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Durham University

Durham University News


Boosting diversity in Engineering and Physical Sciences

(9 August 2018)

A consortium – led by Durham University – of nine universities and six companies has received nearly £600,000 aimed at boosting the representation of women, disabled and LGBT+ people, and people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in Engineering and Physical Sciences in the North of England.

An exciting new project

The universities involved are: Durham University, Lancaster University, Leeds Beckett University, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, Teesside University, University of Huddersfield, University of Hull, and University of Leeds. Industrial partner organisations include: Atom Bank, Stanley Black and Decker, GTN Limited, IBM, Northumbrian Water Ltd., and SAGE.

The partnership, led by Durham University, is embarking on an exciting new research project to tackle this issue in the North of England. Researchers hope that creating a more inclusive culture in the sector will lead to a more diverse talent pool and, ultimately, better science and engineering with which to address pressing global challenges.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has generously provided funding for the project, which is part of a wider £5.5m national initiative.

The two year project includes six activities – undertaken across the 15 organisations – that are designed to help address the problem of entrenched under-representation. These include:

  • Shared Characteristic Mentoring: establishing a cross-organisational mentoring programme to match junior staff members from under-represented backgrounds with more senior colleagues who share characteristics, identities, and experiences.
  • Reverse Mentoring: setting up a programme in which staff from under-represented groups in engineering and physical sciences mentor senior staff about the challenges they face and, in return, are coached on their career development.
  • Collaboration with industry: identifying good practice within and among the project’s industrial partners, facilitating networking opportunities such as placements and industry visits, and conducting research workshops and outreach activities.

Barriers to diversity

Engineering and the Physical Sciences contribute hundreds of billions of pounds to the UK economy each year, but people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, women, LGBT+ and disabled people remain poorly represented across these sectors.

Research reveals women engineers and physical scientists are under-represented in all grades, especially in senior academic posts. In engineering, the gender gap is particularly striking – just 7.5 per cent of women had gained their current position by way of a formal promotion, compared with 15.6 per cent of men.

Unequal opportunities, a paucity of role models from under-represented groups, and a lack of understanding among senior leaders as to the barriers these groups face all serve to compound and sustain a lack of diversity.

A more inclusive culture means better science and engineering

Reacting to the news of the announcement, Dr Beth Bromley, who lectures in Durham University’s Department of Physics, said: “As a member of an under-represented group in STEM, it's possible to feel a little isolated, as though you are on the outside looking in.

“This new resource from the EPSRC, and the successful consortium bid, offers an exciting new opportunity to begin to develop some of the missing voices in our research community and to create a wider more inclusive model of research excellence in the North of England.”

Professor Emma Flynn, Programme Director and Associate Provost at Durham University, said: “Engineering and physical sciences are vital industries. Yet, for too long there have been sections of our society that aren’t represented sufficiently within these sectors.

“This scarcity has serious consequences: not only is it bad for equality; it limits our collective ability to tackle some of the most pressing and complicated issues facing our world today.

“We hope this project, and the activities within it, will make a bold step towards a more inclusive culture in these regional sectors, a more diverse pool of talent and creative minds, and, ultimately, better science and engineering that will benefit us all.”

Engineering and Physical Sciences at Durham

Durham University ranks in the World Top 50 for Earth Sciences, and in the World Top 100 for Chemistry and Physics. Across the broad subject area of Natural Science, Durham is ranked 59th in the world.

Interested in studying Engineering and Physical Sciences at Durham? Click here to find out more.

Related links

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Durham University

Department of Engineering – Outreach work

Department of Physics – Outreach work

Department of Chemistry – News / Twitter