Improving as we go
Having trained as a physiotherapist, I have worked in the NHS over the last 10 years and I have seen first-hand the effects social inequalities can have on people’s health and wellbeing.
My interracial marriage is one of the biggest influences on me, as is my desire to see a more equal society for all. This was set alight when I had a daughter: a Black daughter. Black women are among the most overlooked members of society and I feel compelled to drive change for this reason.
Since joining the challenge fund in August last year, I have been leading a project to embed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to it. In collaboration with Emily Nott (Head of EDI for Innovate UK), we have embarked on a journey to make EDI an integral part of the challenge fund going forward.
Three main lessons we have learnt along our journey so far:
- It confirmed this is a complex and difficult agenda
- We need to embed EDI into the existing portfolio as well as preparing for the future
- We need to support our teams to define EDI within the challenge and sectors; including practical steps to promote change.
In response to these lessons we established five focus areas:
As a flagship fund, are we doing enough?
The answer is no. So far, the focus has been predominantly internal. Now we need to go further and make this real for the programmes we have in place and awards we will make.
People in the research and innovation community need to feel the impacts of a more inclusive challenge fund immediately.
EDI in the Challenge fund’s future
UKRI’s overarching vision for EDI is to enable an inclusive research and innovation system, where everyone is treated with dignity and respect and has the opportunity to flourish and succeed.
Building on this, the challenge fund’s vision is to be a leader for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), empowering all of our team and partners to be their true selves.
Broadening engagement, embracing differences whilst ensuring the programmes we support, including organisations, realise the power of EDI. It will be lived, breathed, and felt through everything we do.
In the short-term:
- All challenges to form an EDI delivery plan determined by an Equality Impact Assessment
- The challenge fund will review the boards, groups and internal teams based on diversity characteristics
- The EDI advocate programme will be expanded to offer membership beyond the challenge fund
- All challenge fund employees to participate in the EDI education workshop
EDI activities already underway in the challenge fund
So far, I have seen a huge appetite for this agenda across the board and encouraging activities already underway in the challenges.
The Transforming Construction challenge has achieved a 50:50 gender split on their advisory board despite the sector having only 12.5% women.
Driving the Electric Revolution challenge team hosted a webinar ‘Engaging a Diverse Workforce for the Future’ discussing ways to attract a more diverse pool of engineers for the future of innovation.
A female-founded digital health start-up, funded by the Medicines Manufacturing Challenge, developed an app to improve method of calculating insulin doses for people with type 1 diabetes.
There are 26 STEM ambassadors such as Jacqui Murray (Faraday Battery Challenge), Andreea Iftimia (Medicines Manufacturing), Nuala Kilmartin, Robin Kennedy (Digital Security by Design) who are inspiring the next generation.
Leading by example
We have examples to celebrate, but we have lots still to do to address the under-representation of groups in society that have so much to contribute to the innovation community. Each of us has an opportunity to contribute to this work and make a difference.
We recognise that the best ideas for innovation can come from anyone and to access the full talent available across the UK we need to increase the accessibility of our support.
We are uniquely placed to influence change by taking action and leading by example. Fear of getting it wrong should not be the reason we don’t move forwards in this agenda.
To echo the sentiments of Ottoline Leyser's blog (CEO of UKRI), “Everyone needs to feel supported in contributing their ideas and everyone needs to listen to and engage with ideas different from their own,” our approach to addressing inequalities in the challenge fund should be no different.
I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome your thoughts and comments on all discussed above via LinkedIn.
You can follow Olivia on LinkedIn
You can go to the Innovate UK website