Addressing under-representation and active participation


Research and innovation need diversity. Equality, diversity and inclusion are essential for the creative, collaborative, dynamic research and innovation system needed to improve our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and to harness that knowledge in the service of society.

In June 2020, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) published data for diversity characteristics of its funding applicants and recipients for the past five years. We also stated our commitment to better understand these data, and undertake more detailed analysis on ethnicity to inform our policy development and implementation.

We know that, because of our stewardship role in the system and the impact of our funding decisions on diversity, our community is interested in these data, and the actions we are taking to understand and address the findings. Making our data on applications and awards publicly available is important to support work to understand where and how inequalities arise, and to monitor the effects of interventions introduced to address them. We are committed to continuous improvement based on an evidence-intervention-evaluation cycle in which the data play an important part.

We are using these data, together with other evidence and engagement with the research and innovation community to help us identify and deliver actions to create a more equitable system. There are other organisations, institutions, and bodies who also play a role in enabling a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system, and we are working together to achieve this. This includes working with our community to understand pre-application processes and data, including who is generating ideas and how researchers are supported to apply for funding, so that we can understand our application data better.

We have an ongoing programme to develop and deliver interventions and policy changes and share some examples of the current work here. We are committed to challenging ourselves, being open to challenge, and taking action to create a research and innovation system that is for everyone, by everyone.

Fixing the system

Although data in this publication represents individual applicants and award holders, we have approached our work on race and ethnicity from a systems perspective. Cross-sector data and analysis makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with the brilliant Black, Asian and minority ethnic researchers and innovators in our sector. They do not need fixing; the system needs fixing and not just to include particular groups or to provide opportunities to a select few, but to provide the opportunity for everyone to participate and to flourish in their chosen career, and to develop their skills and contribute their ideas.

There are many actors in the research and innovation system, and each has its own responsibilities to address barriers to participation. UKRI has a key role to play and must do its part to steward a system that is fair, just, and equitable. That starts with reviewing and examining the impact of our own processes and policies and acting robustly to address shortcomings. Sharing our experience and understanding of what works and what doesn’t will support others in taking action.

Within and across UKRI, we are taking the following actions.

Continuously reviewing our expert review and assessment practices

Embedding effective practice with respect to EDI is a central element in this work. We will continue to challenge ourselves to remove bias in the system, support expert assessment that recognises a diversity of promising ideas and knowledge generation and drives fairness and creativity in the process. Key to this work is a renewed effort to bring a wider range of people from across the sector into our expert review process, and our councils will continue to push for greater representation from across the research and innovation system. We are also testing and piloting different procedures, for example, anonymised assessment processes as part of the EPSRC New Horizons funding opportunity.

Introducing a standardised narrative CV format for our grant applications

This approach allows applicants to evidence their contributions in a wider range of ways, supporting and valuing diverse contributions. It is essential that we do not perpetuate narrow criteria or re-inscribe assumptions about career patterns or contributions to society. We want to do more than just invite everyone who has a great idea or product into the research and innovation system. We want to remove any blockages or barriers to their participation.

Promoting the use of positive action

We are supporting change through positive action. For example, we have communicated to our training grant holders that positive action can be used in postgraduate student recruitment, where there is evidence of under-representation or disadvantage. As part of their proposal, BBSRC DTP and CTP applicants are required to submit a two-page EDI strategy. The strategy is expected to address how the partnership will enable the wide participation of doctoral candidates from all backgrounds, as well as the support systems in place to protect their physical and mental health and wellbeing. We will be doing more work on positive action throughout the organisation, including working with the sector to offer guidance about how to effectively use this provision of the Public Sector Equality Duty to promote change.

Adding weight to our terms and conditions for award-holding institutions

We have recently written to remind our training grant award holders that we expect them to consider and support equality, diversity and inclusion, including but not limited to their duties as part of the Equality Act 2010. We want to ensure that as institutions work to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on their staff and, in some cases, their students, equality and diversity are not after-thoughts, but are considered central to delivering excellent research and innovation that includes everyone and benefits everyone within society.

Addressing inequalities and under-representation

There are a number of relevant and established areas of inequality within research and innovation. Some have been the subject of targeted interventions for many years with disappointingly limited effects. We want to establish effective interventions that address all of them and are testing approaches in order to assess which are most effective. We will embed learning and good practice from this work across the organisation. Our councils are piloting new approaches and launching calls that put inequalities and under-representation at the forefront.

Within and across UKRI, we are taking the following actions.

Providing funding to increase diversity and representation

We are investing in people and ideas to support change. Below are some examples.

