Improving diversity in STEM sectors Infographic

Diverse teams produce more creative and innovative solutions to problems.  Companies with diverse boards are more profitable.

Products created by organisations which have limited diversity will be less useful.  For example, Apple didn’t include a period tracker in its Health app for iPhone until 2015.

Many STEM sectors in the UK do not represent the diversity of the current UK population in terms of gender, ethnicity or social class.  In 2018 Engineering UK found that just 24% of  the Engineering workforce were people from a disadvantaged background, and in 2020 the ONS reported that 14.5% were female.

For over 50 years, Governments and companies have been working to improve the diversity of different STEM sectors, initially in terms of gender, but more recently in relation to ethnicity and social class.  And we can say that things haven’t got worse in most sectors, they also haven’t got much better.

NUSTEM’s research is exploring new, and more nuanced, ways of changing the diversity of STEM.  We published a research paper about our Theory of Change a while ago.  We’ve recently been working with the lovely people at Nifty Fox Creative to develop a useful infographic to summarise the paper so that we can share it with busy people.

You can see that it includes our five recommendations for all organisations that want to work towards increasing the diversity of all STEM sectors:

  • Start working with families and children from a young age
  • Use attributes of people working in STEM to help children to see what they have in common with them
  • Show parents and carers the different routes into STEM careers
  • Support teachers to include careers in their subject lessons. Showcase local opportunities.
  • Ensure that company culture is inclusive of staff from different backgrounds. Make STEM sectors good places to work.
Increasing Diversity in UK STEM Sector - NUSTEM

You can also download a pdf of the infographic here.

How do people who work in STEM describe themselves?

Does your work involve science, technology, engineering or maths?

 

If so, NUSTEM would like YOUR help!

 

NUSTEM has developed a list of 16 attributes that are often shown by people who work in STEM. You could also call them employability skills. This list was developed in collaboration with teachers, STEM colleagues and other projects.

We use this list in our activities with children, teachers and families. Showing children and young people how they already have, or can develop, these skills can help the children to see themselves as a ‘STEM-person’.

However, there is a gap in the research literature about how people who work in STEM sectors think about themselves and these employability skills. NUSTEM is therefore carrying out a short research project to find out more about this.

If you work in a STEM sector in the UK, at any level, then we would like you to take part in our research. You’ll be asked to answer some questions about the characteristics and attributes you think you have. It should take about 5 minutes to complete.  The survey is anonymous, and the project has obtained ethical approval from Northumbria University.

https://northumbria.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/attributes-of-stem-professionals

Please feel free to forward and share with your STEM colleagues – including apprentices and technicians.

 

Children’s early career choices

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Hamish Johnston from the Physics World podcast about how we can encourage children to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). During the interview, Hamish asked me whether there was research evidence to show that children were making career choices as young as eight. Those of you that know about NUSTEM will know that this is one of the areas that we have been researching for the past few years. I thought it would be helpful to outline the two different ways that we’ve used to look at the career choices of children in primary school.

Zone of Acceptable Alternatives

The first method we have used is designed to explore what is the range of careers that children would consider doing in the future. This work is built on a theory proposed by Linda Gottfredson
called ‘Circumscription and compromise’ which describes how from a very young age children will limit their possible career choices based on the societal norms and expectations that they see
around them. The diagram below (from Gutman and Akerman (2008) and building on Gottfredson’s work) shows how children’s developmental progress gradually circumscribes the careers that they will consider from even before they start school, and then, once they are in the school system and start to understand some of the requirements of different jobs, they compromise their choices based on attainment and expectations. This leaves the children and young people with a Zone of Acceptable Alternatives: careers that they would be interested in doing, or at least, willing to do.

Description of development of career choices for children

Children’s development of career ideas from Gutman and Akerman, 2008.

