Supporting BME Research Staff

Written by Dr Bernadine Idowu, Diversity & Inclusion Champion, Dental Institute

As a Black Minority & Ethnic (BME) female scientific Early Career Researcher (ECR), I had always wondered why BME staff are under-represented in academic posts at lecturer grades and above in both STEM and non-STEM subjects. Prior to working in Diversity & Inclusion I had not seen any data, but heard people talking about it, I however, did not fully appreciate the magnitude of it. When the opportunity arose to begin to understand the challenges of under representation under the then Manager Ms Debbie Epstein (Diversity & Inclusion Team), I jumped at the opportunity and began to quickly realise, that one reason could be since there are not many role models, many BME ECR staff would not apply and some that did apply and were unsuccessful gave up, after the first attempt.

Looking back, I have been extremely fortunate as a researcher within the different institutions I have worked at, I put that down to having supervisors and mentors, that have always supported me. I feel it is my duty to give back and that is why I have become a mentor. I love being a mentor as it is so rewarding. Being an award winning scientist, encourages my mentees, both PhD scientists and undergraduates wishing to pursue a career in science.

King’s as an institution sees under-representation of BME staff as one the key priorities to tackle, in order that we can enrich our academic community and provide role models for future generations of academics and researchers. We have initiatives such as the Athena Swan and Race Equality Charter Marks which focuses on gender and race equality respectively. We also have a new King’s Diversity Mentoring Scheme which is open to academic and professional services staff from diverse groups, prioritising those with at two protected characteristics.

With the support of the Principal and senior Leaders such as Chris Mottershead (Diversity & Inclusion Champion) we aimed to address this by delivering the first ever conference of its kind, i.e. ‘BME ECR how to stay in academia’, providing key tools to help us stay in academia. Tools such as applying for fellowships, the power of mentoring, the importance of networking and finally, prioritising caring for health and well-being! The theme of the day was to be Positive, Practical and Pragmatic (3P’S) to empower the delegates to be bold and take the next steps.

Briefly, there were two sessions, the morning session started with an opening address from the Principal, followed by BME academics from King’s and various Universities within London and UK, all invited to talk about their experiences and to give the delegates some advice. The afternoon session was more interactive with workshops which covered the above tools required to stay in academia. Networking was encouraged throughout the day.

It was a well-attended conference consisting of undergraduate students, PhD students, ECR, academic BME and non-BME staff, also invited guests and some members of staff that heard about the program and wanted to be inspired by seeing and hearing BME academics come together in one space, the Great Hall, the space really did live up to its name.

There were so many positive feedbacks, one which really stood out is as follows “It was a relief to have what felt like a private, personal ‘failing’ identified, named and reframed. The description of the speaker’s successes was very inspirational. We came away feeling validated, with important tips and ideas for personal development and certainly empowered. The quality, format of the day, choice of speakers and food were all excellent”.

My only hope is that this is the beginning of things to come, such gathering provides a powerful & inspirational message to ECR. This model needs to be embedded in various University cultures, only then will we begin to witness a steady increase in BME staff in academia.