The UK Science and Technology Framework

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The UK Science and Technology Framework

The government wants the UK to be a tech superpower – but we need more superheroes

The UK wants to be a pioneering innovator once again. Its new Science and Technology Framework aims to drive a ‘better future’ through ‘Britain’s boldest businesses’.
As a glass-half-full woman, I can’t fault the ambition and drive for improvement. However, this recent launch also highlighted that while the UK has a tech sector worth more than a trillion dollars and the country performs relatively well for its size, we are getting left behind by countries like France and Germany.

So, borrowing the words of the government, how do we become a tech ‘superpower’ once again?

Ambitious plans are being conceived to invest in research and development, encourage collaboration between experts and provide access to cutting-edge technologies and resources. These ideas aim to unlock the potential of British ingenuity and creativity for a more prosperous future for all.

The intent is deeply impressive.

However, for superpowers to come to the fore, they need more superheroes to harness them.

Thankfully, though, delving deeper into the framework, I can see rays of light.

In a world where systemic discrimination and bias still prevail, this framework has the power to harness the diversity of the UK and reveal these superheroes and bring more equality to ethnic minorities and women.

And as someone who has worked hard to build a career in the tech industry, and witness firsthand the benefits that diversity, equality and inclusion bring, I am particularly interested in how this framework can be the catalyst for innovation and disruption to challenge the status quo.

Because, simply, it has to.

A 2019 report by the government’s Digital Economy Council found that only 5% of board members in tech companies in the country were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Women are also underrepresented in leadership positions in the tech industry in the UK. According to a 2020 report by the government’s Digital Economy Council, women make up only 12.6% of board members in tech companies in the country.

By empowering ethnic minorities and women with access to technology, we can create a fairer and more just society, where everyone has an equal chance to thrive and succeed. This framework presents a unique opportunity to leverage technology to address some of the most pressing social and economic challenges faced by marginalised groups.

How the UK Science and Technology Framework can find those underrepresented superheroes:

01: Increasing diversity in the science and technology sector

The framework recognises the need to increase diversity in the science and technology sector, including improving the representation of women and ethnic minorities. According to a 2021 report by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), women make up only 18% of the tech workforce in the UK. This is despite women making up almost half of the total workforce in the country. A 2021 report by the Tech Talent Charter found that women from BAME backgrounds were particularly underrepresented in the UK tech sector, making up only 5% of the tech workforce in the country.

By promoting initiatives that support diversity and inclusion, such as mentorship programmes, scholarships, and networking events, the framework can help to create a more diverse and representative workforce.

02: Supporting education and skills development

Aiming to support education and skills development in the science and technology sector, the framework includes initiatives to promote STEM education for women and ethnic minorities. The UK Government's Digital Skills Survey found that BAME adults were more likely to lack basic digital skills than White adults. In 2021, 22% of BAME adults had no basic digital skills, compared to 13% of White adults.

By equipping underrepresented groups with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the digital economy, the framework can help to bridge the skills gap and create new opportunities for women and ethnic minorities.

03. Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation

Recognising the importance of promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, the framework can provide opportunities for women and ethnic minorities to start their own businesses or contribute to the development of new technologies.

By providing support for startups and small businesses, it can help to create a more diverse and inclusive innovation ecosystem.

04. Addressing unconscious bias

The framework aims to address unconscious bias in the science and technology sector, which can be a barrier to the advancement of marginalised communities.

By promoting awareness of unconscious bias and implementing strategies to address it, the framework can help to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

05. Encouraging diversity in research

The framework recognises the importance of diversity in research, including the need to include women and ethnic minorities in clinical trials and other research studies.

By promoting diversity in research, the framework can help to ensure that new technologies and treatments are developed that meet the needs of a diverse population.

The science and technology framework is appropriately ambitious.

Advancements in science and technology have the potential to drive economic growth and improve quality of life for individuals and communities, and it is important for the UK to remain competitive in these fields. However, success will depend on a number of factors, not least the specific action plans of the specific threads outlined in its initial launch material which are due out this summer.

So while these initial steps have to be welcomed, I await these plans with cautious optimism.

Sustained investment in research and development, effective collaboration between industry, academia, and government, and a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion within the sector will be key to getting this right. But encouraging and supporting the participation of underrepresented groups, including women and ethnic minorities, will help to ensure that the benefits of science and technology are shared more widely and equitably, not just for the select few.

Cecilia Harvey is an award-winning tech founder, author, and entrepreneur. Cecilia is the founder of Tech Women Today, the global digital platform to showcase women in technology, and a resource for non-technical female entrepreneurs who want to understand how to leverage technology to grow and scale their businesses.