Press release

‘Insufficient progress’ on anti-racism at Wellcome, evaluation finds

Since publishing this press release we have announced further detail on how we will use positive action in shortlisting for our open funding calls and schemes. Read the latest information.

  • Funder recognised in 2020 that it had perpetuated racism.
  • Wellcome accepts evaluation finding that it has not done enough to address this and is still an institutionally racist organisation.
  • Positive action principles to be applied to research funding decisions, so that when applications have similar merit Wellcome favours those which broaden diversity.
  • Dedicated funding stream to be introduced for researchers who are Black and people of colour.
  • New equity, diversity and inclusion role which will lead our anti-racism work to be created at executive level.

An evaluation of progress on anti-racism work at Wellcome has found insufficient action on ambitions the funder set out two years ago.

In June 2020, Wellcome publicly recognised that it had perpetuated racism, acknowledging that there is structural racism within Wellcome and the wider research system. 

Wellcome pledged to become an anti-racist organisation, with a programme of work including the creation of anti-racist principles and an anti-racist toolkit, anti-racism training for staff, and an external evaluation of progress as a research funder and employer.

This evaluation of Wellcome’s anti-racism programme [PDF 1.65MB] has now reported and was shared with staff on Tuesday. It finds that Wellcome is still an institutionally racist organisation.

While the evaluation finds “some positive behavioural and practice shifts” it reaches a clear conclusion that “there has been insufficient action taken to allow this commitment to take root”. It highlights evidence of microaggressions and other racist behaviours experienced by staff and grant-holders.

Wellcome is today announcing further anti-racism actions.

These include a firm commitment to apply positive action principles to funding decisions, so that when applications are of similar merit Wellcome will favour those which broaden the diversity of the pool of people it supports. This will come into effect by September 2023.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome said:

“Wellcome is still doing too little to use its power and influence to counter racism. We have fallen short of commitments made to colleagues and to the research community. As a consequence of us not doing more and not acting sooner, Wellcome remains an institutionally racist organisation.

“Wellcome has played and continues to play a role in sustaining racism both in its own operations and in the wider research sector. I am sorry for the actions and inactions behind this, and the hurt and disappointment these have caused.

“It’s clear that unacceptable behaviour still exists at Wellcome. The leadership team, like so many of our colleagues at Wellcome, are determined to change this. We will do better.”

New action on anti-racism 

The new actions Wellcome is announcing to drive greater progress against anti-racism are:

  • Positive action principles to be applied to Wellcome’s funding decision-making process. These will ensure that when applications are similar in merit, Wellcome will favour those which add to the diversity of the pool of people it supports. 
  • Dedicated funding stream for researchers who are Black and people of colour, targeted at the career stages where this will have the greatest benefits for diversity.
  • New equity, diversity and inclusion role at executive level, reporting to the director, to lead on Wellcome’s internal and external work on equity, diversity and inclusion, including a specific focus on anti-racism. This role will implement and extend Wellcome’s existing diversity and inclusion strategy, launched in 2021, ensuring that it is embedded across the organisation and its work.

Each of these measures addresses key recommendations of the evaluation which Wellcome has agreed to accept and begin to implement as soon as possible. Detail about these approaches will be determined over the coming months, and all will be implemented by September 2023.

Dr Farrar continued: 

“Our existing approaches to grant funding are not delivering equity. We’re now clear that we won’t be successful in improving equity in our research funding, and thereby in tackling structural racism in the research sector, without taking positive action. 

“The question remaining for us is not whether we do this, but the details of how we do it. We are now focusing on these implementation questions, engaging and listening to those with lived experience and to our partners in the sector as we do so.

“We recognise these measures will not be the only changes needed, but I hope they speak to Wellcome’s determination and renewed commitment to do better.”

The evaluation report makes a number of additional recommendations which Wellcome will review against existing plans, and respond to in the coming months. 

Wellcome will also set clear expectations that the institutions it funds should take action to increase the numbers of people of colour embarking on, remaining and thriving in their research careers.

