Diversity in STEM - are we up for confronting the lack of progress?

Posted 14/06/2023 by Sarah Nalden

Clare Viney

 Clare Viney, CEO, CRAC/Vitae was recently invited by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee to provide oral evidence for a Diversity in STEM session. Her blog continues the conversation around the career progression of under-represented scientists

When Greg Clark, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee asked me to clarify what he had just heard me say during the Diversity in STEM oral evidence session, I think he was quite shocked but sadly he was correct in what he heard: that recent analysis of Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data, conducted by The Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC), concluded that there were only 25 black (UK domiciled), STEM professors (of which, incidentally, I confirmed later, 5 were female). 

In this instance our definition of STEM excluded subjects within or related to medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry but even so, the statistics highlight the gulf that starkly needs to be filled to bring the academic research population and the wider society into any kind of equilibrium as far as black attainment in research is concerned. 

When understanding ethnicity in the workforce and academia, international intersectionality needs to be taken into account.  The inward migration of male Asian scientists for example, makes statistics for Black, Asian and minority ethnic scientists, look rosier than the grim reality. Which is that, only 8% of STEM UK domiciled undergraduates were Black, tapering to a mere 0.4% at Professoriate level. 

Improving diversity is a critical component to progressing research culture globally and from a national viewpoint, in reaching UK government R&D ambitions. We talk about creating a diverse and inclusive working culture in which researchers can thrive but we need large scale systemic change to achieve these ambitions. Even by the time students reach university, the challenges faced by many minorities, ethnic or otherwise, have manifested themselves. The Sutton Trust suggested during their subsequent evidence session, that the UK educational system would benefit from changes as early as pre-school stage; before a foot has been set in the playground. Albeit, the Sutton Trust were not talking in particular about race, but of pre-school opportunities that aren’t currently available to certain demographics of society but the point was that there are doors open for some sections of society that are closed for others, making opportunities more difficult to navigate. At the other end of the educational spectrum, the pathways of progression through academia are not especially easy to access for many minority groups and much more needs to be done to understand this complicated system and how to support and challenge the status quo. 

Understanding the full picture of under-representation becomes further nuanced when also considering data around for example, gender, socio-economic backgrounds and declared physical or mental health conditions. Here we have different groups with different needs whilst at the same time, some people may fall into more than one under-represented category, creating overlaps (intersectionality). The art of the solutions may therefore lie somewhere between the tailored, yet holistic approach.  

As far as careers beyond academia go, whilst we have a fair amount of data around higher education and the academic workforce from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), it becomes trickier to follow the profile and under representation (or otherwise), of the STEM workforce beyond academia. The lack of systematic and global mobility data within industry workforces has resulted in a patchwork of information about different segments with very little connectivity between the datasets themselves and joining the dots between datasets is the way to gain a better understanding of longer-term career progression. 

Breaking the cycle of underrepresentation is complex and needs sustained focus and investment. We need systemic change. We need to collectively think not just about who enters STEM, but progression & transitions, including who leaves and when, and the dataset dots need to be connected. The sector needs leadership, practice sharing, toolkits and evaluation guidance so that initiatives are well-founded and effective. Ideas of academic excellence need reviewing …and it’s then we can bring in more support for all those to thrive. 

As Greg Clark asked:

“Are people up for confronting, frankly, the lack of  adequate progress?. 

Why would we not say YES? 

View the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Diversity in STEM oral evidence session 

Number of Black postdoctoral researchers and Professors in the UK  

Career stage  


Number of Black origin  

% Black origin  

Postdoctoral researchers  




Postdoctoral researcher (UK domiciles only)  




Professors (all domiciles)  




Professors (UK domiciles)  




Notes relating to figures above:

Definition of STEM in this context excludes subjects within or related to medicine, veterinary medicine and dentistry.  

2018/19 Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data.