Ethnicity in STEM academic communities - reports commissioned by the Royal Society

25 March 2021

Supporting scientists from ethnic minority backgrounds is a key priority for the Royal Society and its Diversity Committee, which set up a sub-group to focus on this important area in 2019. The Society commissioned two reports in order to understand:

  • Where under-representation of ethnic minority students and academic staff in STEM is occurring;
  • The ethnic and gender diversity of the pool of researchers in the UK eligible to apply for the Society’s early career fellowships, and how this compares to the diversity of applicants to those schemes; and
  • What practical actions could be taken to address that under-representation.

President of the Royal Society, Sir Adrian Smith, said: "Talented Black people are not finding science careers in UK academia and that is unacceptable. The reasons are complex and have been much discussed but we have not made enough progress. Our reports show that Black people are more likely to drop out of science at all points of the career path. It is time that the whole science community comes together to find out why and put it right."

Trends in ethnic minority students and academic staff in STEM

The Society commissioned Jisc to carry out detailed analysis of Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) data (PDF) over an 11-year time period, in order to understand how the proportion of ethnic minority students and staff within STEM in the UK has changed over time, to enable the Society and the sector to identify where under-representation is occurring.

Key findings

The report shows that there is significant variation in rates of progression and outcomes across ethnic minority groups, though Black staff and students have consistently poorer outcomes than white and Asian students. The proportion of Black students entering undergraduate and postgraduate education has increased over the past decade, as it has for other minority ethnic groups, but they are leaving STEM in greater numbers at all stages of the career pipeline.

Next steps

The Society is convening a roundtable with representatives from organisations across the STEM and higher education sectors to discuss the report's 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.

Diversity of researchers in the UK eligible for the Society’s early career fellowship programmes

The Society commissioned the Careers Research and Advisory Centre (‘CRAC’) to establish the diversity profile of postdoctoral researchers in the UK (PDF) that meet the eligibility criteria for its three early career fellowship programmes: University Research Fellowship, Sir Henry Dale Fellowship and Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship. This profile (‘the eligible pool’) has then been used as a benchmark for the Society to consider the ethnicity and gender diversity of its own early career research fellows, specifically individuals who applied for these schemes between 2018 and 2020 inclusive.

Key findings

The data shows that the applicants for the three UK early career fellowship schemes are not fully representative of the ethnicity and gender profile of the eligible pool. There is low representation of Black, Asian and multi-ethnic groups for UK nationals in the eligible pool and among applicants to the Society’s schemes, and little to no representation of Black postdoctoral researchers.

The Society is keen to address these concerning trends, in particular the very low participation of Black researchers.

Next steps

The data in these reports shows that the gender and ethnic diversity of applications to the Society’s UK early career fellowship schemes could be increased. Building on its ongoing efforts, the Society will take action to broaden applications from 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 data and methodology, and aim to work collaboratively to broaden participation from under-represented groups.
  • The Society will use the eligible pool data to benchmark the diversity of applicants and awardees for early career fellowships in future Royal Society annual diversity data reports.
  • Continue working with academic institutions: The Society will meet with institutions collectively and individually to share data and encourage them to support a broader range of talented candidates to apply.
  • Mentorship and workshops: The Society will work with partners to 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 organise webinars and networking events for potential applicants from under-represented 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 also facilitate and encourage peer-to-peer support for applicants, including from existing grant holders who might be well-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.