Can good news also be disappointing? I think it can. Let me explain – The Royal Society has teamed up with the government to explore and promote diversity in the scientific workforce of the UK. Good news – no question about it – yet I am left feeling a pang of disappointment. And the reason is this: I’m disappointed to find that science needs encouragement, or even legislation, to make it as diverse an arena as it should be.
My time working in labs was the most wonderfully diverse time of my life. I had never before, or since, met such a wide range of people – and the science I was doing at the time benefitted hugely from it. Yet misty eyed nostalgia is clearly not enough to ensure that the next generation of scientists get all the opportunities they deserve – it is, I suppose, almost quaintly naïve to think that science recruitment can be ‘self-regulating’ in this way.
The project will focus on understanding the character and make-up of the scientific workforce, and ways to remove barriers to entry and progression with the aim of increasing diversity in both academia and industry.
What is slightly puzzling to me is that The Royal Society will also launch an 18-month study looking at the business case for diversity in the workforce. Yet, I can’t imagine any decision makers in science will be in doubt as to the business case. It may be interesting to see quantitative data suggesting by just how much a diverse workforce can benefit science, but this in many ways would be preaching to the converted. The best science can only be achieved when your recruitment policy is concerned with a candidates skills, not their socio-economic background – that, I think, is intuitive to most scientists.
What I am pleased about however is that later stages of the programme will very much be focused on practical measures, in which the Royal Society will trial a number of events, pilot studies and interventions with the aim of sharing good practice between disciplines and sectors. This I think is what is really needed. However willing the scientific ‘establishment’ is to encourage diversity – and they do seem to be – they need help and guidance as to how to actually put it into practice.