If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my role as Policy Officer at the Biochemical Society, it’s the importance of a solid evidence base. The question ‘where’s the evidence for that?’ is a bit of a mantra to those in the science policy community.
This passion for evidence-based approaches makes it confusing when an issue presents itself where there isn’t a solid evidence base, and what’s more, it’s arguable that there shouldn’t need to be one. I’m talking about issues of diversity in science, set to be a focus for the Biochemical Society in the next 5 years.
Most people inherently believe that diversity is a good thing. Initiatives to make science open to all and to remove barriers so that the science community can reflect the make-up of UK society would seem like no-brainers. Do we need evidence to show that this should be the case? This evidence would likely be based on economic considerations: would a more diverse scientific workforce be more productive? Would it foster better science and lead to increased return on investment?
This leads me to a further, and more fundamental, question; when it comes to issues of diversity, should moral arguments take precedent over scientific arguments? Do moral and ethical considerations trump the scientific and economic argument here; is inclusivity more important than scientific productivity? Thus should we even be seeking to evidence statements surrounding diversity in science? I’m aware that’s a lot of questions and I certainly don’t have all the answers.
The Royal Society recently published a report entitled ‘Diversity in STEMM: establishing a business case’. In this the authors attempted to outline the evidence for why diversity in science is good from a non-emotive perspective, setting moral and ethical considerations aside. In the process of doing this they received a great deal of criticism from commentators who found it inappropriate that anyone should seek to do more than accept the moral position that equality should be a given. Many firmly stated that they felt that diversity should not be argued on economic grounds and appeared to find it offensive that the Royal Society would even consider doing so. They believed that this amounted to a trivialisation of the moral case.
However I think the point of the Royal Society’s report was lost; it was seeking evidence to demonstrate that there is a business as well as a moral case to support a diverse workforce. It’s the ‘as well as’ here that’s key; clearly, and unfortunately, the moral and ethical considerations have only got us so far. We need to use all the tools on our armory to argue and fight to increase diversity in science.
So, in an attempt to answer a few of my own questions, I think that the moral imperative for diversity does stand-alone without the need for it to be ‘backed-up’ by economic figures. However, I think any additional ammunition we can garner is vital in order to address and tackle the problem, especially when facing those for whom numbers can matter more than ethics.
As the Biochemical Society develops its 5 year equality and diversity strategy, commissioning research into diversity topics and issues will be considered. Applications for the Society’s diversity in science grants which seek to kick-off research proposals would be very welcome; applications for catalytic funding will be considered as long as evidence of future funding to ensure project sustainability is provided.