Part 2/5: Science communication to boost diversity in STEM

by ZSL on

Following on from the first blog in this series (found here) by Ike Mohar, Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) administrator in ZSL's Institute of Zoology, this post explores 'Session 1: Communication as a way to become more diverse' from ZSL's four day symposium held in July 2021.

The first session began with the Institute of Zoology’s Dr Nathalie Pettorelli giving an insightful overview of why communication is important in science. Titled “What does diversity in STEM have to do with communication and public engagement”, this talk framed the context of the entire symposium, and emphasised that science communication is crucial in everyday life. This particularly resonated, as in the wake of the current pandemic, many people are confused by the science behind vaccinations, mask wearing, social distancing, and COVID-19 variants. If communities do not understand or trust the scientists informing them about what is or isn’t safe, addressing serious matters like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and other dangerous public health issues can become much more complicated. Communities must be able to access, understand and trust science and scientists, in order to comprehend why certain measures are enacted to help protect the health and environment of the global population. Dr Pettorelli illustrated this by showing data on who scientists are, and how the underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the UK affects this messaging. 

Screenshot from Nathalie Pettorelli's talk at Science Communication to boost diversity in STEM symposium

Next, Dr Jenni Chambers from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) expanded upon these ideas in her talk on “Focusing on audience demographics to help boost diversity in STEM”. Explaining the STFC’s ‘Wonder Initiative’, Dr Chambers highlighted some of the demographic challenges faced, and ways that the STFC has worked to overcome challenges to communicate science to communities that may not have access to science. The ‘Wonder Initiative’ aims to reach new audiences from the 40% most socioeconomically deprived areas in the UK, focusing on young people aged 8-14, and their families or carers. By working with project partners and sharing public engagement best practices, the ‘Wonder Initiative’ aims to communicate and provide access to science and technology in every community. 

Screenshot from Karen Devine's talk at Science Communication to boost diversity in STEM symposium

Tying into this, Karen Devine from the British Ecological Society (BES) spoke on “Taking the time to showcase Diversity – the challenges for Learned Societies in boosting Diversity in STEM”. In this, Ms Devine explored how UK-based learned societies such as the BES can communicate effectively with communities by showcasing the diversity of scientists within STEM, as well as inspiring the next generation of potential scientists to pursue education and careers, particularly those that come from backgrounds or communities that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM in the UK. This talk focused on the lack of ethnic diversity in STEM, and how the 16-18 age demographic can be engaged with by learned societies to generate interest in STEM education and careers, and the importance of role models for this demographic. One poignant anecdote (with a twist!) that Ms Devine provided was of a child that is passionate about working with bats when they grow up, and the discouragement she received from headteachers, who reiterated false gender stereotypes on “boys doing science better”…I won’t give away the twist, but I highly recommend you tune into the session on YouTube below to find out more about this anecdote, and the brilliant panel discussion with all the session 1 panellists that followed.

Next week, I'll be exploring 'Session 2: Science communication to showcase diversity in the science community'. 

You can find out more about the symposium here, and watch the first session above, or head to our ZSL Science and Conservation YouTube channel to watch all other sessions:

Watch all sessions on our YouTube Channel here

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