Diversity in research and innovation

Diversity in research and innovation

 UKRI to tackle diversity problem in research

The UK’s new research mega-body has huge power to tackle long-standing inequalities, says its new diversity tsar Jennifer Rubin

Recent developments such as #MeToo, the Race Disparity Audit and gender pay gap reporting have shone a fresh light on enduring inequalities across a range of sectors.

Research and innovation has also faced considerable scrutiny in this area.. Now UK Research and Innovation has announced this week that a new external advisory group will support our mission to improve equality, diversity and inclusion right across the research and innovation landscape.

The research landscape faces challenges to ensure that it is diverse and inclusive, and that everyone has the opportunity to thrive and become leaders regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, disability, social class or other characteristics.

For example, according to the Institute of Engineering and Technology, only 51 per cent of female science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates go on to work in STEM roles, compared twith 68 per cent of men. Women account for just 17 per cent of full-time STEM professionals and just 35 per cent of UK STEM postgraduates. In UKRI’s own research portfolio, in some disciplines, less than 20 per cent of the grant holders are women.

As a new actor within the research landscape, UKRI holds equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of its vision, and has enormous potential, and a responsibility, to address these issues.

Our scope, scale and financial standing provide a tremendous ability to improve data collection and transparency, galvanise other organisations, empower individuals and build a stronger evidence base to inform interventions.

Through an open process, we have recruited a diverse group of outstanding members to our external advisory group to help us make progress. The members come from across the UK and beyond, and from a range of professional backgrounds, from academia to Whitehall to the private sector. We will also draw on the wider expertise of the many excellent candidates who were not selected, and that of others across our communities.

The group will draw on the perspectives and expertise of a wide range of people, sectors, and talents as we develop a clear strategy that will set out our role as a strategic funder, and how we will aim to achieve that. This will include developing a detailed policy response on bullying and harassment and commissioning evidence reviews to ensure that we draw on existing knowledge and identify gaps in understanding of the challenges that need to be addressed.

A major priority is to ensure that we have robust data, understand the drivers behind the statistics, and identify which interventions are successful and which are not. UKRI will seek to understand the issues and improve outcomes, both internally for our own staff and across the research and innovation landscape.

In addition to the clear moral imperative to enable all to participate to the best of their abilities and develop their talents, our ambition to be a global leader in research and innovation requires that we attract the best talent from the widest possible pool.

From a personal perspective, I have cared deeply about and worked on these issues throughout my career, from a PhD many years ago on how organisations responded to changes in equality policy to, more recently, cross-national comparative studies on intolerance in Western Europe and on outcomes for EU migrant women in the workforce.

I was delighted when our chief executive, Sir Mark Walport, asked me to take on the role of executive champion for equality, diversity and inclusion, recruiting and working with our new advisory group.

As a research and innovation community, we are seeking to better understand and address the diversity challenges that we face. The recruitment of an excellent external advisory group is a key step in realising our ambitions in this area.

Jennifer Rubin is executive champion for equality, diversity and inclusion at UK Research and Innovation. She is also executive chair of the Economic and Social Research Council and professor of public policy at King's College London.

This article originally featured in Times Higher Education.