Increasing access and participation

Research England and the OfS have launched a funding opportunity to improve access and participation for Black, Asian and minority ethnic postgraduate research students in the English higher education sector. This work will fund projects that aim to provide evidence of effectiveness and impact on access and participation and provide exemplars of effective practice or transferable insights, or both, across the higher education sector. Bids will be assessed on the extent to which they are founded on engagement with and advice from Black, Asian or minority ethnic students in the design, development or delivery of key activities and through evaluation we will assess the overall impact of the funding opportunity for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

Celebrating and increasing diversity

AHRC, in collaboration with BBC Radio 3, is funding applications to recognise and celebrate Black, Asian and ethnically diverse classical music composers across the centuries. The lack of diversity in classical music is widely acknowledged but the opportunities to listen to and learn about composers from diverse ethnic backgrounds is often scarce. This funding will increase awareness of this issue and provide opportunities for the public to hear new works, that perhaps until now, have not received the wider recognition they deserve. This funding opportunity was designed in partnership with an expert steering group and a diverse group of recognised experts will participate in a workshop to support and facilitate shortlisted applicants.

Supporting culture change

Recognising the need to support research leaders to develop their understanding and raise awareness of research culture challenges, EPSRC is providing opportunities for Fellows to allocate 20 – 50% of their time to create positive change in the research community by championing work to deliver improvements in research culture in topics such as equality, diversity and inclusion, responsible research and innovation or public engagement. This will provide capacity to support the implementation of new ideas and initiatives to increase the pace of change.

Working partnership to improve inclusion and diversity 

The Health Data Research Hubs, UK Health Data Research Alliance and Health Data Research Innovation Gateway are part of the Digital Innovation Hub Programme, funded by the UKRI Challenge Fund. As part of the 10,000 Black Interns programmeHealth Data Research UK is leading the programme to improve inclusion and diversity in the health data science sector by offering internships with partner organisations for young Black people. We see these paid internships as a critical way to offer practical work experience, training and development opportunities and look forward to strengthening our support of this initiative.

Enhancing our data collection and analysis

We are gathering more useful data points and enhancing our analytical capabilities.

We continue to develop our data capabilities regarding our funding and staffing data. This will allow us to identify priority areas for future interventions and enable more focused activity, support and engagement for improvement.

To fully understand some issues, we need more qualitative information and will work across the sector to assemble information, following data protection protocols, that captures the entire research and innovation system. This is large scale analytical work that we cannot do alone. The entire system will need to enhance its analytical capabilities in order to pinpoint where gaps exist and where we need to take immediate action to address systemic under-representation or barriers. We see the government-led R&D Roadmap as a useful opportunity to drive greater data understanding and analysis – including the monitoring and reporting of activities and progress.

Within and across UKRI we are taking the following actions.

Continuing to produce our annual harmonised diversity data of application and award rate information

Analysis by disaggregated ethnicity categories and that by other protected characteristics such as gender, age and disability will be presented annually. In addition to the annual diversity data releases, we are also planning to release information that contains intersectional and call level analysis. UKRI is also working on determining release dates for data in advance with the goal of publishing to a consistent schedule.

Working with data and policy leads across Councils to understand specific sub-sector or discipline challenges or concerns

For example, EPSRC have undertaken additional analysis to better understand the disparity of gender and race in their funding portfolio and are engaging with their community on the findings. UKRI has also created a cross council EDI data working group to facilitate sharing of analysis and findings across the organisation.

Preparing our next Gender Pay Gap report

In addition to our gender pay gap report, we will publish an Equal Pay Audit in spring 2021. Our analysis will include work to understand ethnicity and intersectional pay gaps.

Publishing a Workforce report

We will publish a Workforce report in late spring 2021 which will help us understand our comparative workforce position.

Increasing UKRI’s diversity

We are taking steps to increase diversity in our own recruitment pipelines, and ensuring that we bring diverse voices into our governance and accountability structures.

We are developing a set of monetary and non-monetary benefits provided to our employees in recognition of the skills, capabilities, and experience they bring and the contributions they make to the organisation. We hope these benefits will attract a broad range of people into roles across UKRI. We are partnering with specialist recruitment agencies and trialling new processes, including inviting interest from Black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants and tracking conversion rates.

Listening to our staff

We are continuing to listen to our staff and work with them to provide an inclusive and supportive working environment.

