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NIHR reaffirms EDI commitment with range of new data and targets


Published: 25 November 2022

The NIHR has today published a range of new equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data. It provides the most detailed picture of the UK’s health research sector produced to date.

The data covers the year 2021-22 and updates data that were first published last year. For the first time, we have also reported on the diversity of randomised control trial (RCT) participants.

Clear targets have today also been set to ensure our panels and committees are diverse. Today’s work shows the NIHR’s continuing determination to address EDI issues over the next few years.

Diversity Data - a second year of evidence

For the second year in a row, we have published data on NIHR funding applicants, applications, and panel and committee members. We have analysed them according to four of the protected characteristics of age, disability, ethnicity and sex.

The resulting Diversity Data Report shows that the data remain consistent year-on-year. Early career success for female researchers remains strong. The report shows small increases in the number of people declaring a disability. The number of female award holders has also slightly increased. But a range of disparities still exist, with the report revealing key findings such as:

  • Applications from female researchers decline according to higher career stages. Moving from 71% for pre-doctoral programmes to 37% for senior researcher programmes.
  • Applicants from ethnic minority groups are less likely to be successful than white applicants. People from ethnic minority groups are also underrepresented on our funding committees.
  • The proportion of applicants and professional committee members who have declared a disability is low.

While the data paint a similar picture to last year, indicating a limited amount of progress over the last 12 months. Its publication continues to be an important way for us to benchmark future work in this area.

We will continue to partner with other organisations to support pre-research programmes for students from ethnic minority backgrounds. And we will continue to examine our own processes to mitigate bias within our application and selection process. For instance, by providing training to our members on the use of Equality Impact Assessments.

In the future, to allow for richer analysis of our progress, we will report on a three year cycle, with smaller summary reports provided annually.

Setting targets for inclusion

In September 2022, the NIHR published its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Strategy 2022-2027. The strategy commits to overcoming the inequalities highlighted by our diversity data reports. It will be accompanied by an action plan, published by the end of 2022. This plan commits the NIHR to a programme of work to address the issues identified by our diversity data.

The diversity data report shows that on average there is 51% professional female representation on our committees and panels. This is on target. But there are variations in the level of female representation by programme that we would like to address. The report shows that professional people from ethnic minority groups are underrepresented [14%] on our committees and panels compared to people of white ethnicity . And the the proportion of professional committee and panel members who have declared a disability [3%] is low compared to non-disabled members.

To tackle this, we are today announcing actions to ensure that, by 2027, the professional membership of funding committees and panels for the NIHR will include:

  • At least 7% disabled people
  • At least 20% people from ethnic minorities
  • At least 50% females

We will report against these targets in future reports. And we will periodically review them to ensure effectiveness. We will also start work to improve diversity and inclusion for public committee and panel members in due course.

First-ever participants data

Also published today, for the first time by the NIHR, are data relating to the diversity of research participants.

Having a diverse range of participants in randomised clinical trials is important. It ensures that the results do not leave out any group, and that treatments and findings apply to the whole population.

The report is the first step in better understanding who participates in research. It collects diversity data from participants who took part in NIHR-funded studies. The data was drawn from 140 published papers in the NIHR journals library. It uses the 2011 census as a comparator to establish that:

  • The mean age of RCT participants ranges from 2 to 86 years of age.
  • For ethnicity, we are broadly in line with the diversity of the UK, with a total of 68 distinct ethnicity ‘categories’ recorded
  • For sex, when assessed across all RCTs, male and female participation was almost equal at 49% and 51% respectively.

Next steps & future goals

The NIHR is committed to following an evidence-led approach to equality, diversity and inclusion. Our work provides a continuous feedback loop of lessons learned and future actions. We are already seeking to understand why disclosure levels for some characteristics such as age and disability are low. We want to help increase them.

We will widen our equality monitoring approach to include additional characteristics, such as gender, sexual orientation. We will set new targets and revise our approach as necessary.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR, said: “The publication of this data reaffirms our determination not only to tackle the historic inequalities and biases within the health research sector, but to be transparent about doing so.

“Though the big picture here is positive in many ways, more needs to be done to ensure that the NIHR is fully representative, and today’s targets are another step in the right direction.

“And while we seem to do well supporting researchers from many backgrounds and experiences during the early stages of their careers, the real challenge now is enabling those people to move into senior positions, so that in the future the UK’s health research landscape is truly equitable, inclusive and diverse.”

Esther Mukuka, NIHR’s Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: “While the NIHR has made good efforts towards diversity and inclusion, a lot of work remains to be done to ensure that we are fully representative.

“Since our last data report, we have focused on understanding the complexities in our systems that perpetuate inequalities, and producing a strategy designed to tackle them.

“The progress we have made further reinforces our determined commitment to inclusion.”


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