Reflecting on Equate’s Conference

STEM through an Intersectional Lens Conference

‘If there’s no seat at the table, build your own table.’


We’re taking some time to reflect back on our ‘STEM through an Intersectional Lens’ Conference which took place on June 21-23. We were blown away by the quality of our keynote speakers, panel discussions, and workshops and would like to extend a massive thank you to all our speakers and panellists who made the event so incredible.

A huge thank you also goes out to our fantastic sponsors: Canon Medical Research, Diageo, SSEN Transmission, Skills Development Scotland, and Edinburgh Napier University. Without their support, this event would not have been able to happen, and we are so grateful for their ongoing championing of Equate’s work. In this newsletter and in future newsletters we will hear more from our sponsors, gaining their insights and perspectives on where our STEM sector is heading and how we make it more inclusive.

The conference was a very positive experience featuring in-depth discussions around ongoing, inbuilt, intersectional inequalities in Scotland’s STEM industries. Within these discussions, what was clear was the need to adopt a solutions-based approach to how we can overcome these inequalities going forward to forge a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive sector.

A more in-depth analysis of the conference will be published soon but we thought we’d give a quick rundown of the inspiring sessions that took place.

Our first Keynote Speaker, Lauryn Mwale – author of ‘The Shuri Effect: Bridging the Gap for Young Black Women in STEM – got the conference off to a fantastic start. She spoke candidly about her experiences and suggesting ways forward to make STEM and wider society more inclusive. A key theme that emerged from her talk was how much of the way society currently operates is nonsensical, enabling continuing inequality, and preventing innovation and diversity of thought.

“This conference is a good opportunity to pause and to think. Think about who might be lonely and who we can include. A moment to think and realise what we all lose out on, when intersectional voices are missing from labs and lectures, patents, and portfolios. To recognise the intersections we all straddle and what privileges we can harness to pull other people up.”

The first panel discussion – Intersectionality, what is it and how does it relate to STEM? – had panellists Lauryn Mwale, Professor Kate Sang, and Yasmeen Hussain give an overview of Intersectional theory and how it applies in real life scenarios.

Panel two focussed on flexible working and featured Dr Sigi Joseph, Sarah Gilzean, and Lisa Gallagher. The future of most workplaces are flexible but organisations are taking vastly different approaches toward creating a flexible culture for their employees. Progressive companies are listening to the needs of their employees but more needs to be done to reduce the stigma around flexible working practices.

Day one’s workshop by Tony McCaffery from Diversity Scotland – Allyship and Empathy in the workplace – discussed how people can support their colleagues if they encounter any discrimination or microaggressions in the workplace, through an interactive scenario supporting a transgender colleague.

Dr Claire Thorne, Aine Finlayson, and Hisham Hamid made up the Inclusive Leadership panel and emphasised the importance of empathy in leadership and how effective leadership comes from a people-centric approach, which is essential to retaining a motivated workforce.

Emma Waltham’s workshop on supporting maternity returners laid out the challenges facing women returning from a maternity break and challenged attendees to lay out to effectively support maternity returners from a managerial, HR, and colleague’s approach.

Our second keynote speaker was Pam Duncan-Glancy, MSP. Pam is a Scottish Labour MSP and Scottish Labour spokesperson for social justice and social security. She is the first permanent wheelchair user elected to the Scottish Government. Pam spoke about the importance of seizing opportunities and on the future of flexible working arrangements saying that,

“You can’t say flexibility isn’t reasonable when it was reasonable for two years.”

The Youth Panel: Voices of the Future with Gemma Crowe, Hai San Lam, and Aisha Janki, gave us a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of our sector. All three panellists discussed the challenges of pursuing a subject area and career that was unexpected of them, however, they agreed that this had helped them in building their personal resilience. The fantastic line ‘If you can’t get a seat at the table, then engineer your own chair or, if necessary, build your own table” came from Hai San Lam during this session.

Our panel on STEM and Sustainability had Dr Ifeyinwa Kanu, Zarina Ahmad, and Kayla-Megan Burns. The group shared the importance on involving the people at the ground level for work in sustainability as they often have a much deeper understanding of both the issues and the solutions required to overcome them.

The Challenging Discrimination and Overcoming Barriers workshop led by Equate Scotland encouraged participants to inhabit the experiences of a number of fictional characters with multiple barriers facing their progression in their workplace by participating in an ‘intersectionality walk’. In multiple different scenarios, participants had to decide whether their character was able to fully participate in the activities or situation depending on their identities

The final panel – Women Leaders on Inclusion and Innovation – featured Talat Yaqoob, Silka Patel, and Dr Mhairi Crawford. The panellists talked about how we need to move beyond looking at intersectionality in theory and how we embed inclusive practices in our workplaces and wider culture. They highlighted how data on intersecting barriers are often uncaptured, or more commonly unanalysed. This lack of empirical evidence makes it harder to push changes to encourage more equitable and inclusive practices.

We wrapped up each day with a short feminist poetry workshop helping attendees reflect over their learning and experiences of the day. These sessions proved very poignant and, at times, moving tributes to each day of the conference, helping everyone to articulate their thoughts and feelings about the conference.

Further highlights and analysis of our conference will be available soon.