Evaluation findings 

The external evaluation draws on focus group interviews with staff and grant-holders, surveys, and a review of existing data Wellcome collected on race. Wellcome Collection, the free museum and library, and Wellcome’s in-house investment team and portfolio were out of scope of the report.

The evaluation report found:

  • Institutional racism continues to exist at Wellcome, on account of “cultural, structural and leadership deficits across the organisation”.
  • Wellcome has not made sufficient progress against undertakings made in June 2020 and is perpetuating systemic racism within the wider research sector.
  • Lack of diversity in senior leadership is an impediment to progress.
  • Staff have experienced discrimination and harassment, with 25% of staff identifying as Black and people of colour agreeing or strongly agreeing they have been treated unfairly or discriminated against due to an aspect of their identity. 20% of staff identifying as Black and people of colour experienced racist or classist comments targeted at them or regular microaggressions.
  • Staff identifying as Black and people of colour are carrying the burden of creating change, with a heavy reliance on staff network groups.
  • Two key outputs of Wellcome’s anti-racism programme, an anti-racism toolkit and training, have so far failed to have a positive impact.
  • Areas of positive practice within Wellcome highlighted in the report include in the funder’s mental health team and its data for science and health team.
  • The evaluation confirms feedback from staff and advisers, such as an external anti-racism expert advisory group appointed in November 2020, who resigned in March this year.

The evaluation acknowledges the pressures for Wellcome of the Covid-19 pandemic and a major staff restructure undertaken in this period, “both of which required significant allocation of organisational attention and resources”.

Work since 2020 

The measures Wellcome is sharing today build on a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy published by Wellcome in 2021 which set out 10-year goals on staffing, funding, and inclusive research design.

Earlier this year, Wellcome enhanced governance on inclusion issues with the creation of a new equity, diversity and inclusion subcommittee of its executive leadership team, with board oversight. Every leadership team member is preparing an action plan for addressing racial inequity in their areas of responsibility.

Julia Gillard, chair of Wellcome, said:

“The actions we have announced today are fully supported by the board and are just the start of a renewed focus on anti-racism. They are meaningful actions which we believe will make a difference, but we can and will do much more.

“A culture where everyone working at Wellcome, and with us, are treated equitably is vital to bring about rapid progress in science to tackle the urgent health challenges facing everyone.”

The evaluation was conducted by The Social Investment Consultancy and The Better Org with advisory from Ngozi Cole, Lyn Cole Consultancy.

Tina Ajuonuma, founder and principal consultant at The Better Org said: 

“We are pleased to see Wellcome leadership’s acceptance of our report and its decision to accept several recommendations immediately, and applaud the organisation’s willingness to make the full report public and take accountability for taking restorative action in response to the report findings.

“We thank Wellcome staff and grantees who participated in this evaluation, particularly those for whom this process required an additional emotional and mental input. Anti-racism is a continual journey, which requires vulnerability, transparency, accountability and a commitment to changes to practice (and not just process).

“We wish Wellcome well on this journey, and look forward to seeing transformative changes to their internal operations, and their influence on the external global health funding landscape.”

Notes to editors: 

  • Background on the evaluation: The evaluation was conducted by The Social Investment Consultancy and The Better Org with advisory from Ngozi Cole, Lyn Cole Consultancy and was delivered to Wellcome in the last week of July. The consultants had access to a range of Wellcome policies. They conducted focus groups with a stratified random sample of staff and purposeful samples of staff involved in work on Wellcome’s inclusive employer and inclusive funder strands of work. They surveyed Wellcome staff and grantees.
  • The consultants recognised that an organisational restructure, an extended timeframe over which the evaluation was conducted, and low engagement from staff and grantees constituted limitations on their evaluation.
  • Wellcome has written to all existing grant-holders, sharing the evaluation report and initial measures outlined to drive progress against anti-racism.
  • About Wellcome: Wellcome is an independent charitable foundation which supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. We support discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, infectious disease and climate and health.