Chi Onwurah, MP
Chair of APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, Member of Parliament for Newcastle Central
As Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation I’m proud to have put science and innovation at the centre of my work. Britain’s future prosperity and social cohesion depends on delivering high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity jobs for everyone, and science and innovation are a central part of achieving that. I am enormously pleased therefore, to see that The Physiological Society has dedicated this entire issue of Physiology News to hear from different voices and perspectives within the community itself and hope that by doing so, The Society sparks new conversations and ideas.
In my life before entering Parliament, I spent twenty years as a telecommunications engineer. In this role, I attended many conferences and would present to around 2,000 people in a room. Very often, I would be the only black engineer. If this wasn’t the case, I would be the only woman, the only working-class person, the only Northerner. While this made me unique, ultimately it was a very isolating and exclusive environment and each aspect faced stereotypes and barriers to inclusion.
Diversity is not a “nice to have”; it is a moral and economic imperative. Without it, innovation is limited and valuable talent is excluded from the workforce. That was true throughout my twenty-year career outside Parliament. It is even truer now that technology has become such an everyday part of everyone’s lives. We need to ensure as representative a STEM community as possible so that scientists can get on with what they do best – using rigorous scientific processes to meet the major challenges facing all of us.
My constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne Central includes Newcastle University and so I am aware that diversity in STEM includes ensuring that science and innovation is the foundation of wealth generation beyond the traditional boundaries of the Golden Triangle. There is cutting-edge research occurring throughout the UK and we must not allow the research or development aspects of R&D to suffer because of where they are proposed, or by whom.
This is why the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM is so important. It has already attracted a huge amount of interest from parliamentarians because colleagues from both Houses value the opportunity to engage directly with the STEM community to understand the barriers to a more diverse scientific workforce. The APPG will help put diversity and inclusion in STEM high on the agenda, to move the sector in the right direction. This means all kinds of diversity – not only gender, but also race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status and age. That is why this year, the APPG is exploring inquiries focusing on promoting diversity in the STEM education, careers, government funding and tech sectors, and I would encourage the learned society sector to play an active role in providing evidence and recommendations to shape the inquiry’s outcomes.
In summary, I hope that this edition of Physiology News contributes to constructive conversations within the physiological community about how best to encourage diversity within the discipline. I also hope that by promoting the work of the APPG on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM in this issue, members of The Society will engage with our future work to ensure diversity of thought too!