Written Evidence Submitted by

The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)

(DIV0100)

 

This Association of Medical Research Charities submission to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Diversity in STEM focusses on three areas outlined in the inquiry’s call for evidence: what the implications are of groups such as women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds being under-represented in STEM roles; what has been done to address under-representation – with a focus here on action by charitable funders of medical research; and what should be done by research funders to address the implications of under-representation.

 

About AMRC

 

AMRC is the membership organisation for medical and health charities funding research in the UK. We represent over 150 medical research charities, from large to small, including: Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and Wellcome. Our members have invested nearly £14.5 billion in research in the UK over the last twelve years, supporting nearly half of all publicly funded medical research. Charities play a unique role in the life sciences ecosystem; driven by patient priorities and tackling areas of unmet need, they accelerate the delivery of innovative treatments to patients.

 

Summary

1.       The implications of groups being under-represented in STEM roles

 

 

2.       What has been done to address under-representation in STEM roles

 

 

3.       What could and should be done to address the issues

 

 

The implications of groups such as women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds being under-represented in STEM roles in academia and industry

 

Diversity of thought and experience is needed to ensure that the best research, which delivers the most patient benefit, is conducted. Diversity ensures scientific challenges are not approached from a single standpoint. When novel questions are asked and answered from differing perspectives, it can lead to novel solutions.

 

In addition, there is a need for diverse representation to ensure that patients and the public have trust in and an understanding of research. It is essential that diversity is fully represented in clinical trials participants, so that the research is relevant and applicable to the broadest parts of society, and in researchers, so that patients and the public can identify with those conducting research.

 

Groups such as women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are currently and historically under-represented in STEM roles. Furthermore, the presence of intersectionality, where individuals may belong to more than one under-represented group, multiplies the potential problems arising from a lack of diversity in STEM roles. For example, black women make up less than 2% of the UK’s professors.

 

This lack of diversity spans all stages of the research process. This includes:

a)      those conducting research, including senior scientists who set research questions and design studies, junior scientists who carry out and deliver research, and the technical support staff who facilitate research by operation of equipment or data collection;

b)      those allocating funding to research, including programme leaders within funding bodies and experts on research peer review committees;

c)      the participants of research, including members of the public in clinical studies, tissue and cell samples used in basic research, and those recruited to provide patient expertise; and

d)      those engaging patients in the design of research or evaluation of results, and

e)      those communicating the outcomes of research with the public.

 

Under-representation of research participants also affects the beneficiaries of research: patients and the public who receive the healthcare, drugs, treatments and therapies arising from the research process. The efficacy of novel drugs and the likelihood of adverse side effects, for example, is a major problem for population groups that have not been adequately or historically represented in the clinical trials process.

 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, early reports of variation in susceptibility to severe disease between racial and ethnic groups were later suggested to be in part attributable to certain medical devices being inappropriately calibrated for biological differences between ethnic groups, creating adverse consequences in measurement and treatment. At the same time, many of the differences in Covid-19 outcomes were found to relate more to already present health inequalities and disparities than genetic differences. Covid-19 has further highlighted the need for diversity within STEM and an intersectional approach to answering the key scientific challenges we will face in the future.


 

 

Representation of diversity is important in law because discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics is illegal under the Equality Act (2010), but also in principle because it is fair. As publicly funded research is funded from the public purse, it is especially important that the outcomes of such research address the needs of the UK population.

 

A lack of diversity affects awareness of and support for research and the value of academic endeavour, as well as adherence to public health measures. For example, the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines, which is lower amongst certain racial and ethnic groups. This has knock- on consequences for the persistent health disparities across all regions of the UK and for the economy, presenting a challenge to ambitions for levelling up.

 

Finally, greater diversity in research and the research workforce would also ensure the UK isn’t left behind internationally, and is essential to support the UK’s ambitions to maintain and enhance its status as a global science superpower.

 

What has been done to address under-representation of particular groups in STEM roles

 

Under-representation is an important issue to many within our membership and AMRC has been working with member charities to increase diversity in STEM roles, both through guidance on best practice and data collection to inform policy. For example, the resource hub described below.


 

AMRC member charities engage in a wide range of activities and initiatives to address under-representation of particular groups in STEM roles. In a survey from 2020, 44% of members reported they were developing a strategy to address equality, diversity and inclusion in the research they fund. In addition, 22 members had started collecting, and in some cases reporting, data on the protected characteristics of researchers they fund, and we believe this number is increasing.

 

Below, a selection of case studies demonstrates the journey member and supporter charities are currently on in attempting to address this area.



 

 

 

 

 

 




 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What could and should be done by the UK Government, UK Research and Innovation, other funding bodies, industry and academia to address the issues identified

 

In our experience, possible actions to address under-representation will vary with the different groups that activity aims to reach. Therefore, a diverse, intersectional and cross- sector approach is required. AMRC supports a thematic approach, proposed by EDIS, to addressing issues of under-representation. EDIS is a coalition of organisations spanning the research sector, including AMRC, working to drive improvements across STEM roles in all aspects of the research process.

 

Due to the systemic nature of the problem, tackling issues at a system-level requires a focus on the entire pipeline, from early interventions in STEM education in schools and colleges, bias training in undergraduate university admissions processes, through to the processes of funding research and the research culture that currently create an unrepresentative research environment. Support for under-represented groups once in post is essential, as well as targeting support to those groups who are most under-represented. This will ensure a diversity of groups is trained and the resulting diverse workforce is retained. Collective work is needed by a number of actors to ensure that diversity is addressed in all settings and that more is delivered than is possible individually.

 

We believe that approaching solutions thematically acknowledges the intersectional nature of under-representation – with individuals often experiencing multiple levels of discrimination and disadvantage – and will tackle the issues at a systemic level that can overcome barriers for the largest possible number of people.

 

The priority areas for action, described in greater detail in EDIS’ s submission are:

 

a)      Build science capital: Those without access to adequate support, sponsorship or opportunities in STEM are less likely to see a career as ‘for them’ or to have access to enabling tools and pathways.

 

b)      Take proactive steps to remove bias: Left unchecked, bias leads to nurturing, hiring and supporting those who already ‘fit the mould’ and leaves others behind. This includes individual bias, institutional bias, structural bias, and system-level bias.

 

c)      Implement good practice in education settings, the workplace and the research system: Inconsistent application of good practice, particularly where there is strong evidence (such as for careers advice, teacher training, pedagogy, recruitment processes, funding processes, flexible working and reasonable adjustments) perpetuates challenges.

 

d)      Update legal frameworks and ensure dissemination and uptake of guidance: The Equality Act (2010) needs reviewing and updating to make clearer how requirements on combined discrimination (for example, on Positive Action) applies in research settings. The application of the Public Sector Equality Duty relating to STEM funding is also unclear and inconsistently applied. This needs to be addressed at an


 

 

 

 

 

 

institutional level and with the UK Government taking accountability for advancing diversity and equality at a system level.

 

e)      Invest in positive culture and incentives that reflect the true range of contributions: Scientific progress is driven by a diverse range of contributions, but the research system currently favours success metrics that reinforce individual prestige and publication history and that undervalue other important skills and activities. A sector-wide conversation about research culture has brought many of these issues into the light and highlighted priorities for action.

 

f)        Improve consistency in the design, implementation and monitoring of interventions: A lack of consistency means that it is hard to assess impact and progress on interventions, to compare methods and outcomes between organisations, and to make clear recommendations about emerging good practice.

 

 

 

(January 2022)