The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance that the role the science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) sector plays. From the creation of the vaccine to the building of the lateral flow test kit, virus prediction tracking through AI and the automation of patient reports to minimise doctor-patient contact – STEM was, and continues to be, instrumental in keeping people safe during this crisis. However, one issue that continues to be prevalent within the industry – despite its incredibly forward-thinking nature – is its lack of diversity. In the UK, women account for just 24 per cent of the core STEM workforce – one of the lowest in Europe. There is also a severe lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) talent. Additionally, a recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion revealed that those with reported disabilities – sensory, physical, cognitive or mental – only hold 11 per cent of jobs in the scientific sector. Worryingly, there is very little being discussed around the representation of disability in the Data & Analytics and STEM sector and therefore many leaders are unsure of where to start to help make meaningful change. So, what can businesses do to address the barriers and challenges for disabled people?Overcoming early barriers The APPG report states practical action needs to be taken to tackle this systemic under-representation; and it starts with higher education and degree apprenticeships. Recent research, which studied the experiences of staff and students with disabilities in STEM, showed that whilst the proportion of STEM students with known disabilities has more than doubled since 2007/2008, disabled STEM students are 57 per cent less likely to take up postgraduate STEM studies than non-disabled students. “Despite improvements in assistive technology and student support, considerable barriers clearly remain for students with disabilities who wish to study in STEM,” the report said.Indeed, the number and proportion of STEM students who are blind or have a serious visual impairment decreased over the period from 0.2 per cent to 0.1 per cent. More must be done as early on in education to ensure that not only is the sector diverse but that it is inclusive. Learning must be accessible for all; buildings must be made disability-friendly, and classes must include subtitles, braille and/or audio transcripts, for example. Employers must focus on inclusive opportunities Following on from education, business leaders and hiring managers need to create a positive action plan to ensure a more inclusive working environment – from accessibility to better education in implicit and explicit bias for all team members and zero tolerance to discrimination.Employers should showcase their inclusive recruitment practices by putting in place apprenticeships for people with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, and stating their company’s values to encourage applications from diverse candidates. Their hiring process must also reflect this. STEM employers should reword their job postings to remove any bias that may be unintentionally exclusive, this includes using slang terms or unnecessary jargon. Job advertisements should be brief and written concisely, using a font such as Arial or Comic Sans in size 12 or more to prevent Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, or neurodiversity discrimination, for instance. Because every candidate is different, employers should also be able to make adjustments to their interview process, by prioritising video interviews, allowing candidates to bring notes, ensuring applicants aren’t being asked multiple questions at the same time or providing voice to text/text to voice software. Employers are also encouraged to sign up to the UK government’s Disability Confident scheme that supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace. As the STEM industry aims to inspire the next generation of candidates, it must also provide opportunities for diverse candidates today, by improving diversity and inclusion. For advice and guidance, speak to one of our experts. If you’re looking to build out a diverse team, or for your next opportunity in the world of Data & Analytics, Harnham can help. Take a look at our latest opportunities, or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more.