Equality and diversity - not just about fairness
Categories: Sanger Life30 May 20195.6 min read

Equality and Diversity – not just about fairness

We've come a long way, but the journey isn't finished yet…

Diversity not only matters, but leads to better outcomes for organisations. Organisations with more diverse management teams are more likely to introduce innovations and are less inclined to rely on dogma and received wisdom.

Earlier this year we welcomed three distinguished speakers to the Wellcome Genome Campus as part of our Equality in Science programme. Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu of University College London spoke about equality, diversity and race. We also had talks to celebrate LGBT History Month; Sam Quinn brought us up to date with the Royal Navy’s journey from LGBT ban to Stonewall top 20 employer. Professor Andrew Hodges from the University of Oxford spoke about the life of Alan Turing, a renowned LGBT figure in science.

The benefits of diversity - Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu

Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu, University College London

Professor Uchegbu is well placed to understand the issues relating to diversity and race, as University College London’s Provost Envoy for Race Equality (as well as Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanoscience in the School of Pharmacy, Pro-Vice Provost for Africa and The Middle East, and Chief Scientific Officer of Nanomerics Ltd).

Reports by Levine et al1 and McKinsey2 demonstrate the positive influence of ethnic diversity on profitability. In the academic world, papers with more ethnically diverse authors produce more citations, as shown by Adams in his review of three decades of published papers.3

“I saw the data, and I just had to get involved in this work,” Professor Uchegbu told us.

Ethnicity in Higher Education

According to Professor Uchegbu, there is an improving picture of ethnic diversity in some sectors, but there is still a long way to go. Around 88 per cent of UK university academic staff are white, as are 91 per cent of professors. According to the Equality Challenge Unit, in 2016 there were only 25 black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) female professors (1.9 per cent) compared to 21.6 per cent of professors who were white females.

“The ceiling is real, the ceiling is solid and the ceiling is thick,” reiterated Professor Uchegbu.

While many of us are familiar with the UK’s Gender Pay Gap, which last year showed that women in the UK were paid 8.6 per cent less on average than men, there is also evidence of an ethnicity pay gap. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) quotes a pay gap of 13 per cent for all black workers, compared to white workers and, rather shockingly, this gap actually widens to 25 per cent for workers with a degree.

“Race is harder to address [than gender], because people don’t want to talk about race,” said Professor Uchegbu. “People say they have no idea. So it’s good that we are talking about race, but there is no magic bullet. The fact is, BAME staff are less likely to be promoted and more likely to be disciplined. Students are less likely to get the degree they deserve.”

Making a change

It is key for leaders to signal that ethnicity gaps in pay and attainment are an important issue and for organisations to be honest about deficits. The vision for change needs to originate from the top and it is vital to articulate the added value of diversity. Data collection, analytics and monitoring are just part of the approach. There are many practical initiatives that can support staff, such as sponsoring, engagement with the Race Equality Toolkit4, and shadowing committee members to increase transparency of decision-making.

What can we do to help?

“Challenge, challenge and challenge again,” Professor Uchegbu advised. “Just be prepared for the backlash,” she warned. “There are always some who feel that they will be losing out.”

To BAME colleagues, she suggested being proactive – ask for pay rises and promotion, take on high profile roles and request feedback. It is clear that there are many potential routes to achieving equality and diversity in all areas of academic life – but fairness alone is unlikely to be enough.

LGBT History Month – Sam Quinn, Royal Navy

Sam Quinn, Royal Navy. Image credit: Joe Cater, Royal Navy

For Sam Quinn, the Royal Navy is a prime example of how a more inclusive culture can lead to a huge change in an organisation.

In 2018, the Royal Navy climbed 15 places into the top 20 of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, the highest placed defence organisation. Back in 1967, despite homosexuality becoming legal in the UK, there was no change to the policy preventing LGBT people serving in the military.

In the 1990s, the Rank Outsiders organisation was formed to support LGBT people in the armed forces and in 2000, after a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, LGBT people were no longer banned from active service. With women joining the frontline in 1993, the defence organisations started to recognise that the skills and traits needed by serving personnel were no longer ‘masculine’ by definition, but encompassed courage and leadership in all its forms.

Today, there is active leadership from the Royal Navy to ensure they value talent regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Life of Alan Turing – Professor Andrew Hodges, University of Oxford

Professor Andrew Hodges, University of Oxford

In post-war Britain, the changes in the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 were still a long way off for Alan Turing, as Professor Andrew Hodges, author of “Alan Turing: the Enigma”, explained to us. Alan Turing was a British mathematician, codebreaker and early computer scientist, who famously worked at Bletchley Park to crack the wartime enigma codes.

Professor Hodges led us through the early days of his work, where ideas on artificial intelligence emerged years before he went on to design one of the first computers - the Automatic Computing Engine. He played a key role in liaison between the UK and US during the Second World War, but was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts.

Tragically, he died in 1954, only days before his 42nd birthday. The sheer breadth and depth of Turing’s work introduced by Professor Hodges, alongside a flavour of his personal correspondence and diaries, demonstrated what a huge loss to science - and society - Turing really was.

Find out more


  1. https://www.pnas.org/content/111/52/18524
  2. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/497557a
  4. https://www.universities-scotland.ac.uk/universities-scotland-publishes-revised-race-equality-toolkit/