A space to connect
One of the first steps for Beyond the Statements was taking a hard look at the ICR as an organisation to ensure the right priorities were being addressed, and to gain insight on the scale of the issues.
The project group commissioned various focus groups to capture and listen to the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff at the ICR, informing the action plan through data and personal experiences.
Image: BAME Men's group members Kofi Manfo (left) and Wil Koree (right)
In the midst of the focus groups, a gap emerged in the voices of BAME men. The BAME Men’s group was set up by Solon Attoh, a Continuous Improvement Co-ordinator at the ICR, and became a virtual platform for BAME men across the organisation to meet and discuss their experiences.
Kofi Manfo, a member of the group who works in Digital Services, said: “The forum is a safe space to share our stories and support each other on the issues we face, such as not being considered for or offered promotions on the same level as other colleagues.
“There’s a culture of men feeling like they shouldn’t or can’t open up, so what’s really important is participation – we as BAME men should be proactive in voicing our concerns before we can reach solutions, and this will in turn help to pave the way for the improvements we want to see at the ICR.”
“Getting more representation and perspectives from people of all cultures and walks of life is what we really want to push for in our Men’s Group meetings,” said Koree. “It’s good that conversations focused on increasing diversity are starting to happen at the ICR, and it’ll be even better once these actions manifest into tangible change.”
One of the key actions for Beyond the Statements is the assignment of champions to address racial inequality, starting from the highest levels of the organisation. The ICR appointed three champions: Adrian Cottrell, who is the Executive Lead, and research team leaders Dr Yinyin Yuan and Dr Anguraj Sadanandam. Together, they ensure that the voices and interests of underrepresented groups across the organisation are being heard and used to shape decision-making in influential and senior committees.
Image: Race Equality Champions (clockwise from top left): Dr Yinyin Yuan, Dr Anguraj Sadanandam and Adrian Cottrell.
Dr Sadanandam, Team Leader in Systems and Precisions Medicine, is Race Equality Faculty Champion – a role that involves working on creating a more diverse Faculty by liaising with and learning from different committees, teams and individuals.
Dr Sadanandam said: “Being a Race Equality Champion is a great opportunity to improve prospects for those who are currently underrepresented at ICR, and increase awareness of the systemic issues they face.
“It’s encouraging that we have made progress in providing more opportunities for BAME colleagues to discuss their experiences and raise issues, which is a big step forward.”
Supporting and inspiring the next generation
Reaching those beyond the ICR is also one of the organisation’s commitments to addressing racial equality on a wider scale. School students from minority ethnic backgrounds are at the heart of the ICR’s new public engagement strategy, which aims to encourage much greater diversity in science through various outreach activities.
Because BAME students, and especially certain ethnic groups such as Black students are less likely to access and progress into science careers, the strategy aims to help address this shortfall long before recruitment or employment.
Image: Dr Michael Ranes (left) and Daisy Henesy (right)
Daisy Henesy, Public Engagement Officer at the ICR, said: “It’s so important to work with the REACH forum in order to develop activities that will have a real impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic young people, and ensure there’s diversity in the next generation of cancer researchers. We know that science careers are still affected by disproportionate representation, and we need to do more to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to enter into science.”
Last month, the ICR held an event at a school that featured a visit from Dr Michael Ranes, a Postdoctoral Training Fellow on the Structural Biology of Cell Signalling Team and Deputy Co-Chair of the REACH Forum.
Dr Ranes, who is also part of the Beyond the Statements project group, said: “Role models are so important in science. When I began my career I didn’t see other Black scientists.”
While it may take time to change the representation in science, Dr Ranes says it’s important to emphasise the necessity of diversity for science.
“No matter what you look like, we can see the strengths that you bring into science. It’s all about having this mix of different backgrounds, different ways of approaching a problem and that difference is what you want – you don't want everyone to be in the same mindset. In order to advance science, we need brilliant scientists of every gender and race.”
The ICR will continue to push for change and work towards a more diverse and inclusive future for staff and students at the organisation, as well as more broadly in science and cancer research.
A few of the ICR’s upcoming events and initiatives that have been brought about by Beyond the Statements include a webinar on tackling microaggressions, and changes to student recruitment processes to encourage and support applications from ethnic minorities. The organisation will soon launch its Race Equality Career Accelerator programme to help Black, Asian and other ethnic minority staff to develop their careers.
Ultimately, in order to say we have truly gone beyond the statements, it is vital that the ICR doesn’t lose momentum in the campaign against racial injustice.