How to encourage diversity in STEM industries

12th October 2020

Cleveland Bridge Group are committed to providing opportunities to people from all backgrounds. Our diversity ambassadors, for example, work hard to promote fairness, inclusion and respect across the business, helping people understand the benefits of a diverse workforce.

However, across the construction industry as a whole, inclusive initiatives are not as prevalent. Official statistics from GMB report that just 5.4% of construction workers are BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) – a concerning example of the lack of diversity across different STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) industries.

But the fight for diversity is not a lost cause. To find out how STEM industries can correct course and foster more diverse workforces, continue reading, below.

Diversity starts with education

For any industry, encouraging diversity starts in schools, colleges and universities. It’s the responsibility of these institutions to raise awareness of the career opportunities available to all, regardless of a given industry’s preconceptions.

In the case of STEM, counter-balancing the industry’s reputation is particularly difficult. Many students identify STEM subjects as difficult to learn and the industry as very male-dominated, discouraging a more diverse workforce from following STEM career opportunities.

Teesside University, however, is taking this challenge in its stride. Cheryl McMahon, School Apprenticeship Manager at Teesside University, reinforces the university’s commitment to diversity, “Attracting a diverse mix of students is fundamental to Teesside University’s missions and values. We believe that this strengthens our student experience and improves social and economic impact.”

Of course, to be accepted onto a STEM-related degree, students must have the appropriate qualifications from school and college. The onus must be on showing younger students that taking STEM subjects is a viable career option – a sentiment recognised by Teesside University.

As Cheryl McMahon explains, “Teesside University are proud to be involved in a range of local and national programmes that promote STEM to diverse students. Locally, STEMulate-12 is a programme aimed at engaging 16-17 year olds, offering them information, advice and guidance for STEM careers. In the last 3 years alone, over 1,000 students have benefitted from this programme. On a national level, we have hosted the Institution of Engineering Technologies Faraday challenge day, aimed at engaging 12-13-year olds; a national competition which also engaged a number of local students.”

In terms of education, Teesside University are setting the standard for encouraging diversity in STEM. Their efforts have certainly caught our attention and we support them whole heartedly on this endeavour.

But the industry must follow suit

For diversity to flourish, STEM companies need to follow through on the groundwork laid by educational institutions such as Teesside University. Collaboration is key, as is providing visible employment opportunities.

Sue Bryant, Diversity Ambassador at Cleveland Bridge Group, highlights our own work to encourage diversity as early as possible, “Here at Cleveland Bridge we work closely with schools and colleges in the local area, supporting career events & STEM initiatives. We assist students with STEM projects and invite them to witness engineering in a ‘real-time’ environment for work experience.”

Higher education is not the only route into a STEM-related career, however. There are an abundance of apprenticeship and entry-level jobs that do not require a degree – and the same commitment to diversity must remain for those roles.

Here at Cleveland Bridge Group, we are very proud of our apprenticeship and talent development programmes. Sue Bryant explains the importance of these initiatives in encouraging diversity, “Having a diverse workforce is vital to this business. For example, bringing people from a younger generation into an ageing workforce has proven benefits, such as new ideas and different perspectives.”

This diversity of ideas is one of the main reasons we are such huge advocates of both apprenticeship programmes and inhouse talent initiatives. We believe it is vital to retain the skills of our established workforce and have introduced flexible retirement packages, to enable those members of staff who wish to stay beyond retirement age to do so. This also helps to support the transfer of skills to the next generation. It is the key to our apprenticeship programmes’ success.

Whether from universities or apprenticeships, diverse cultures bring new ideas and promote an open-minded view across the business. As Cheryl McMahon emphasises, “Diversity encourages innovation, engagement, professionalism, all are qualities that are necessary for future proofing a business and promote a happy and productive working environment.”

And while we recognise that there is always room for improvement, Cleveland Bridge Group’s diversity has developed significantly over the last three years. For example, not only do we employ more women in a range of previously male-dominated roles, more women have taken up senior roles within the company.

To continue this development, we work closely with training providers, career agencies and the education sector to ensure our opportunities are open to people from all backgrounds, both locally and globally.

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