Scientists help secure Government inquiry into impact of funding policy on diversity

Scientists from the University of Plymouth have played a key role in securing a new Government inquiry into the impact of science funding policy on equality, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.

The inquiry is one of four to be taken forward by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee following an open call, #MyScienceInquiry.

The call allowed members of the public to suggest inquiries for the Committee to pursue, and a diverse group of scientists from across the UK worked to produce written evidence, which was submitted to the Committee.

In it, they called for an inquiry into the extent to which funding policies, procedures and cultures are marginalising and excluding individuals, adding that the issue has the potential to threaten creativity and productivity in the UK STEMM community.

The document included around 200 signatories from a range of disciplines, with more than 10% of those being academics and PhD candidates from the University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering.

It was then presented to the Committee in January by Rachel Oliver, Professor of Materials Science at the University of Cambridge, as part of an oral evidence session and they have now decided that an inquiry will be launched within the next 12 months.

Dr Natasha Stephen, Director of the Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre and Lecturer in Advanced Analysis (Earth & Planetary Sciences), was one of the scientists who worked on the initial report. She said:

“Working on the #MyScienceInquiry report gave us a fantastic opportunity to ensure that this was really a grass-roots effort, led by those that had direct experiences of current practices. I could not be more proud of everyone who worked on our report, including all of our co-signatories. Today’s news indicates that the UK government are truly committed to investing in diversity, inclusivity and accessibility throughout STEMM, and within the newly refreshed UKRI framework as a whole.”

The University already has a number of initiatives championing equality and diversity in STEMM subjects. It holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, is a member of the WISE campaign for gender balance in science, technology and engineering, and is a Stonewall Diversity Champion.

Professor Dafydd Moore, Chair of the University’s Equality and Diversity Committee, said:

“There should be no barriers to a person’s success. That is why promoting equality and eliminating discrimination are a key part of our university agenda. I am proud of the role the University has played in bringing such an important inquiry to fruition, and hope it will ensure future scientists can go about their work in a fair and supportive environment.”

Our Equality Scheme

How do you measure the true value that diversity brings? At Plymouth, we do this through our Equality Scheme, which recognises the good work that we’re already doing, while setting new challenges and goals for the future. The Equality Scheme helps us to drive positive change through clear equality objectives and targets, which challenge the University to use its resources to deliver sustainable, successful outcomes.

The University’s current Equality Scheme covers 2017 - 2021 but every year, the institution reviews and documents its progress through its annual Equality Report. This helps it to update its objectives and targets and respond to new challenges and priorities. For example, the University is seeking to address some specific gender imbalances that recur at a national level, such as encouraging more female staff and students to take up STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) subjects, as well as recruiting more male staff and students to specialisms such as health sciences. It is also examining attitudes of males from lower socioeconomic groups towards higher education, both as a means to understand the University’s own position better, as well as engage with external groups to identify potential actions.

Our equality objectives and how they support the Equality Act

The Equality Act is often described as having three specific ‘aims’. The objectives and targets that the University has agreed with the Board of Governors complement those aims. They are:

Equality of opportunity

We will continue to provide this through our support, practices and communications for all, and we will focus on gender equity as a key priority for staff, using Athena SWAN as a model to drive our activity.