We have been promoting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the work we do since 2016 and our approach and priorities have evolved over time. We learn from our own work, and through dialogue with partners and the businesses we engage with, how we can do this better.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have drawn major attention to inequalities in our society and have raised questions about the effectiveness of plans and approaches to promote EDI.
In order to tackle under representation in business innovation there is absolutely more that we need to do to build our understanding of, and engage with, structures of exclusion.
For many, the rationale for the UK’s Innovation Agency to prioritise this agenda is crystal clear, others will question why.
This is why we do it:
- The best ideas for innovation can come from anyone - to access the full talent available across the UK we need to increase the visibility and accessibility of our support.
- Diversity within businesses is proven to contribute to enhanced performance and commercial success and we can help businesses to benefit from this.
- If we encourage businesses to consider equality, diversity and inclusion in their approach to innovation this will address bias and maximise economic and societal impacts
What does that mean in practice? What should Innovate UK focus on and where can we make a difference?
We want to see positive change in the following:
- Who is engaging in innovation (including who is benefiting from Innovate UK funding and support, both as individual applicants and project teams, and who can we inspire to get involved in innovation)
- How the businesses and organisations we work with consider EDI (encouraging businesses to have policies and plans for EDI, helping early stage businesses and SMEs think about EDI as they grow and scale)
- How EDI is considered in the development of innovation (to ensure any potential bias is addressed, risks of excluding people are understood, negative impacts are mitigated, and economic and societal benefits are maximised)
How it began
It all began with our Women in Innovation programme, shortly followed by Young Innovators.
These are what we call targeted interventions, where we take action to directly address under-representation in business innovation.
These programmes are about working harder to reach a more diverse base of innovators with brilliant ideas, about increasing visibility of the support available and celebrating the successes and stories of the innovators we work with to inspire others.
Since we launched Women in Innovation, we have seen a 70% increase in the number of women leading applications for our support.
Alongside the targeted programmes we have been looking at how we can tackle this at a more fundamental level - how we can embed EDI across everything we do.
One of the biggest problems we have is data – or the lack of good data – that we need to monitor the impact of our work, review our support for businesses across the UK through an EDI lens and understand where to focus efforts to really make a positive difference.
Since 2017, we have shared an EDI survey with people registering for our support to gather EDI data. Frankly, the completion rates have been poor (only 16%), so we are changing our approach.
From now on, all applicants for Innovate UK competitions will be required to complete a new EDI survey.
The survey will ask questions on gender, age, ethnicity and disability status – with the option to ‘prefer not to say’ if applicants are not comfortable with sharing this information.
This data will then be aggregated, anonymised and analysed to inform future actions to address under-representation across competitions. It will also allow us to be more transparent about who we fund.
UKRI published harmonised diversity data across the seven research councils last month and we have seen elsewhere the power of diversity data to drive change in the investment community.
In 2019, the widely referenced and powerful reportled by the British Business Bank in partnership with Diversity VC and BVCA, exposed that 1p in every £1 of VC funding in the UK goes to all female founded teams compared with 89p in every £1 for all male founded teams. More recently, BBB published data on the diversity of businesses supported by the Future Fund.
Data allows us to see the opportunities and challenges at hand more clearly and take the right action.
Applicants to our competitions, including the Sustainable Innovation Fund, will also be prompted to consider and address EDI in their response to certain questions – this will be made clear in the applicant information for the specific competition.
At Innovate UK, we are interested in a broad definition of diversity that includes the nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 plus regional dimensions, neurodiversity, educational attainment and socio-economic factors.
At this time, boosting equality, diversity and inclusion in business innovation is more important than ever. Taking steps to gather the right data is only one piece of the puzzle. We hope you will work with us on this and we will continue to update the innovation community on our progress.
If you are applying to an Innovate UK competition and you want to find out more about how to approach EDI, you might find the following resources helpful:
- Diversity VC and Atomico - Diversity and Inclusion in Tech: A Practical Guidebook for Entrepreneurs A Practical Guidebook for Entrepreneurs
- The approach to Gender Equality in Horizon 2020
- Accenture’s research in promoting Equality & Innovation in culture
You can go to the Innovate UK website