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Diversity and inclusion at Wellcome: What we are learning

News and Views

Diversity and inclusion at Wellcome: What we are learning

News and Views

Gemma Tracey
Wellcome Trust, London, UK


Wellcome’s diversity and inclusion work is underpinned by the philosophy that a greater diversity of ideas will improve human health for everyone. It is well-documented that we are losing out on some of these great ideas because of the barriers that some people face to building a career in research, especially Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) and disabled researchers, and women at later career stages.

How we work

We try to ensure that this philosophy informs all the projects we do as a team. For example, we have an external diversity and inclusion advisory group that we recruited through an open call, and which includes members from a range of backgrounds, sectors and career stages. Our quarterly meetings with the group are robust and challenging – as they should be. Something I have learned as a diversity and inclusion (D&I) practitioner is that you must remain in an ongoing cycle of reflecting on your views and practice, and be open to feedback from others. Wellcome does not have all the answers, and our steering group is just one way we try to work in an open and inclusive way.

Supporting others

In some ways Wellcome has engaged with the D&I agenda later than others – the funding for our team was approved in late 2016. But that has enabled us to build on the experiences of others. There are so many people and organisations dedicated to creating a more inclusive science and research community. Much of this work is done by grassroots groups, led by people who have themselves faced barriers. We have provided funding for events like the BME Early Career Researcher Conference, we have hosted meetups in our building, and we want to continue to use our resource and convening power to elevate the voices of those most aware of the barriers that some groups face.

Sometimes it comes down to resource

Something I observe when I attend Wellcome researcher meetings, is the high level of enthusiasm and commitment to creating a more diverse scientific community. But there is a funding gap – busy researchers often lack the time and the financial resource to implement their ideas for creating a more inclusive research environment, or to remove barriers that certain groups face. That is why Wellcome runs the Research Enrichment scheme – which offers dedicated funding to Wellcome grant holders to do D&I projects. It’s worth noting that since the scheme launched in 2017 we have received fewer applications than we hoped and we didn’t always receive the type of proposals we are willing to fund.

So what type of application do we want to see? Firstly, it’s really important that any project be informed by existing data and research – whether this be data from HESA about the diversity of a specific field or institution, or anecdotal feedback gathered through conversations or staff surveys. It’s also important that projects are designed to remove barriers, rather than taking a deficit model approach (a term which describes projects aimed at “fixing” individuals from an under-represented or marginalised group). An example of a successfully funded project that took this evidence-informed approach will look at developing a diversity and inclusion training programme and toolkit for senior researchers to empower them to lead on D&I issues.

Genuine leadership on diversity and inclusion

It is noteworthy that the monitoring and evaluation work we are conducting as a team highlights that genuine commitment from senior leaders is key to progress on D&I – both internally within Wellcome, as an employer of 800 staff, and externally within the institutes we fund.

So what makes the difference between vocal commitment to D&I and genuine leadership, and what enables someone to step into leadership on D&I? Something that we are currently exploring at Wellcome is reverse-diverse mentorship for our senior leaders, offering them the opportunity to meet with a group of staff from one of our staff networks, and be mentored on the issues and challenges faced by that group – in relation to race, disability, gender and LGBTQ+ identities. We are still in the early stages of this work and plan to build in evaluation to ensure we have robust insights we can share with the sector. But initial feedback is that mentors and mentees have valued the opportunity to share and discuss real issues, while deepening their knowledge and understanding. It’s noteworthy that a number of universities are piloting similar programmes through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Inclusion Matters funding stream.

What’s next?

We are also a founder member of EDIS (Equality and Diversity and Inclusion in Science and Health), a coalition established by Wellcome, Francis Crick Institute and GSK to draw together organisations across the science and health field to influence and drive evidence-based change. EDIS is currently engaging new members, as well as organising a symposium in September dedicated to the concept of inclusive research and experimental design.

Working in diversity and inclusion can be challenging, not least because the rate of progress can feel far too slow. But within Wellcome I sense an increased appetite and willingness for change, and our team is looking forward to engaging with our staff, the people and institutions we fund, as well as those we don’t yet fund, to hopefully speed up the rate of change.

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