Expectations for EDI – What should we be doing?

A group of people chatting in the office.

We are calling on our community to take action to move towards a more inclusive, diverse and fair research and innovation system "by everyone and for everyone".

What can each of us in the community do at a local level?

We have set out expectations for Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) with links to resources to help guide researchers and innovators in creating a more inclusive culture in your local environment.

All of us in the EPSRC EDI Strategic Advisory Group and EPSRC EDI team encourage you to be curious, use this resource and seek out more including your:

  • local resources
  • wider guidance
  • community experts.

With care, talk to your colleagues who may be feeling less included and find out how you can support them.

EDI – why is this important?

Diversity improves research and innovation outcomes and we need to attract the widest group of people to join, remain and thrive in the research and innovation system.

A diverse group creates the potential for different opinions, ideas and solutions. An inclusive environment enables people to voice their suggestions without fear and to feel valued and welcome.

It is therefore vital for the engineering and physical sciences community to be as diverse and inclusive as possible. This will help generate the flow of innovative and novel ideas needed to enable new discoveries and solve global issues.

Attracting, retaining and developing a diverse range of people in research and innovation can only be achieved by making the system more appealing, inclusive and fair. To quote the People and Culture Strategy – 2021 we need:

a more inclusive, dynamic, productive and sustainable UK R&D sector in which a diversity of people and ideas can thrive.

We need a sector in which we all feel supported and valued.

What is EPSRC doing?

For EPSRC, our focus includes looking at our own systems and procedures for how we allocate and award funding and gain strategic advice.

We aim to use our position as a national funder of research to influence a change in research culture by helping develop and share good practices, particularly those developed and implemented within the sector.

We also aim to create an environment in which people feel confident and included in the research and innovation system and able to engage with us.

Examples of our actions include:

  • looking in detail at our data on participation and grants awarded to help identify where there are issues
  • improving diversity in our advisory groups and trust in our peer review system
  • developing our processes to reduce the impact of bias to make our funding more accessible and inclusive.

We have used surveys and discussions to gather detailed information and develop actions to address inclusion related to:

  • gender
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • inclusion more generally.

Neurodiversity

We are also in the early stage of investigating inclusion for neurodiverse members of the community and looking at diversity and inclusion in our research theme areas, often working in partnership with learned and professional societies.

We have mentioned specific actions here, but we are interested in inclusion for all in our community and we welcome input and ideas related to any area of diversity and inclusion.

One of our most important activities has been supporting our amazing Inclusion Matters portfolio of multidisciplinary research teams focused on understanding issues of diversity and inclusion, and implementing and evaluating actions to address these issues. The Inclusion Matters projects feature in our EDI expectations resources.

Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Executive Chair of EPSRC notes:

EPSRC’s ambition is to make the UK a place where the most creative researchers can deliver world-leading engineering and physical sciences research. EDI is central to achieving this goal and ensuring a healthy research and innovation system.

EPSRC is driving culture change to overcome systemic issues that impact across the research landscape, as well as those specific challenges facing the Engineering and Physical Sciences community.

By doing so we will ensure that careers in research and innovation are as attractive as possible, with diverse voices being heard and valued, benefiting both UK society and the economy, as well as the people working within our community.

What can you do? Use our expectations!

We can all do something to embed EDI in our local environment regardless of role, seniority, subject matter or size of the research and innovation projects we are involved with.

However, there are not specific one-size fits all actions we are going to recommend. Issues in EDI vary hugely depending on:

  • the local environment
  • research discipline
  • career stage
  • peoples’ own experience in the research and innovation system and in society in general.

The world of EDI can be overwhelming, with a worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. Our advice is, with care, to speak to colleagues in your team and find out what barriers or issues they encounter.

Expectations for equality, diversity and inclusion.

Barriers to inclusion and diversity

 From our own conversations with the community, there are barriers to inclusion and diversity experienced right across the engineering and physical sciences, but you are best placed to identify and overcome barriers in your local environment.

It seems a lack of “knowing what to do” rather than “not wanting to do” has prevented some from engaging and implementing changes to increase inclusivity and diversity. We also want to make it easier to include EDI actions within grant proposals and for reviewers to be able to assess this.

To help you get started, the EPSRC EDI Strategic Advisory Group alongside the EPSRC EDI Team and members of our community (see acknowledgements section) have published a set of EDI expectations coupled with examples of how these can be implemented.

Small steps lead to culture change

We don’t want people to be overwhelmed by these expectations and suggest starting by doing something small and local. Small steps lead to culture change.

This is not a mandatory exercise but an opportunity to embed inclusive actions into the way research and innovation is carried out.

It is about helping and empowering people on their journey to making positive change.

It is about what is right for you and your dynamic, your context and where you are on that journey, whether you are at the very start or further down the line.

Your local environment and situation may differ to someone else’s, so we want to provide the tools to enable you to identify issues and trial potential solutions. These expectations are not an exhaustive list of EDI issues and solutions, so we encourage you to be curious, use this resource and seek out more including your:

  • local resources
  • wider guidance
  • community experts.

How will things change?

The aim of setting and sharing these expectations is to influence behaviours and practices across the communities and institutions that EPSRC supports and beyond. This will lead to an increase in the diversity and inclusivity of the research community.

We want this to create lasting change and aid the sector to embed a culture that:

  • welcomes and values difference
  • brings people from various backgrounds with many lived experiences into the research and innovation system
  • increases its accessibility.

We want to ensure that all research that EPSRC supports is inclusive both in terms of the people involved and the research it delivers.

Professor Sarah Sharples, Chair – EPSRC EDI SAG says:

We know that people are at the heart of research and innovation and that is why I am delighted to support this expectations guide, jointly developed by the EDI Strategic Advisory Group and EPSRC EDI team.

The People and Culture Strategy is a call to action and this guide directly responds to this by giving our research community clarity and examples on how to support inclusion and embrace diversity in our EPSRC funded work.

I strongly recommend using the guide to help us all make steps towards building a positive and inclusive culture.

Forever developing

EDI and our understanding of it is forever developing. We will develop these expectations as our understanding changes and as we capture good practices to share with the community. If you have suggestions, please get in touch.

We also encourage you to contribute to developing the UKRI EDI strategy (the consultation is open until 28 March 2022). We plan to publish an action plan for EPSRC aligning with this in the summer 2022.

We hope this first publication of EDI expectations is an aid to support colleagues in the research and innovation system with understanding what you can do to overcome EDI barriers and help increase confidence and comfort in talking about EDI issues.

Change will not happen overnight, but everyone is capable of doing something.

Emma Hadfield-Hudson and Debra Fearnshaw were seconded from the University of Nottingham to help develop adjoining content for this post.

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.