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.

The Value of Diversity & Inclusion in Research

Written by Sarah Guerra, Director of Diversity & Inclusion

At a research-intensive organisation such as King’s, it is important that ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ do not remain in the hallways of HR. Research staff, although distinct in their roles, face many of the same diversity challenges on an operational level as other types of university staff, most perceptibly in the low levels of female or BME representation at more senior levels. This also extends to other challenges such as the persistence of low levels of disclosures around key protected characteristics such as disability and sexual orientation (and a further silence around why this might occur), the difficulties facing working parents as well as other structural issues such as unclear and informal reporting procedures around bullying and harassment.

In recent years there have been marked efforts to create a more inclusive working environment for all staff, including research staff. Mentoring schemes, such as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme at King’s have sought to provide female, trans and non-binary, BME mentees from often marginalised backgrounds an exceptional and unique opportunity to meet with a more experienced and trained mentor to identify, define and progress towards professional goals that will enhance their career progression, regardless of whether they want to stay in academia or pursue a career path beyond academia. Many mentees have spoken about how the experience has boosted their confidence and helped them identify and reach their professional goals.

King’s prides itself on being a leader and innovator in Higher Education diversity and inclusion by championing such schemes as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme, but there is always more that can be done. I feel that our challenge will be transforming good intentions and goodwill into positive, meaningful personal action in sufficient volume to create sustainable organisational change. On a practical level, this means looking over our behaviours, language, processes and systems with an analytical lens to confront some home truths, as discomforting as it might be. For example, understanding research staff demographics and recognising who is participating and succeeding, and more importantly, who is not, and then acting to change those dynamics in our research environments.

Our Diversity & Inclusion team is a hub of experience and expertise and is able to advise and support the King’s community to understand what it means to be equitable and inclusive as an employer and educator and how research staff can get involved in the various diversity networks and events at King’s. Six weeks into their roles, the team is busy tinkering away on our various programs such as the Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charter Marks, disability access at King’s, the Parental Leave Fund, the Carers’ Career Development Fund as well as our Diversity Mentoring Scheme, just to name a few!

To truly promote diversity and inclusion across research environments at King’s, we need to listen, learn, be honest, brave and bold, and I hope that I can provide the confidence and leadership we need to catalyse the change we are looking for.