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Our work saves lives – that must mean Black lives too

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK
by Michelle Mitchell | Analysis

12 June 2020

1 comment 1 comment

Michelle Mitchell chief executive Cancer Research UK
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK

Like so many of us right now, I’ve been thinking hard about how to be a better ally, and how the charity can better represent and serve Black and other ethnic minority communities.

We know that we can and will continue to improve. I want our supporters and the wider public to know that I – and all my colleagues on the charity’s leadership team – am fully committed to making that change happen.

The outrage and protests following the death of George Floyd, and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities has, of course, brought issues of racism, inequality and inequity of access – particularly those faced by Black communities – into sharper focus around the world. But even though they are in the news, they are not new. They are long-standing, historic, structural problems hidden, for too many, in plain sight.

Cancer Research UK exists to improve things for people with cancer – and that must mean, and has always meant, all people with cancer. Because cancer can affect anyone, regardless of their ethnicity, or their age, gender identity, religion or sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, we know that cancer doesn’t affect everyone equally. The evidence shows that some groups in society are hit harder than others. The reasons why are complex, and deeply woven into the structural and socio-economic inequalities in our society. And these effects can be seen across the board – for example, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages of breast cancer, and Black men are at greater risk of prostate cancer than other ethnic groups as well as being more likely to die of the disease.

So as a charity, we will strive to work with and influence our partners to make sure that cancer services and care are available to all, equally. That means striving for screening services appropriate and accessible for all communities. For action on obesity and smoking – the two biggest causes of cancer – to make healthier choices easier for everyone. For research whose rewards offer progress across the board. And for information on cancer and treatment that helps inform and raise awareness equitably. Our work has the power and potential to save all lives in every community.

But to create progress for everyone, we also need to look at how Cancer Research UK itself operates. As a large charity, with thousands of staff and volunteers, which funds more than 50% of the UK’s cancer research, we have always realised we carry a huge responsibility.

We achieve our goals when we reflect all of the communities we serve. We know we still need to improve the diversity of our workforce, including our senior team. And we will renew our efforts to change that.

We have made mistakes in the past in not representing diversity in our communications, marketing and campaigns. We will keep learning from that, and ensure we don’t make these mistakes again. We know that we can and will have a stronger voice on health inequalities. We are conscious that there are racial and other biases in academic research. We will continue to strive to address them. However, we know that we can improve how we can engage with the Black community. We are listening.

So our leadership team and I have committed to draw up a short-, medium- and long-term plan, for how to make Cancer Research UK the best charity it can be, where we reflect the communities we serve, and for whom people are proud to work and volunteer for. We continue our work with a renewed focus.

I know as leader of this incredible charity, that has a century-long track record of progress for people with cancer, that we can do this. I want Cancer Research UK to be regarded as a leader in diversity and inclusion – not an organisation that drags its feet or ducks these issues. And although we want to take care to get this right, I recognise that this vital, urgent work must start right now.

Michelle Mitchell is our chief executive officer

Our commitments

  • To be an organisation committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
  • To work with our partners to ensure research progress is shared among all groups in society.
  • To make Cancer Research UK more representative of the communities we serve.
  • To find ways to address bias in research and make it more inclusive for Black people and other ethnic minority groups.
  • To draw up a short-, medium- and long-term plan of change for how we will get there.
  • To listen to all of our staff – including our Black staff, and to make sure we act on what they tell us.


  • Patrick McGuire
    12 June 2020

    As a CRUK supporter I am delighted to read of CRUK’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and I look forward to supporting the plans for change.


  • Patrick McGuire
    12 June 2020

    As a CRUK supporter I am delighted to read of CRUK’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and I look forward to supporting the plans for change.