5 things Fellows can do to support diversity in Academy decision making

Academy Diversity Champions Professor Dame Jessica Corner DBE FMedSci and Professor David Lomas FMedSci reflect on how Fellows can support our diversity work.

We are currently seeking nominations for the Academy Council which plays a pivotal governance role across all our work. To address issues of gender and race inequality in our work and the sector more widely, we must diversify the voices in our decision making committees. We must also ensure our committees have geographical diversity to ensure we hear perspectives from across the UK. It is therefore vital we receive diverse nominations for a Council membership that is fully representative of the breadth of the Fellowship.

Ordinary and co-opted members of Council can only be drawn from our Fellowship, so securing diversity in nominations will be a challenge while our Fellowship is 19% female and 6% from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. Until the pool we draw from gets bigger we need to make extra efforts to seek, support and empower individuals to bring diverse voices into our work and give them the power to effect change while they are there. The pressure should not be on others to step into the space - we need to encourage people in and offer support to make sure they are not disadvantaged while serving. 

So here are five things all Fellows can do to help diversify the voices in our decision making committees:

  1. Ask others what you can do to support them to stand - Use your position to encourage people to step forward. Your support telling people ‘you can do this’ could help silence an internal imposter voice that might be telling them they can’t.
  2. Free up people's time – Use any power or influence you have to free up time for people with diverse voices to participate. Do what you can to make sure that their participation does not have a negative impact on their workload. A great thing to come out of the COVID-19 lockdown is the shift to using digital platforms for meetings. This means committee members can participate from anywhere and save time previously spent travelling, so think about nominating people outside your institution to encourage regional diversity.
  3. Use data - Take time to look at the current membership. Identify gaps that need filling and areas where you think committees could benefit from more diverse voices. Once you have identified the gaps, use data again to find and connect to the people who can fill them. The Academy publishes diversity data across all our programmes each year - the latest diversity report can be accessed here.
  4. Don’t only nominate people who are like you – Our unconscious bias briefing note for Fellowship elections flags that a ‘classic’ candidate triggers the so-called ‘availability heuristic’, which results in a preference for the familiar. There is also a desire for affiliation, which means implicitly favouring those who are like us and those who belong to a more socially dominant group.
  5. Maintain contact - If the candidate you nominate is successful, don’t stop there. Entering a new space takes energy and resilience. Offer mentorship and sustained support if appropriate. Or just provide an ear for a sounding board, a thumbs up when things go well and friendship to boost spirits if things are tough.

Nomination papers for the Academy Council election 2020 can be downloaded here.

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