This is my penultimate blog and it is timely to focus on the issue of diversity and inclusion for one last time. Hilary Reynolds, Executive Director of RCUK, and Andrew Thompson, interim CE of AHRC, will be jointly taking on the role of Equality and Diversity (E&D) Champion for the RCs when I leave so I am sure that the RCUK action plan, agreed by the CEs of the Research Councils and endorsed by the Minister for Universities and Science, is in safe hands. The plan will be officially launched in the coming months and will be at the centre of an event in May but much of what it contains is already being actioned within individual Research Councils.
One of the things that we have done at BBSRC is to explore the use of LinkedIn as a source for increasing the diversity of candidate pools for public appointments. Working with myself and Terry Young from Brunel University, who sat alongside me on the Ministerial E&D Committee, Paul Chitson from BBSRC carried out a pilot to identify a number of UK based candidates based on an advertised non-executive director role for the UK Atomic Energy Authority. This pilot was judged a success although there were some key learnings for recruiting organisations wanting to use this approach. For example, the search criteria were crucial. Women tended to use more conservative language in their profiles which could reduce their ranking in the search results compared to similarly skilled male candidates. The ethnic diversity of the results was encouraging. What this does suggest is that social media can be used to challenge recruiters to come up with a more diverse candidate pool especially for non-executive roles in public bodies where deep specialist knowledge is not always as important as a candidate’s broader experience.
I attended a meeting in 2014 under the auspices of EMBO which explored the use of quotas in academia. It produced a very useful report with lots of good references and although it does not make recommendations it does highlight pros and cons of various approaches. The report can be found as PDF on the EMBO website (www.embo.org/documents/science_policy/exploring_quotas.pdf). Personally I am not in favour of quotas in jobs but I am in favour of the use of quotas in pools and shortlists. I am also in favour of quotas on decision making bodies as I have seen at first-hand how this can make a difference. To improve our understanding of the make-up of research and HE leadership in the UK, BBSRC asked Norma Jarbo from Women Count to identify women in key leadership roles in 37 universities and institutes that receive BBSRC funding. Although men do hold the vast majority of academic leadership roles, women’s representation in these ranges from 20-30% across the institutions surveyed. This is in alignment with the overall percentage of women professors across all HEIs in the UK. In terms of executive teams academic women across the BBSRC sample hold 16% of all executive/senior management roles. A question going forward is such a level of representation appropriate if the pace of change is to be accelerated?
On my visit to the USA the week before last, I spoke to people at the Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House and NSF about diversity issues and it was clear that they too have many of the same problems. One interesting fact that I wasn’t aware of was that a past director at NSF had made it a policy that NSF would not fund workshops unless there was at least one female speaker. This did make a difference because once females were invited and spoke, they got invited to give other talks – we all know it’s the first invited talk that is the hardest to get!
I am confident that BBSRC will continue to lead the way in pushing forward this agenda and moving it on from being more focussed on gender to the other ‘protected characterstics’.