 

To measure young children’s Zone of Acceptable Alternatives, we developed a research game called STEMKAT (STEM Knowledge and Aspirations Tool).  We gave children 30 different job cards and asked them to short the jobs into two piles: those they knew about, and those they didn’t know about.  This gave us a simple measure of how many different jobs each child knew about.  The jobs were chosen to be a broad range with some that children should definitely know about (e.g. teacher, doctor) and some that they might not have come across (e.g. entrepreneur, engineer).  They were also chosen to have a range of qualification requirements and status.

Once each child had their collection of jobs that they knew about, we asked them to re-sort the cards.  This time we asked them to put them into piles of ‘jobs I’d like to do’, ‘jobs I wouldn’t like to do’, and ‘not sure’.  By looking at the ‘jobs I’d like to do’ and ‘not sure’ cards we have a measure of the children’s zone of acceptable alternatives.

What we found:

  • Children in year 3 (age 8) knew about fewer jobs than children in year 5 (age 11)
  • Children in year 5 had smaller zones of acceptable alternatives i.e. they said that they wanted to do fewer of the jobs.
  • Job choices were strongly gendered, even in year 3. Of the STEM jobs on the list, boys tended to prefer jobs in the physical sciences, and girls tended to prefer jobs in the biological sciences.

You can read more about the detailed findings in our open access paper, including the positive effect that the work of NUSTEM in their schools has on children’s zone of acceptable alternatives.

Possible Selves

The second method that we have used to explore children’s career ideas uses a more straightforward method. This time we simply asked children to write down three jobs they would like to do when they are older, and why. This allows us to explore in more detail the range of specific jobs children are considering and how they see their future ‘possible selves’. This method draws on a theory developed by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius (1986) who say that “possible selves represent individuals’ ideas of what they might become, what they would like to become, and what they are afraid of becoming, and thus provide a conceptual link between cognition and motivation.”

Many studies that look at what children would like to do tend to ask about only one possible self or future job (e.g. Drawing the Future, OECD The Future at Five). However, at NUSTEM we felt that it was important to look at the range of possible selves that children could envisage for themselves which is why we asked them to name three jobs they would like to do.

What we found:

  • Career aspirations were generally limited to a small range of options: although there were 81 different types of role mentioned, the top 20 jobs named account for 75% of those roles.
  • Career aspirations are strongly gendered, although there are some shared aspirations: teacher, you-tuber, police officer, and sport person.
  • We can also classify girls aspirations as being more realistic or achievable than boys. The job-market for professional footballers and you-tubers is after all, extremely small, and so the likelihood that a child will achieve success in those fields in also small.
  • Overall boys named a broader range of STEM aspirations than girls (28 vs 17), but that was still a small percentage of the jobs named.

Table showing the top 10 career choices for children

You can read more about this research in our paper presented at an IEEE conference in 2020.

Using these research methods in schools

Our second method is a very simple way of looking at the range of jobs individuals, and classes, are considering. If you are thinking about how to broaden the range of aspirations of your classes, then this would provide a quick way to track changes in aspirations over time. At the beginning of the year (or planned activity) ask the children to write down what they want to do (and why), and then at the end of the year you can ask them to repeat this. Looking at the range of jobs in the class will give a simple measure of the zone of acceptable alternatives, and looking at changes in individual children’s choices will see if there has been a broadening of an individual’s possible selves.

A note of caution: children will have developed their career ideas over a long time, and so short-term interventions may not cause an observable change in their choices. However, NUSTEM work with primary schools has shown that over the long term, sustained career activity can broaden the range of acceptable alternatives that children have.

If you’d like to talk to a member of NUSTEM about using the research methods in your school or college, then please email us nustem@northumbria.ac.uk

 

References:

Linda Gottfredson (1981) “Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations”. Journal of Counselling psychology, 28(6) 545

Leslie Morrison Gutman, Rodie Akerman (2008) “Determinants of Aspirations”,  Research Report 27, Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning (IoE)

Hazel Markus, Paula Nurius (1986) “Possible Selves” American Psychologist, September 1986, pp 954-969

 

Maximising impact of STEM outreach

There are many, many organisations that want to increase diversity in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and maths).  To help coordinate efforts and maximise impact, Engineering UK have recently launched the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code.

