• Sunday, July 03, 2022


‘White bias shouldn’t deter BAME women researchers’

COMPETITIVE: Ethnic minority women are underrepresented in leadership roles within the STEM field

By: Lauren Codling


ASIAN academics said women pursuing STEM subjects should not be deterred despite analysis revealing white researchers are more likely to receive funding for their research than ethnic minorities.

Analysis of data from seven UK research councils last month showed that when compared to BAME researchers, white academics are nearly 59 per cent more likely to be awarded funding. Findings also showed that the average research grant given to white researchers is more than £100,000, when compared to what is awarded to ethnic minorities.

Dr Manisha Nair, a senior epidemiologist and Medical Research Council (MRC) research fellow at National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (NPEU), University of Oxford, said the recent data should be used to make positive changes and not deter women from pursuing STEM subjects.

“There is now all the more reason for women to take up STEM subjects to make a difference and to change these figures in the future,” she told Eastern Eye.

Dr Manisha Nair said the recent data should not deter women from pursuing STEM subjects

Separate new analysis earlier this month from Queen Mary University London revealed female ethnic minorities were less likely to be offered speaking opportunities at scientific conferences. Focused on the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference – which is described as the largest international earth and space science meeting in the world – the study also found that ethnic minorities were seldom invited to give talks. The co-lead author, Dr Heather Ford, said the results highlighted the fact that conferences needed to be “more proactive about creating an inclusive environment for under-represented minority groups.”

“There are tangible steps the community can take to support these scientists,” she said.

Dr Rima Dhillon-Smith, specialist registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology and an academic clinical lecturer in early pregnancy and reproductive medicine at the University of Birmingham, echoed similar sentiments. Although she acknowledged the “concerning” analysis about grants bias, Dr Dhillon-Smith spoke of her hope that the next generation would be inspired to see ethnic minority women, such as herself, in the STEM field.

“We can inspire and demonstrate to the next generation of women from ethnic minority backgrounds that it is possible to achieve success and show them that the future of academic medicine and other STEM subjects is headed in the right direction,” she said.

Dr Rima Dhillon-Smith hopes the next generation are inspired to see ethnic minority women, such as herself, in the STEM field

She believes universities are starting to pro-actively tackle equality issues. For instance, her Birmingham institution has implemented a detailed equality scheme which addresses issues relating to improving equality, diversity and inclusion within all levels of the university, ranging from undergraduates to senior academics.

And although Dr Nair agreed that universities were working to improve equality, she said more can be done. “More females in general, and those from minority ethnic groups, should be given the opportunity to move through the awards and recognition systems of the universities based on their merit,” she said. “Female ethnic minority researchers are competitive. We do not need undue favours – rather equal opportunities and a transparent system.”

Although both Dhillon-Smith and Nair emphasised they had never felt excluded in their field, the latter raised concerns over the under representation of ethnic minority women in leadership roles. Taking action to address this, Dr Nair said, is important to encourage ethnic minority women in pursuing careers in research, given the “unique knowledge and diversity that we can bring to universities and research organisations”.

Although the number of women in STEM fields has grown over the past years, it stills remains predominantly male

“I agree that I fall in the minority of female, coloured researchers leading large global projects,” said Dr Nair, who has research projects in India and Uganda. The Indian-origin academic believes the problem is wide scale, as she recalled “fighting for her career” in her native country.

“I have a long way to go in my research career, but I am very proud of what I have achieved so far,” she said. “This would not have happened without hard work, determination to succeed, tenacity, and the support and encouragement of my senior male and female colleagues at the department.

“There are many positive stories, and we need to tell them to encourage women from ethnic minority groups to pursue STEM subjects to become future research leaders.”

Eastern Eye

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