The Royal Society of Chemistry has established a Race & Ethnicity Unit to break down barriers to equality and lead systemic change across chemical sciences. Actions, not words, are required if universities and industry are going to tackle ‘pervasive’ racism and racial inequalities in chemical sciences, according to the RSC. A report reveals Black and minoritised ethnic chemists still face systemic barriers such as difficulty accessing funding, poorer pay, and fewer career progression opportunities. Many of the issues are exacerbated further for women chemists.
Published today, the RSC’s Missing Elements - Racial and Ethnic Inequalities in the Chemical Sciences report reveals Black and minoritised ethnic chemists still face systemic barriers such as difficulty accessing funding, poorer pay, and fewer career progression opportunities. Many of the issues are exacerbated further for women chemists.
Black and minoritised ethnic chemists were found to be paid £6,000 less than their White colleagues, while Principal Investigators (PIs) from those groups were 7 percentage points less likely to win research funding – and even when funding was awarded, they would receive a lower average award – £320,000 compared to £355,000 for White recipients.
Black chemists in particular face challenges in academia and industry, with numbers falling at every stage of the career path; and both Black and minoritised ethnic students are less likely to win a place at a Russell Group University when compared to White students.
The RSC is now launching a £1.5 million Race and Ethnicity Unit, along with a host of other measures, to help break down these barriers and to push for systemic change.
Dr Helen Pain, CEO of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Chemistry should be for everyone. Not only is this a matter of basic fairness, but it is essential if our discipline is to benefit from the fullest possible range of talented people. Racism, discrimination and ethnic inequalities are a reality in the chemical sciences, just as they are in our wider society.
“The time for talking is past – we must confront these issues head on, explicitly calling out racism in science for what it is. We cannot make this change alone and we must work with partners inside and outside of science, sharing what we learn, highlighting barriers that threaten progress, finding ways to overcome them and sharing across the whole science community.
“This will require a coordinated approach and we are establishing a new Race & Ethnicity Unit that brings insight, knowledge and lived experience together, alongside the ability to convene support from government, funders, academia and industry to make real change happen at a scale that will have a lasting effect.”
As well as launching a £1.5 million unit to tackle discrimination, the RSC has committed to:
- Create partnerships with chemical industry employers to strengthen career support, opportunities and progression
- Launch a five-year RSC-Windsor Fellowship mentoring scheme for chemistry students, to help school leavers transition to chemistry focused degrees and pathways
- Proactively increase representation of people from Black and minoritised ethnic backgrounds on its governance, committees and editorial boards
- Engage with the community and continue to share examples of lived experience – and committing to continually challenge itself to do more
The UK’s only Black chemistry professor is Professor Robert Mokaya of the University of Nottingham. He said: “Missing Elements is a watershed moment – it is also a wake-up call if ever there was one, but more importantly it’s a call to action. We must remember that there is no such thing as an ordinary person, we have to consider what one person is experiencing with compared to another, look at barriers and find solutions – ultimately that’s good for everybody
”How do we get to the solution? It is better to actually look at what is wrong with the way we are doing things. It’s only then we can be honest and address those problems fairly and try to remove those barriers. Removing those barriers won’t just improve things for ethnic minority chemists – it will improve things across the board.”
The RSC’s report, Missing Elements - Racial and Ethnic Inequalities in the Chemical Sciences, collates findings from stakeholder interviews, focus groups and a desk review of data on racism and ethnic inequalities in UK chemical sciences. It finds that UK academia is losing Black chemists after undergraduate level at an alarming rate, underlining an urgent need to nurture and retain diverse talent.
At undergraduate level, 4.9% of students identify as Black, which is higher than the 3% of the total UK population that identify as Black. Yet this number rapidly drops along the academic career ladder, with only 1.4% of PhD chemistry students and 0% of chemistry professors identifying as Black.
The RSC’s new qualitative evidence of chemical scientists’ lived experiences paints a stark picture of how pervasive racial and ethnic inequalities are within the chemical sciences.
Sandile Mtetwa, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and founder of a group called Africans in STEM, added: “If you don’t get to see people like you in senior positions it’s very easy not to feel like you belong in a particular area. Without any support, which a lot of Black students face – there’s no-one who is able to guide you career-wise or help you along the academic ladder – because they’re not representing people like you anyway.
“It feels lonely. There’s no other word to describe it and people tend to go elsewhere to where they feel they belong. That means losing quite a lot of brilliant and highly capable individuals. It’s heartbreaking.”
Professor Bhavik Patel is a researcher at the University of Brighton, who says he’s experienced many micro-aggressions and ‘inadvertent racism’ during his career.
“The experiences that resonate to me when I came into an academic position – and senior academic positions – was attending conferences for my discipline, and being considered as the IT person and never considered as someone who would be on the platform to present. I was often given USB keys by other speakers to upload at presentations and I had to say, ‘I’m actually one of the speakers here’.
“That makes you reflect on ‘why do they see me differently’ and ‘why am I not being considered on the same context as the other people who are at this platform to present’? It brings with it self-doubt about what your belonging is here and are you valued in your work and your representation.”
Dr Helen Pain added: “The chemical sciences are playing a crucial role in tackling some of the biggest issues facing the world today – from climate change to disease and hunger. It is of the utmost importance that our industry attracts and retains a diverse pipeline of talent, so that we can come up with the best possible solutions, informed by wide-ranging perspectives and experiences.”
For more information, visit rsc.li/missing-elements.