Building a diverse and inclusive research environment

Black and Asian researchers in the lab

The UK’s engineering and physical sciences community is being encouraged to take part in a series of surveys to inform plans to foster a diverse and inclusive research environment.

Addressing challenges

The community engagement activities have been launched by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as a report published today highlights gender disparity across EPSRC’s portfolio.

Understanding our portfolio – a gender perspective focuses on applications and grants awarded by gender in EPSRC’s portfolio, particularly highlighting large grants.

The detailed investigation shows that women are underrepresented in EPSRC’s principal investigator applicant pool, and the council receives consistently low numbers of applications from women, with applicant numbers for large grants particularly low.

Members of the community are encouraged to take part in a ‘have your say’ survey on the findings of the report to provide personal experiences of applying for large grants as well as views on potential causal factors for the trends seen. These views will increase understanding of the aspects that influence the inclusion of researchers in our grant portfolio and across the landscape.

EPSRC work on diversity

EPSRC has undertaken a wide range of work to address these challenges, including introducing a mixed gender panel policy, refreshing membership of the EPSRC Peer Review College, and introducing policies on support available for those with caring responsibilities. The survey results will be used to inform further actions and will build on previous activities including the EPSRC flexible working survey carried out in 2019.

Later in the year, EPSRC will launch three additional ‘have your say’ surveys aimed at respondents from different career stages that will focus on racial diversity and inclusion in the research system while a strategic dialogue focused on interventions that support race equality will also take place with senior management at EPSRC’s partner universities.

This work will explore:

  • the barriers students from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds may encounter when accessing and carrying out doctoral studies
  • career progression challenges Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers encounter and their experiences in accessing and securing research funding.

It will also look at the effectiveness of current interventions and support, particularly in relation to recruitment, career progression, enabling greater inclusion and addressing bias and prejudice. The survey responses will inform EPSRC’s further work in this area.

Have your say

The Understanding our portfolio: a gender perspective survey is now available. The deadline for participation is 3 December.

EPSRC Deputy Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and People, Dr Alison Wall said:

Underrepresentation of women remains one of EPSRC’s biggest equality, diversity and inclusion challenges, and the report illustrates that there is still work to do to ensuring our portfolio is diverse, inclusive and enabling everyone to thrive.

Our work to understand the issues for Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers and doctoral students is just starting and we are keen to gather input widely from our community.

Please take a moment to share your experiences, learning and ideas with us to increase our understanding of the issues and inform the actions we develop to address them.

UK Research and Innovation Executive Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Professor Jennifer Rubin, said:

Engagement with our communities is essential as we seek to address disparities and inequalities across the sector.

The views and experiences of our communities will inform and shape the development of effective practice and the realisation of our ambition to ensure that everyone can contribute to and benefit from a healthy research and innovation culture.

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