Over 1000 employees participated in events to reflect on what our Black Lives Matter statement means for our staff, for our UKRI community, the work we do and how we do it. We are learning from the excellent work going on at grass roots level across the organisation to build an action plan and support employees to work with us to combat racism, spread good practice and identify ways that we can all make a difference.

Challenging ourselves on our transparency

Transparency and openness are central to our work to improve equality, diversity and inclusion, providing us with greater clarity about the issues we need to address. We recognise the importance of robust, comprehensive data in driving effective decision-making and in understanding where action is needed. Providing accessible data and information on our processes facilitates analysis and insight for our sector. It also ensures we are subject to constructive external scrutiny which will support us and the wider sector as we seek to drive transformative change.

Engagement and collective deliberation

We are committed to close and deep engagement with our community and the wider public. As we increase participation, depth, and reach across the sector, we recognise that we need to do this in a way that does not cause adverse effects or over-burden any one group.

We continue to engage in ongoing conversations with UK and international partners as we recognise that we need to work with others to drive change, at scale, and to share good practice, innovative solutions and novel ideas.

Within and across UKRI, we are taking the following actions.

Engaging and listening in different ways

We want to reach out more widely across our many communities, creating spaces for deeper interaction and exchange of perspectives. Our objective is to bring a wide range of people together and create meaningful opportunities to engage, listen and respond, co-creating effective solutions.

Developing roundtable discussions and Race Equality Summits

We are working to bring together people from across the research and innovation sector and beyond to encourage innovative and creative conversations about addressing racial inequality. We will work in partnership with regional hosts to deliver summits across the UK, to deliberate and co-create commitments and actions for change and will be announcing more as plans firm up.

Open to meeting with the sector

We are listening to our community – from individuals, to grassroots movements and advocacy groups, through to organisations – on concerns about EDI, our decision-making processes and our policies. Our community has engaged deeply on issues of racial equality and we welcome and value this engagement to help us shape our work. We have acted and will continue to act in response to these concerns, which we share.

Understanding discipline-specific issues

Our Councils are engaging in different ways to understand discipline-specific issues. Below are some examples.

EPSRC is launching community engagement work including a dialogue with universities, surveys and focus groups to gather input from the research and business community on racial diversity and inclusion in the research system. This work will explore the barriers students from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds may encounter when accessing and carrying out doctoral studies and career progression and the challenges Black, Asian and ethnic minority researchers encounter in accessing and securing research funding. It will also look at the effectiveness of current interventions and support, particularly in relation to recruitment and career progression. The outcomes will inform EPSRC’s further work in this area, both with respect to decisions directly under EPSRC control, and those made by the organisations we fund.

NERC is developing a plan to bring together the environmental science community with new partners to identify how NERC/ relevant HEIs and other stakeholders might work together to foster increased diversity in environmental science. NERC seeks to have a joined-up conversation with its community and other key players to answer the question ‘How can we move together to ensure environmental science is inclusive?’ and commit to shared action.

Convening a forum for tackling bullying and harassment in research and innovation

We are working in partnership with funding, policy and regulatory organisations, both in the UK and internationally, to raise awareness and bring about culture change, focusing on preventing bullying and harassment and supporting a healthy research culture.

Taking the next steps

We know that far more action is needed. We feel and share the deep frustration and anger in the community that progress has been far too slow. We are working to revise our equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, adapting it to respond to the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. Our plan will include actions for us as an organisation, discipline-specific initiatives, and our plans for monitoring and evaluation. We expect to publish this in spring 2021.

Deep engagement with our community is key as we develop our actions. To ensure the inclusion we need to succeed, we want to create opportunities for people to contribute to our actions and policy development.

We benefit from being part of a strong and active sector that is committed to addressing these long-standing and damaging issues. We all play a role and we want to work with all parts of the sector, including researchers and innovators, other funders and policy makers, community groups, industry partners and government to drive transformative change.

We welcome feedback on what we are doing and ideas about how we can work together to achieve our vision for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK, where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and to benefit. You can reach us at:

Ethnicity data report December 2020 analysis and findings

In December 2020 we published applications and awards data by disaggregated ethnic minority groupings for principal investigators, co-investigators, fellows, and studentships.

The main findings from this analysis show:

  • under-representation in academic market share (share by ethnicity of those in both research and teaching contracts) for certain ethnicities relative to labour market (the share by ethnicity of those who were employed aged 16 to 64), as revealed by the HESA data
  • under-representation in applications (principal investigators and studentships) of certain ethnicities relative to academic and labour market share
  • differences in success of applications by ethnicity – there is variation in award rates by ethnicity.

You can read the:

Last updated: 27 July 2023

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