GUEST BLOG: Celebrating the achievements of black chemical engineers for Black History Month

Today, 1 October 2018, marks the start of Black History Month. The achievements and events of black people are being celebrated across the world throughout October.

Members of BBSTEM, a non-profit organisation campaigning for balance and presentation of black individuals working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), will be marking achievements of prominent figures in STEM – past and present – with a social media campaign. You can join in using the hashtag #BBSTEMBHM18

Chemical engineer Kayisha Payne founded BBSTEM earlier this year. Subsequently, Eniola Fujamade, who works at KBR, and Paula Nkuli, who works at Johnson Matthey, joined the team. Kayisha tells us more about their campaign and the importance of celebrating diversity in all engineering disciplines, including chemical engineering.


Name: Kayisha Payne

Education: Bachelors in Chemical Engineering with an Industrial Placement Year at Aston University. Masters in Advanced Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London.

Job title: Founder of BBSTEM, Associate Scientist at MedImmune

Specialist subject/research topic: As an undergraduate, I designed a manufacturing facility to produce a biopharmaceutical product. My research project at Master’s level was using thermodynamic perturbation theory and simulation software to model the thermodynamic behaviour of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients and biopharmaceutical products.

What is BBSTEM all about?

BBSTEM (Black British Professionals in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) is a non-profit organisation campaigning for a balanced representation of black individuals in STEM, from education through to industry. We aim to achieve this by educating young people and organisations on the importance of diversity and inclusion through programmes, workshops, networking events and mentoring schemes.

It’s important to motivate young people to see that embarking on a STEM career is an option, and it’s something that they can progress in and be successful in. Without obvious representation it might not seem possible. Aside from my own observations of lack of role models and visible representation, I read a publication by The Royal Academy of Engineering which stated: “There are a number of programmes designed to support and encourage girls into STEM, but there are fewer supporting BAME students.” This statement was supported by statistics showing that the number of UK domicile students enrolled onto a STEM related course was only 6%. BBSTEM’s mission is to fill this gap.

Tell us a little bit about your career in chemical engineering, so far, and why you set up this group.

Throughout secondary school, I always really enjoyed chemistry and maths. After a talk with my career’s advisor on my interests, they advised I look at chemical engineering. I found it to be a great diverse topic which involved a lot of interesting subject matters. For me, this was great as it offered flexibility of industries and job roles. During my placement year I was a Process Engineer at COTY, a cosmetic manufacturing company. One of my greatest achievements was leading a new product development to launch! Since graduating I have worked as a Project Manager for Mace and I’m currently a Scientist at MedImmune.

The idea of this group was set up after a “random” encounter with a family friend. In February 2017, I met someone I consider to be a very successful young black chemical engineer. After the conversation I felt so inspired and privileged to hear of a young black man in the same career field, with a similar Caribbean upbringing, having “made it”. I felt so enthused, I wanted to create a platform where these ‘accidental’ meetings are made deliberate and intentional; a place where young black people feel comfortable to reach out for support and to be given support.

How do you feel black people are represented in engineering – in both academia and industry?

I feel black people are very rarely represented in engineering.  You don’t often see them at conferences, in the media, or even through our academic and industrial institutions. It’s only since launching BBSTEM, I can see them. They are there contributing amazing work to academia and society.

What do you feel can be done to improve diversity in engineering?

I think we firstly need to be open and recognise the importance and the value diversity can bring in engineering. Understanding where our diversity efforts can be improved and collaborating with organisations to combine efforts to make the best impact.

Why is it important to have diversity in engineering, especially in chemical engineering?

It’s important that the younger generation can see themselves represented in jobs that they would otherwise be scared to fill. They also provide opportunities to open up conversations about race in the workplace. Often these networks can be deemed as exclusive, however they are fully inclusive and welcome individuals from any background. The aim is to increase the inclusion of a group currently underrepresented. Also embracing and valuing a diverse workforce brings about competitive advantage and has many company benefits:

• increasing productivity
• increasing creativity
• increasing profits
• increasing employee engagement
• reducing employee turnover
• improving company reputation

How is BBSTEM marking Black History month – and how can chemical engineers get involved?

BBSTEM is running a social media campaign to highlight black STEM figures who have contributed to society. Most of these figures will be unknown, but it’s important that people know about them. We’ll also be taking this opportunity to highlight inspirational STEM individuals who are currently making an impact.

What other campaigns/activities do you have coming up that IChemE members can get involved in?

In early 2019, we plan to launch our mentoring programme. This will enable university students to connect with professionals who are in the field they aspire to work. We’re also looking for passionate individuals to share the BBSTEM network within their organisation – we’d really like to run industry insight events and site trips. If you’d like to get involved email us online.

While the world we live in is changing and becoming more diverse and inclusive, especially in the workplace, there’s still more to be done. For example, this article in the Guardian is interesting. Written by a black chemical engineer, she reflects on how 30 years ago she struggled to get a job, despite having equally good grades as her peers. It’s an encouraging reminder of how we can speak up and create change.


For more information on BBSTEM and how to get involved, visit: http://bbstem.co.uk/

Find out more on IChemE’s work on diversity.

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