Our commitment to tackling racism at Wellcome

This message from Wellcome’s Executive Leadership Team was originally published as an update for Wellcome staff on our intranet. We are currently in the process of updating our organisational strategy, which will look to further address the points raised in this statement.

Last Monday, in response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Jeremy Farrar wrote that deep societal racism requires us not only to commit to inclusion and fairness, but also to take action.

This is not about a momentary response to a very visible act of violence. We need to reflect on racism as a central and defining part of our societies and our lives, and of the continual harm this causes to Black people.

Being committed to anti-racism requires us to describe what we are committed to doing as individuals and as an organisation, and also to listen with humility to Black colleagues and other people of colour about what more it takes to truly stand against racism. Our BAME Network has already shown leadership on these issues at Wellcome.

As a funder, an employer and a museum and library we have perpetuated racism. As an employer we know from our staff surveys that Black staff are least likely to agree that Wellcome is an inclusive organisation. As a funder, we know from our data that BAME, and especially Black, applicants are less likely to be awarded Wellcome research grants in the UK than White applicants. 

And our museum and library collections reflect a history of health and medicine that has its roots in imperial and colonial power structures in which Black people, indigenous peoples, and people of colour have been marginalised and exploited. We will accept responsibility for what we have done, and for not acting sooner.

We have made progress as an organisation in promoting Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), but today we are making specific and lasting commitments to tackling racism.

Over the past six months we have been working to strengthen our D&I strategy. An important part of this strategy is that we are more specifically focusing on anti-racism work and inclusion of people of colour. The D&I team will be sharing more details about this in the coming weeks.

This year, we have committed to developing anti-racist principles, resources and training at Wellcome. This will support us to recognise, talk about and tackle racism and micro-aggressions. We will be changing our guidelines on funding committees, reporting on ethnicity as well as gender, and looking at how we might provide targeted support to BAME and especially Black British grant applicants.

We will also use the anti-racist principles to inform our internal and external policies, including specific reference to racism and putting in place safe and robust processes for people to challenge racist behaviours and processes, including anonymous reporting via our Speak Up Reporting Line. Most importantly, our new strategy commits us to equitable funding processes and health outcomes.

As members of an all-White Executive Leadership Team (ELT), we recognise that we are not representative of everyone who works at Wellcome, or those we work with and support externally. It is our aim to achieve BAME representation at every level of Wellcome, including ELT. The anti-racist principles described above will apply to all our recruitment and appointment processes. There are additional steps we can take to support internal and external Black and other BAME candidates for senior roles and to ensure our hiring panels are more representative.

We also recognise that our identities and behaviours matter. Each of us will commit to our own plans for developing our understanding of racism and allyship, drawing on the range of suggestions already put forward on our intranet by colleagues from our BAME Network. Some of us have already undertaken coaching and reverse mentoring, and we will extend these programmes. As a group, we have collective responsibility for ensuring that the voices and perspectives of Black people are included in and inform decision-making.

Work we do across Wellcome will cover Wellcome Collection, but we will also support Melanie Keen, Director of Wellcome Collection, and the Wellcome Collection Leadership and Access, Diversity & Inclusion teams as they develop their own anti-racist action plans for collections, programming and engagement with audiences.

These will be important steps for us, but we recognise that there will be more to do, especially in relation to how we recognise and tackle structural racism in science and health research and within Wellcome. Our approach should reflect and respond to the experiences of Black people and other people of colour. We will continue to work with the BAME Network and black members of staff and the D&I team to ensure that we are listening and acting on the things that matter.

This commitment is not a finite one. It will sit within our wider shared commitment to diversity and inclusion but recognise the specific challenge of racism and its impact on people of colour, and especially Black people. We won’t achieve change overnight, nor will we get everything right, but our commitment as individuals and as an organisation is to change, by taking action, learning from it and continuing to make it better.

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