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Inclusion in the time of COVID: 14 ways to seize the moment for change

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence suggests a widening of inequalities in academic science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) careers affecting people who are already marginalized within these fields.

Here we propose ways in which the UK higher education sector could utilise the current state of flux in the system, including the move to remote collaboration and changes to publication and grant application processes, to create new and better opportunities for marginalized groups in STEMM.

We are running two Inclusion Matters projects funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), called visNET and Evidence Base.

Their goal is to design interventions, informed and evaluated by a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, to affect meaningful changes in reducing inequalities in academic research culture.

Based on our observations of the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 crisis, we present our 14 recommendations for how institutions could improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Monitor and mitigate

1 . Funders should create and adequately resource an early warning system that identifies EDI challenges (including caring responsibilities), triggers interventions, and ensures accountability in grant applications. This did not occur for the first submissions to the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) COVID call.

There has been a negative impact on equality and diversity in funding from UKRI STEMM research councils. For example, we found a drastic drop to below-average in the proportion of female Principal Investigators on COVID-19 Medical Research Council grants compared with other grants.

The absence of Black principal investigators amongst the awardees of a 4.3 million (US$5.9 million) UKRI/NIHI’s funding call to investigate Covid-19 risks among ethnic minority groups led ten Black female HE employees to provide recommendations, in an open letter to UKRI, for systemic changes to end racism in funding allocation.

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