Wellcome's anti-racist principles, guidance and toolkit

Wellcome has developed this resource to help us achieve racial equity in our organisation and work. This is not legal advice, it is a framework for how to be anti-racist at Wellcome and when engaging with Wellcome.

Wellcome's 5 anti-racism principles: Prioritise, Investigate, Involve, Counteract, Progress

Wellcome will no longer tolerate racism, and will work to ensure our actions and decisions do not sustain racial inequity.

Despite widespread intention among colleagues to combat racism, progress is not fast enough. Our data, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy, and the Black Lives Matter movement have led to Wellcome’s Executive Leadership Team committing publicly to taking an anti-racist approach.

Anti-racism is the active work to oppose racism and to produce racial equity – so that racial identity is no longer a factor in determining how anyone fares in life. Being anti-racist means supporting an anti-racist policy through your actions. An anti-racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups.

This guide is primarily for people with leadership responsibilities at Wellcome, including the Executive Leadership Team, Senior Leadership Team, Board of Governors, and funding committee chairs. It may also include suppliers for goods and services. While everyone at Wellcome is responsible for anti-racism in their everyday work, those in power are accountable for meeting our anti-racism commitments and for following these five anti-racist principles.

  1. Prioritise anti-racism
  2. Investigate racial inequity
  3. Involve people of colour
  4. Counteract racism
  5. Make measurable progress

If anti-racism work is unfamiliar and you aren’t sure of the best way to change things, use these principles and the accompanying toolkit [PDF 315KB] to find out more, to act, and to learn from the things you try.

Anti-racism is not about replacing one form of inequity or unfairness with another. Your actions in support of anti-racism at Wellcome will contribute to building a fairer society for everyone. Our focus on anti-racism comes from recognising where we currently have the most work to do.

Culture change happens in different ways, from the accumulation of incremental improvements to large-scale, transformative initiatives. Whatever action you take, act boldly and put in time and resource to speed up progress towards racial equity.

Wellcome's role 

To take anti-racist action, we need to understand how racism has shaped all of us – particularly by unduly elevating the positions and perspectives of White people over those of people of colour. We know from our data that we have persistent racial inequity at Wellcome – people in racially minoritised groups face a number of additional barriers compared to White people.

Race is not a scientific category. False beliefs in some genetic or biological essence that defines all members of a racial category have been used throughout history to justify racism, and still exist today. It is the dominance of schemes that racially categorise people, and the actions these false distinctions have been used to support, that has made race and racism all too real in their impact on people’s lives.

As a global organisation based in Europe with mostly White European staff, Wellcome has to understand our role, intentional or not, in producing and maintaining racial inequity. As the Executive Leadership Team and Wellcome Collection acknowledged in 2020, Wellcome has perpetuated racism as a funder, as an employer, and as a museum and library. Our founder, Henry Wellcome, owed much of his wealth and many items in his collection to colonialism, and our museum and library have enshrined racist systems of knowledge. Our organisation has also played a part in sustaining barriers to inclusive research, including by producing and sustaining racial inequity.

Now we must use our influence and power to remove those barriers, and to begin dismantling racist structures in our work and in society.

Principle 1: Prioritise 

Prioritise anti-racism work by dedicating time and resource to it

Prioritising anti-racism at Wellcome will improve the experiences of people of colour as well as creating collective progress towards a fair society. It will make our work better and enable us to achieve Wellcome’s vision.

Wellcome supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. But health challenges affect some groups more than others, and racism – rather than race – is the main reason for health disparities between racial groups.

At the same time, far-reaching discoveries and equitable solutions for health challenges require the greatest diversity of people and ideas across science and research. We can achieve this only if research includes a broader range of perspectives – in particular, those of people most affected by the challenges we want to solve.

  • You must prioritise anti-racism in the same way you prioritise other mission-critical work over non-essential activity. Anti-racism is not an add-on to existing projects – it is a critical part of the work, similar to budget and risk management.
  • Factor in anti-racism work when allocating resource and setting timelines. The activity, time and resource necessary will depend on your context.
  • Make time for anti-racism work. This may require stopping other activity or taking more time compared to previous projects that didn’t factor in anti-racism.
    • Example: the Corporate Affairs team led a project to improve Wellcome’s communications to ensure they are anti-racist and anti-ableist. When Wellcome talks about global health issues that affect everyone, the way we talk must not exclude anyone.

Principle 2: Investigate  

Investigate where there is racial inequity in areas where you hold power

Racism at an individual level can range from overt hate crimes to less visible microaggressions – everyday interactions that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative insults. The same action can have different outcomes depending on the context and who is involved, and seemingly well-intentioned actions can unwittingly produce racial inequity.

At a structural level, racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through institutional policies and practices, and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices. Only outcomes, not intent, demonstrate whether actions and policies are racist.

Investigating racial inequity using external and internal data can help you understand where the issues are and target, monitor and evaluate your actions.

