The seven strands of equality and diversity are often quoted as:
Age, disability, race, religion and belief, gender, sexual orientation, transgender
For the purposes of this toolkit we have combined sexual orientation and transgender to look at issues facing young people who identify as Lesbian/Gay/ Bisexual/ or Transgender (LGBT).
The UK has a number of laws relating to discrimination. Some are well established, such as the Sex Discrimination and the Race Relations Acts, whilst other areas have been legislated for more recently, such as religion and belief and sexual orientation. The Human Rights Act is also relevant to the rights of young people accessing education.
Equality legislation in the UK is soon to change with the planned introduction of the Equality Bill, which will bring in new legislation to streamline existing equality law into a single legal framework that according to the EHRC will be more effective at tackling disadvantage and discrimination.
There is growing acknowledgement of the fact that other factors, such as socio-economic background or the different experiences of people from urban/rural areas, can also have an effect on a person's life chances. The barriers to individuals can be multi-layered as acknowledged by Trevor Phillips (Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission):
‘People’s incomes and life-chances may be influenced by disadvantages arising from individual characteristics such as race or gender. But we know very well that this is not enough to capture their whole experience – what is often called the ‘strand-based’ approach to equality. We have to look at people as a whole and modernise the equalities argument to keep up with society. Whether you are a carer of an elderly parent, a disabled young worker starting out on your career or a white working class boy at a struggling school, everyone should have the right to flourish and make the most of their talents.’
A New Contract with the Public July 2008
Other commentators have highlighted this in reports about specific groups. For example, one Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics Report in May 2006 pinpointed:
‘The socio-economic composition of ethnic minority groups. It is well documented that the Indian and Chinese population are more likely to come from higher socio-economic groups than other ethnic minority groups (Modood et al. 1997; Owen et al.2003), whereas the opposite is true, for example, for the Bangladeshi and black Caribbean populations. How the socio-economic composition of particular ethnic groups affects subject choice, particularly relating to academic versus vocational study, would therefore be a fruitful area for further study.’
Representation of Ethnic and Minority Groups in Chemistry and Physics
Attitudes towards STEM can be influenced by a combination of factors, such as ethnicity and gender. Research by Archer (2002, 2003) found that race, class and gender all influence educational preferences and post-16 choices amongst Bangladeshi and Pakistani Muslim boys and girls. Social class influenced Muslim boys’ choice of post-16 routes and informed their preferences for safe jobs. Meanwhile, Muslim girls saw their post-16 choices as broadening due to changes in Asian culture becoming ‘fairer’ to women, or white/British society becoming ‘less racist’.
Promoting STEM Careers is one way to help raise the aspirations and open up opportunities to non-traditional careers. This can have a positive impact on the future life chances of those young people who may be at risk of making choices that limit their potential. For example, stereotyping which leads to segregation in subject and subsequent career choice is one of the major causes of the gender pay gap (women's wages are on average 17% less than men's wages). This stereotyping tends to impact more significantly on distinct groups including girls, disabled young people, young people from socio-economic groups and some ethnic minorities, specifically Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Carribean young women. (Bhavnani,2006; Francis, 2002; Frances, etal, 2005)
STEM careers are not only achieved by following the academic route. Vocational route-ways into STEM careers are well established and qualifications include apprenticeships, vocational diplomas and BTECs. Mixing and matching vocational and academic studies is becoming more common, with the introduction of foundation degrees providing an alternative route-way into higher education.
A focus on the academic route means that some young people may be missing the opportunity to enter into STEM careers. A more hands-on practical approach works for some young people, and these routes provide another opportunity to increase diversity of those working in STEM and draw on more talent and address skill shortages. See case studies leaving school at 16.
Legislation is important in encouraging a fairer and more inclusive society. Until recently, the onus has been on individuals to bring a case against another person or organisation that may have discriminated against them. The introduction of Equality Duties has shifted the emphasis from the individual to organisations to take action to pro-actively eliminate discrimination and promote equality. For example,while a school may have always had more girls than boys studying GCSE Textiles and the opposite for Resistant Materials, the new law means that schools should be taking action to tackle gender segregation in subject choice. Further information on what schools need to do to meet their legal requirements under the equality duties can be found at the Equality and Human Rights Commission website .
In creating the STEM Subject Choice and Careers Equality and Diversity Toolkit, the intention is to encourage practitioners to think about the barriers that might exist for individuals they are dealing with. This will help practitioners to encourage the possibility of STEM careers to a wider range of younger people by creating materials, undertaking interviews, delivering lessons and working with groups in a more inclusive way. This will ensure that the pool of talent from which the STEM workforce is drawn is broader than before. Teachers and careers advisers may wish to consult the STEM Subject Choice and Careers Strategy for resource development and CPD: creating an impact on school practice,
which has an equality and diversity section illustrating how schools can progress.