Ethnicity in STEM - reports

New research commissioned by the Royal Society shows disparities in degree outcomes and academic career progression affecting students and staff from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds in STEM fields. Researchers from these groups are also under-represented in the pool of applicants to the Society's early career fellowship programmes.

The Royal Society recognises that people from minority ethnic backgrounds are currently under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, training and employment. Identifying and addressing barriers to participation and success is a key priority for the Society and its Diversity Committee. 

Trends in ethnicity data for STEM students and academic staff

In order to identify areas of disparity and possible interventions, the Society commissioned Jisc to interrogate available data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (‘HESA’) and provide a report. The report presents a detailed analysis of HESA data over an 11-year time period, in order to understand the proportion of black and ethnic minority students and staff in STEM in the UK and how this has changed over time. 

The report’s key findings show that [summary of key findings].

The Society is convening a roundtable among senior stakeholders to discuss these findings, share experiences on what has – and hasn’t – worked to address the issues raised, and identify practical action that could be taken to make a tangible difference across the sector. 

Researchers eligible for early career fellowship programmes

The Society’s Grants and Diversity Committees commissioned CRAC to establish the diversity profile of postdoctoral researchers in the UK eligible for the Royal Society’s early career fellowship programmes: University Research Fellowship (URF), Sir Henry Dale Fellowship (SHDF) and Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship (DHF) schemes.

This profile (‘eligible pool’) has then been used as a benchmark for the Society to consider the diversity of its own early career research fellows, specifically individuals who applied between 2018-2020 for these schemes.

Key findings

The data shows that the applicants for these three UK early career fellowship schemes is not fully representative of the ethnicity and gender profile of the potential pool of eligible postdoctoral researchers in the UK.

  • The low representation from Black, Asian and multi-ethnic groups is particularly striking for UK nationals in both the ‘eligible pool’ and applicant data.
  • There is no or very low participation of Black postdoctoral researchers to these schemes.

The Society is keen to address these concerning trends, in particular the very low participation of Black researchers. It acknowledges that more needs to be done to broaden the pool of talented individuals and this data highlights the potential to increase the gender and ethnic diversity of applications to the Society’s early career fellowship schemes.

Next Steps

Building on its ongoing efforts, the Society is committed to taking action to broaden participation of talented individuals from diverse backgrounds to its early career fellowship schemes. This will include:

  • Sharing approaches and continued working with other funders and partners: The Society will convene a funders’ forum to share the information and approach on relevant pool and ‘benchmark’ data, with the aim of working collaboratively to broaden participation from underrepresented groups.
    The Society will continue to use this data on the gender and ethnicity of the ‘eligible pool’ in future Royal Society annual diversity data reports to benchmark the diversity of applicants and awardees for these early career fellowships.
  • Continue working with academic institutions: The Society will meet with institutions collectively and individually to share data and encourage them to look more broadly in terms of the candidates they might encourage to apply.
  • Mentorship and workshops: Working with relevant partner organisations, the Society will deliver workshops and/or webinars on planning and applying for early career fellowships for potential applicants (including future applicants such as final year PhD students) from ethnic minority backgrounds and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. It will also organise webinars and networking events for potential applicants from underrepresented groups, institutions or departments to explain more about the fellowships, dispel the ‘myths’ that exist about applying successfully and provide general guidance on how to apply for these schemes.  The Society will facilitate and encourage peer to peer support for applicants, including from existing grant holders who might be best placed to provide advice and support. 
  • The Society will develop initiatives (subject to funding) to contribute to efforts to support talented individuals from under-represented groups to pursue careers in STEM.