The Code is a framework for organisations to help them to improve the quality, exclusivity, targeting and reach of engineering and STEM outreach activities. Engineering UK is asking organisations to sign up as signatories of the code.

The Code has four pledges:

  • Ensuring programmes contribute to a sustained and rich STEM journey for all young people.
  • Ensuring all young people have opportunities to engage in engineering-inspiration activities, so that no one is left behind
  • Promoting a positive, compelling and authentic view of engineering, and showcasing the breadth of opportunities
  • Improving the monitoring and evaluation of programmes and activities to develop a shared understanding of what works

At Northumbria University, we’re pleased to be one of the early signatories of the Code.  After all, NUSTEM have been working towards improving diversity in STEM for children and young people for many years now.

We have got a lot of experience in STEM activities, and because we have developed an evidence-based Theory of Change which guides our activities and planning, we’ve created a guidance document to help others organisations gain from our expertise.  We think that the Code, and our recommendations, actually are relevant to all STEM activities, not just engineering ones.

Download your copy of Implementing the Tomorrow’s Engineers Code: An evidence-based, practical guide from NUSTEM

If your organisation is interested in becoming a signatory of the Code, you can find out more about it here.

 

Teaching Careers in Primary School

Our research at NUSTEM has shown that children have very gendered ideas about what jobs they want to do even before they leave primary school.  We’ve been supporting primary school teachers to include careers-related learning into their teaching.

Last year NUSTEM in collaboration with the NELEP (and funded by the Careers and Enterprise Company) developed online CPD to help more teachers to bring careers into their lessons.

We’ll be running the CPD between October and January.  There are three sessions and after each session teachers will be given an activity to do which helps to embed the learning from the session.

Ideally, we’d like teachers to sign up for all three sessions, although they do stand alone.

The first session is on Wednesday 21st October between 4 – 5.30pm and you can book using the eventbrite link here.

The next sessions are on

Wednesday 25th November, 4 – 5.30pm, Career aspirations in primary school

Wednesday 13th January, 4 – 5.30pm, Employability characteristics and role models.

Each session covers a different aspect of careers-related learning in primary school.

Session 1: Careers Education and Unconscious bias
This session provides an introduction to the gendered nature of subject and career choices that children and young people make, and how unconscious bias can contribute to this. We’ll also explore how to reduce these effects.

Gap task 1: Exploring unconscious bias in primary schools.
Use one, or more, of three analysis and reflection tools that look at different aspects of the school environment: Classroom Interactions Analysis Tool, Literature Analysis Tool, Display Content Analysis Tool

Session 2: Career aspirations in primary school
This session explores NUSTEM research on the career aspirations of children aged between 8 and 11. We’ll talk about the NUSTEM Primary Careers Tool – an online resource to support the inclusion of careers related learning into curriculum planning. The Tool is a database of over 100 different jobs which can be sorted by National Curriculum topic in Science and Maths. We’ll also show you a simple way of adding the job into lessons.

Gap task 2: Planning and teaching using the Primary Careers Tool

Session 3: Employability characteristics and role models
This session considers some of the characteristics that help to make people successful in their chosen careers. We’ll introduce the STEM Person of the Week resource and present findings from research on the use of role models and STEM Person of the Week.

Gap Task 3: Planning and teaching using STEM Person of the Week.

We hope to see you there!

Gearing up for remote workshops

As our partner primary schools well know, the sharp end of NUSTEM starts with in-school workshops. We do many other things, but workshops are a key part of us meeting and working with schools and teachers, showcasing how we think practical investigation and careers ideas can be incorporated into science lessons, and prompting dialogue to help us understand what schools need.

Obviously, this is all a bit challenging if we can’t, well, go into schools.

