It’s vital we confront systemic racism and racial inequality in scientific research. Our Executive Director of Research & Innovation, Iain Foulkes, our Chief Scientist, Professor Karen Vousden, and our Chief Clinician, Professor Charles Swanton, write about our commitment to help create a more inclusive research environment for Black and all underrepresented researchers.
We are deeply saddened by the recent events in the US and by the systemic racism faced by Black people in countries all over the world, including the UK. The past couple of months have been a vital moment for society to confront the structural racism that Black people have faced for so long. To all our Black researchers, we know these are difficult times for you. We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and as an ally to the Black community against racism directed to Black scientists, patients, clinicians, and our volunteers and staff. And we renew our previous commitment and work to promote equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in research for all underrepresented groups.
We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and as an ally to the Black community against racism directed to Black scientists, patients, clinicians, and our volunteers and staff.
Systemic racism and inequality is simply unacceptable. In academic research we see Black people often insufficiently represented in clinical trials of new drugs, even when the treatment is aimed at a type of cancer that affects them more. Black researchers continue to be underrepresented in our research community at all levels and experience racial discrimination throughout their careers. Across academia less than 2% of UK professors are Black women. In science engineering and technology, the number of UK professors who are Black men or women drops to less than 0.5%. Recent events have prompted many Black researchers to openly share their experiences of racism and prejudice in research on social media with the hashtag #BlackintheIvory.
Under-representation and racism are also evident for researchers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. Only 9% of academic staff within biological sciences are BAME. And a recent survey on research culture published by Wellcome highlights that BAME researchers often feel their experience of research is worse than those of their white colleagues, with around 29% of respondents in the UK reporting race or ethnicity-related discrimination or harassment.
This must change. For scientific research to progress and flourish, it is imperative that all of us in the scientific research community take an active stand against racism and actively participate in building a more inclusive research environment.
As a funder of research, we are part of the problem. We decide how our funding decisions are made, who we invite to sit on our funding panels and committees, who speaks at our research events and who we profile in our researcher stories. We have a duty to address the things we are in control of and contribute more actively to the wider discussion about the things that need to change if we want to see more people from diverse backgrounds attracted to and thriving in a scientific career.
At Cancer Research UK we champion equality, diversity and inclusion in research, but we recognise we still need to do more to stand against racism and racial injustice toward the Black community and BAME researchers more generally.
Here, we’re reaffirming our commitment to help create a more diverse and inclusive research environment. At Cancer Research UK (CRUK), we champion EDI in research, but we recognise we still need to do more to stand against racism and racial injustice toward the Black community and BAME researchers more generally. We need to make sure that, no matter their background, researchers have a fair chance when pitching ideas to us, feel protected against discrimination and valued in their work, and have the freedom to explore ideas within a positive environment that embraces diversity and inclusion.
Following an independent review, we have started work to improve our funding culture and practices, although we need to go further. We have improved our collection of diversity data of protected characteristics for lead applicants on grants, committee members and CRUK-funded students to enable us to identify issues, ensure our funding processes are fair and objective and take more effective action. We are exploring if BAME applicants are less successful. We have sought to collect and interrogate these data and are committed to being open and transparent about what we find.
Overall, our committee membership data shows 12% of our funding committee members self-reported as BAME. We are making progress as this is higher than the group of BAME researchers within biosciences in the UK, but we have more work to do at each specific committee level. We have now set an expectation that each funding committee should include a diversity of ethnicities and will continue to be proactive about addressing diversity in our funding panels and committees.
Addressing systemic racism isn’t a short-term project and will not be solved by simply making this statement – it’s vital we create real and meaningful change with our actions.
Two years ago, we introduced policies to tackle bullying and harassment in research to help ensure all people involved in our research activities treat each other with dignity and respect and are able to speak up if behaviour is inappropriate, without this limiting their careers.
Addressing systemic racism isn’t a short-term project and will not be solved by simply making this statement – it’s vital we create real and meaningful change with our actions. We will:
- Develop a strategy to understand and address bias in our research funding processes, to ensure fairness and equality across all our funding decisions and make our research funding ecosystem more inclusive for Black people and other underrepresented groups.
- Start a dialogue with our researchers who identify as BAME to understand the different barriers and issues they face and their ideas for how we can do better.
- Challenge ourselves, and the organisations we fund, to reflect on the racial injustices that BAME researchers experience.
- Review our doctoral training programmes to maximise participation from all communities.
- Find more opportunities to champion the work of BAME researchers, clinicians and students.
- Ensure the research we fund gives appropriate consideration to increasing diversity, for example among clinical trial participants, population cohorts and clinical samples.
As a charity we achieve our goals when we reflect all 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.
Our research aims to improve things for people with cancer – and that must mean, and has always meant, all people with cancer. This principle must also be reflected in our research activities. We must hold ourselves to account on our commitment to support a positive research culture for all. It is incumbent on us all – funders, research institutions and individual researchers – to take action against racism and bring about change in our society.
Endorsed by the CRUK Research and Innovation leadership team:
Karen Vousden, Chief Scientist
Charles Swanton, Chief Clinician
Iain Foulkes, Executive Director of Research & Innovation
Tony Hickson, Chief Business Officer
Ian Walker, Director of Discovery Research
Andrew Waldron, Director of Legal (Research)
Nigel Blackburn, Director of Drug Development
David Scott, Director of Grand Challenge
Hamish Ryder, Director of Therapeutic Discovery Labs
Dan Burkwood, Head of Research Funding
Rachael Barber, Head of Strategic Partnerships
Freya Parry, Head of Research Information, Communications and Engagement
Thanks to Weilin Wu and members of the CRUK BAME network for fruitful conversations that helped shape the development of this statement.