change that is impactful, practical and long lasting, rather than merely performative.

Key to this are accountability, leadership and sponsorship from your senior stakeholders – the people who can actually effect change. They need to buy into your initiative and be willing to drive it. Make everyone accountable for their own objectives and if someone says they’re going to do something, follow up and make sure it gets done.

2. You have to see it to be it…

​Being around people of your own ethnicity gives you a sense of identity and belonging. Our attendees described how they’d been inspired to pursue their future careers by someone who looked like them (whether in life sciences or even, in Marcia’s case, Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek!) Lack of representation, both in fellow students and professors, is a significant barrier to people of colour putting themselves forward in the field.

​If you’re the only person of your ethnicity in a lecture – which has particularly been the case for Black students studying STEM subjects – this can play on your sense of social identity. Being the only one means you don’t have the opportunity to express your own cultural identity, forcing you to develop strategies and techniques to achieve a sense of belonging. It’s easy to find yourself assimilating and developing other people’s identities just to get by. You can’t be who you want to be. And if you are, it feels like people want to penalise you for it.

​Having already encountered significant obstacles before they even got to the institution – such as lack of access to additional tuition, or A-level programmes that might not have given them the mathematical skills they needed – many students from ethnic minorities don’t think about continuing into PhD and beyond.

3. …but you can still be it if you can’t see it

​“Don’t think, ‘I can’t see them so I can’t do it.’ Dare to dream.” Dr Wayne Mitchell

​Although there’s the argument that people have nothing to aspire to without visible role models from a similar background, we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to the parameters of what’s gone before, otherwise we’ll never take things any further. Wayne observed that no one had been to the moon before, and someone had to do it first. The question is how we remove the barriers to getting where we want to go.

​We need to provide equity of opportunity and resources, creating pathways to attainment and enabling impactful change. Through mentorship programmes, engagement initiatives and building communities, we can help underrepresented groups excel at university instead of feeling that they survived it.

4. The power of trust

​In life, we often size people up as soon as we meet them, creating barriers in the process. It’s necessary to break down those barriers before we can see the value of the individual. We might not all be the same, but when we talk and listen to each other’s stories, we start to see the crossovers. We start to develop trust. It’s about creating a sense of belonging – a shared experience and a shared story.

​People need to know that it’s safe to talk about their experiences. That’s why organisations need to create a psychologically safe space where their people feel like they can express themselves and challenge where necessary. If people don’t trust you, they won’t engage. But if you haven’t made the effort to engage in the first place, why should they trust you?

​That’s why it’s so important to proactively reach out to underrepresented communities so you can understand their needs and barriers, start to build trust, and encourage them to join committees dedicated to DEI initiatives. You can’t just ask a certain select group for their views, produce some written guidance catering to their specific needs and then think your work’s done.

5. Looking in the right places

​Organisations in STEM will often point to a lack of diverse applicants for roles. But if looking in the same places hasn’t yielded the talent you’re hoping for, you’re looking in the wrong places. Think about who’s applying to your roles. What are their backgrounds? How do you engage with them? Hold yourselves accountable and check for biases. Build networks and understanding. Clearly communicate that there’s a career path within your organisation.

​People applying to your organisation, or looking to progress within it, need to know that they don’t have to tick all the boxes for a role. Belonging’s about so much more than sharing an ethnic group. Many of us will sometimes struggle with that feeling of not quite belonging – feeling that we don’t match those around us, whether in our educational, career or social background. But we will have something in our favour, something other people don’t, that allows us to get our foot in the door and then progress. We need to help our people understand their unique skills and how they can use them to have a positive impact. After all, that is the essence of an effective team.

​Many thanks to our attendees for a wonderfully engaging discussion and we look forward to hosting the next roundtable event later in the year.

​Race in Stem is a community for underrepresented multicultural voices in STEM. If you’d like to find out more about Race in STEM, or you want to talk to us about improving equality and diversity in your organisation, please get in touch now. We’d love to hear from you.