Imperial College London

Societal engagement as a pathway to equality, diversity and inclusion in science


Professor Chris Jackson and Helen Wollaston during the Engagement Day panel discussion.

Professor Chris Jackson and Helen Wollaston during the Engagement Day panel discussion.

On 5 Feb, over 130 members of Imperial staff came together to discuss the role of societal engagement in equality, diversity and inclusion in STEM.

The Societal Engagement Team hosted a thought-provoking conference for Imperial staff looking at the role of societal engagement in equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). Across the College, staff at all levels take part in or deliver activities that nurture two-way dialogue with wider society. Engagement Day explored the role these activities play in empowering communities, tackling inequalities and increasing diversity amongst those who shape research. The conference revealed that while progress is being made, there remain many opportunities for Imperial to engage with audiences more representative of wider society in meaningful ways.

Attendees networking
Engagement Day 2020

Speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise came to discuss many of the complex social issues and attitudes that affect EDI in STEM. Attendees also took part in practical workshops on topics such as Accessibility in practice and Co-creation and enjoyed networking opportunities with an exhibition of EDI-related initiatives at Imperial.

The learning we have had is to not try to design things for people to engage with them, but to meet people on their terms. Claire Ainsley Executive Director (Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

Claire Ainsley, Executive Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a charity tackling UK poverty, delivered an engaging keynote asserting that universities have a crucial role in overcoming the barriers to STEM that are faced by marginalised communities. Ainsley’s view is that universities need to be good at listening to these communities in order to effectively engage them.

Helen Wollaston, Chief Executive of WISE, a campaign that encourages women and girls to value and pursue core science, demonstrated that more needs to be done to address gender imbalances with four and a half times more men than women currently in STEM.

As well as looking at the challenges ahead, the event explored what was being done now with researchers from across the College presenting “lightning talks”: 5-minute presentations on successful engagement activities they had delivered. These included building community partnerships, organising an LGBTQ+ STEM Day and delivering a schools outreach project on neurodiversity in STEM.

Engagement Day attendees participating in a workshop
Engagement Day attendees participating in a workshop

The event culminated in a stimulating panel chaired by Dr Suze Kundu, Head of Public Engagement at Digital Science, in which panelists took an honest look at the progress we are making in empowering diverse communities in STEM. Amongst the success stories of what is being achieved both at the College and elsewhere, the panel and audience were passionate that there’s more we can do. The panel stressed the importance of diversity and representation in engagement activities, the need to evaluate the impact of our work, and reward and incentivise public engagement in academia.

Slides from the event can be found here and a podcast on the event will be released shortly through Scientists not the Science.

Engagement Day will be back in early 2021. Be sure to sign up for the Societal Engagement newsletter to be the first to find out about this and all upcoming engagement opportunities.Professor Sara Rankin asking a question at Engagement DayProfessor Sara Rankin asking a question during Engagement Day


Ellie Cawthera

Ellie Cawthera
Office of the Provost

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Public-engagement, Equality, Imperial-College-Union, Outreach, White-City-Community-Engagement, Research, Diversity
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