Blog Post

U.K. Black History Month: Visionaries Paving the Way for Diversity in STEM

The U.K. Royal Society reported earlier this year that people from Black backgrounds have “poorer degree outcomes and lower rates of academic career progression than other ethnic groups” in STEM. Reports show among the technology workforce, only 4% is represented by Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) individuals. We need a more diverse technology industry, we need more perspectives in order to continue to innovate and progress towards a better future. This is why it’s especially important to recognise the Black individuals who have made their mark in STEM and are helping to inspire others to do the same.

This post features three individuals who are helping bring more diversity to fields that intersect with our industry, and we’re grateful for their many contributions.

Clifford Johnson

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), fewer than 1% of the professors employed at U.K. universities are Black. Despite this extreme racial disparity, Clifford Johnson, a professor and theoretical physicist, has become one of the world’s most prominent Black academics in STEM. He was born in London in 1968 and graduated from Imperial College London in 1989 with a B.S. in Physics. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Southampton in 1992. Today, he teaches in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Southern California, and has been awarded international honours including the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award, the Institute of Physics’s Maxwell Medal and Prize and a Simons Foundation Fellowship. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education lists him as the most highly cited Black professor of mathematics or a related field at an American university or college.

In an interview with Physics Today, he explained the impact racial inequality has had on his career progress: “Throughout my entire career, I’ve had to run faster and jump higher and achieve more just to be treated the same as everyone else. On both sides of the Atlantic, both as a student and at more senior levels, I have had occasions where people have told me I was not cut out for this type of work. They didn’t say, ‘because you are Black,’ but you can fill in the blanks. There are overt and covert barriers, overt and covert racism.”

William Pasi Sachiti

The founder of the Academy of Robotics in the U.K., William Pasi Sachiti is a British inventor and serial entrepreneur in the technology industry. Born in Zimbabwe in 1985, he studied at the London School of Economics and Political Science and studied Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at Aberystwyth University. His organisation’s website says the academy is currently working on combining, “the best techniques from machine learning and Mechatronics to build powerful self-adapting machines and task specific Artificial Intelligence…[and] Kar-go, [a] driverless delivery vehicle designed for the last mile.”

According to a report in TechCrunch, only 38 Black entrepreneurs received VC funding in the U.K. over the last decade. Nevertheless, Sachiti has started and successfully exited three tech startups and is entering a highly competitive landscape against tech industry giants in the driverless vehicle sector.

Philip Emeagwali

Nigerian-born Philip Emeagwali is known as one of the greatest computer pioneers of the digital age. He received a general certificate of education from the University of London, and at age 17 was awarded a full scholarship to Oregon State University to study math. He then earned two engineering master’s degrees, in civil and marine engineering, as well as a master’s in mathematics and a civil engineering/scientific computing doctorate from the University of Maryland. His work in supercomputers contributed to the creation of the Connection Machine in the 1980s, which utilised 65,000 linked computers to perform 3.1 billion calculations per second. He received the Gordon Bell Prize in 1989 for the Connection Machine Contributions to Computer Science and to the World Community, as well as numerous other accolades for his computing work.

Our team celebrates the important contributions Black individuals have made in STEM and other fields. We also acknowledge that while U.K. Black History Month is an important time to kick-start conversations about how to continue to improve diversity and equity, it is the collective responsibility of everyone in our organisation and the industry to keep the conversation alive and progress moving forward all year round.

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.