Balance for Better: improving outcomes in research and innovation

By Jennifer Rubin

BalanceforBetter is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day and helpfully articulates the need to pursue balance if we want to improve diversity and inclusiveness in the environments in which we live and work. In our research and innovation environment there are several ways we can improve balance and improve outcomes.

First, we are seeking gender balance and greater overall diversity in leadership positions. Diversity in positions of leadership and influence is important for many reasons, including providing role models. For example, the excellent work of Bell, Chetty, Van Reenen and Petkova tells us that those who are exposed to innovation during childhood are much more likely to become innovators themselves (PDF). In particular, girls are more likely to become innovators if they grow up in an area with more women role models who are innovators. Given the commitment to invest in research and innovation to generate prosperity and growth, we need the increased capacity and additional talent.

We are also striving for work-life balance, with its potential to improve wellbeing, promote equality, diversity and inclusion and improve productivity and performance at work. Thinking about balance in work and life seems especially pressing in the context of growing demand for mental health services by students across the higher education sector.

Balance can also be sought in research, data and methods – in the kinds of funding on offer, in the fields and areas that are funded, and in the diversity of participant populations and data on which research findings and innovation are based. This kind of balance can make research and new technologies more widely applicable. Balance might also mean that we foster an environment in which nil results as well as exciting new findings are as valued for publication. Better balance should therefore mean better, more widely useful, research and innovation.

So balanced leadership, workplaces and research are just a few of the ways we can and do strive for balance in our work on equality, diversity and inclusion and research culture in UK Research and Innovation. Doing so should improve outcomes for those working in the sector as well as for those who stand to benefit from the productivity, innovation and wider benefits of balance.

Professor Jennifer Rubin is the Executive Chair of the ESRC and Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at UK Research and Innovation. She is also Professor of Public Policy at King’s College London and was appointed to the Independent Industrial Strategy Council in November 2018.

You can follow @jenkrubin on Twitter.