In the run-up to the summer holiday Joe and Jonathan threw themselves into trying to work out how remotely-delivered NUSTEM workshops might work. Thanks to the sterling efforts of our fabulous partner schools we almost managed to pilot our thinking, only a completely unrelated last-minute disaster scuppering everything. But we’ll be back at it almost as soon as schools return next month. Along the way we’ve faced a host of challenges, some expected but many surprisingly subtle.

Over the summer we’re waiting for some equipment deliveries (we… er… broke some kit while testing it. Ahem.). We’ve also had discussions with a range of organisations facing similar challenges. It looks like we might be getting together with others for something of an online symposium / share what you know / learn from our mistakes session, in the second half of September. Drop us an email and we’ll keep you posted.

Without wanting to bore you with the details (I mean, who really wants to know about our measurements of different video streaming platform latency averages?), a sketch summary goes something like this:

We’re aiming to replicate key aspects of our conventional classroom workshops as closely as possible, as a starting point, in particular we want to develop workshops that still feel personal and allow us to interact and react to the children in the classroom, and that promote ‘hands on, minds on’ learning.  We’re also interested in the situation where workshop participants share a physical space (ie. their classroom), and the presenter is remote. This is quite different from the typical Zoom/Teams/Google Meet arrangement, where each participant is in a separate physical space.

In our partner schools, we’ve found the class PC (the one connected to a data projector, displaying at the front of the class) typically does not have a microphone or camera. We chose early on to adopt a policy of not asking schools to replug any IT equipment, so for the presenter to follow what’s happening in the classroom a second channel is required. That is, our basic setup is:

  • Presenter delivers to class PC, projected onto whiteboard.
  • Roving iPad/laptop in classroom, showing proceedings back to the presenter.

These devices have to be in separate video chats, or there’s audio ring-around/howl. The only work-around for that would be to manage microphones manually in the classroom, and we don’t want to impose that burden on our schools… so we have to handle audio at our end.

Meanwhile, schools vary in their IT policies, and the extent to which the software fit on their PCs/laptops/tablets matches those policies. So whatever we do has to be platform-agnostic: it has to work across Zoom, Teams, Meet, and others. We want to be able to deliver fluid, high-quality audio and video into any of these systems.

…aaaand whatever we build has to be useable for us, such that our presenters can focus on the content and participants, not on working the tech.

We’ve explored a bunch of other aspects, but this is already getting long and we’ll have to save a full write-up for another day/paper/booklet. Last week we ordered a bunch of equipment which – we hope – will allow us to do what we need in a relatively simple way. If we’ve guessed right, the technology will start to fade into the background and we can lift our gaze to the questions which are actually interesting:

  • How do primary-age children perceive workshops delivered via streaming video? Does it seem natural to them, or forced? Does it come across as ‘like TV, but worse?’, and could we address that by making our streams more or less like broadcast?
  • How much do our workshop structures and content need to be adjusted to accommodate remote delivery? Is the old model still appropriate, or is there something better?
  • Is the workload manageable for teachers and assistants in the classroom? How much can we involved them in the delivery of the workshop?
  • How does it feel for our presenters? What support and development can we extend to ease their transition and help them build confidence?
  • What opportunities can we identify from this? It’s theoretically easier to include a working scientist or engineer in a school workshop if they can join from their (home?) office rather than have to travel to the school. Is that a good thing?
  • Can (and should) we deliver to multiple classes at once? How about multiple schools?
  • Do we present demonstrations ‘live’, or play-in prerecords? Does that judgement change if we’re delivering an assembly rather than an in-class workshop?

We’ve learned a lot to this point, but the really important work lies ahead of us. We’re also watching what other people are up to, and trying to work out where their thinking improves on ours. Behind-the-scenes, there’s really gratifying sharing and collaboration going on across the science communication sector, with individuals, institutions and umbrella organisations trying to help each other out as best we can. If you’re part of this world and don’t feel you’re part of those conversations, drop us a line and we’ll try to loop you in.