  • You don’t always need to collect new data – use the information that’s out there already. The toolkit has more sources and resources. For example:
      • Black employees in the UK are more likely than other ethnic groups to experience discrimination that contributes to them not achieving their career expectations.
      • In 2019/20, Wellcome made no competitively assessed UK awards to applicants reporting their ethnicity as Black or Black British.
      • Racism in scientific practice can take many forms. For instance, many spirometers, used to diagnose and monitor respiratory illness, have a ‘race correction’ built into the software that controls for the false assumption that Black people have a lower lung capacity than White people.
      • Racism in global health is one of the reasons for health disparities between people in racially minoritised groups, who make up the global majority, compared to White people. For example, inequitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines disproportionately impacts people of colour globally, and it also stops the world from ending the pandemic.
  • As part of your standard monitoring and evaluation, analyse by ethnic group where relevant. Gather qualitative evidence to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of different ethnic groups.
  • If your dataset is large enough, disaggregate data. Grouping people under the term BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) can mask important differences between groups, such as the effects of anti-Blackness.
  • If you plan to collect data about race, be mindful of the history of colonial classification, the importance of confidentiality, and your reason for collecting data. Use existing guidance to do this work sensitively and responsibly.

Principle 3: Involve 

Meaningfully involve people of colour in decisions

It is every person’s responsibility to learn how to be anti-racist; it is not the responsibility of people of colour to teach others. But meaningful involvement of people of colour in decision making will ensure decisions are informed by insights into how racism operates, and this can help address the challenges different people face.

It can be emotionally difficult and draining for people of colour to share lived experiences of racism, particularly in a workplace context. Underrepresentation of people of colour at Wellcome, particularly at senior levels, makes meaningful involvement even more challenging. So, we need to ensure our current ways of making decisions do not exclude people of colour.

  • Actively work to involve people of colour when seeking input for any piece of work or procuring services. This includes external advisers, consultants, freelancers, speakers, stakeholders to interview, external networks, and members of funding committees.
    • For example, consider whether anything may prevent people of colour from wanting to be involved.
    • Ensure your selection criteria do not perpetuate disadvantages – if you define experts as being at professorial level, that disadvantages Black women, who face more barriers to becoming professors.
  • Respect other pressures on people’s time – consider what people of colour will gain from being involved.
    • For example, if you are interested in input from staff through the Wellcome Race Equity Network, consider whether your work supports its current priorities.
  • Plan ahead before making decisions and consider whether potential actions could have a negative impact on any racially minoritised groups.
    • Traditional methods such as surveys and focus groups are useful, but meaningful involvement and co-creation may mean trialling new approaches that actively bring in different perspectives. This will increase the likelihood of reaching innovative and shared solutions.
  • If a person of colour speaks up about their experience of racism, including if they say your behaviour was racist, listen to and centre the choices and needs of that person when deciding how to address the behaviour.
  • Be humble. Listen with a commitment to change based on what someone is sharing, rather than listening in order to support predetermined decisions or to say you got someone’s input.
  • Respect that some individuals may be unwilling to share their personal experiences of racism and find other ways to involve people of colour in decisions.

Principle 4: Counteract  

Counteract racism by taking positive action or other targeted approaches to redress racial inequity 

When racial equity is achieved, everyone can be treated equally. Until then, targeted approaches – including positive action – are required to undo the effects of racist policies that have caused racial inequities and unfairly disadvantage racially minoritised groups.

Our identities are complex and multifaceted, so addressing racism involves considering how it intersects with other forms of oppression. For example, Black women experience barriers linked to both their ethnicity and their gender, and disabled people of colour experience ableism as well as racism. Intersectionality offers a framework to explore differences within and between groups, taking account of historical and political contexts while maintaining awareness of racial inequalities.

Wellcome’s focus on anti-racism is based on data that shows we need targeted action.

  • Use Wellcome’s positive action guidance to identify ways you can tackle racial inequity in your context.
  • Use an intersectional approach by factoring in how racism intersects with other forms of oppression.
  • Challenge whataboutery, when someone responds to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue. Do not be afraid to focus on specific groups when planning positive action.
  • Managers should be prepared to take responsibility for addressing racist comments or behaviour, bullying or harassment, and other incidents where an individual from a racially minoritised group feels uncomfortable.
  • While it is not the responsibility of the individual to address these racist issues, you should speak to them about their preferences for how such instances are dealt with and how they would like to be supported.
    • The person responsible for addressing the racist behaviour would usually be the line manager. If the line manager is the one demonstrating racist behaviour, responsibility may pass to their manager.

Principle 5: Progress 

Use your power to make measurable progress towards racial equity

Beyond moral and legal requirements to not be racist, maintaining racial inequity prevents us from achieving our vision of supporting science to solve the health challenges facing everyone, so risks of racial inequity must be managed.

As a leader at Wellcome, you hold power even if you don’t feel powerful.

  • Recognise where you hold power – this includes the ability to make decisions, set deadlines, allocate work, delegate, recruit and promote people, disagree or say no without fear of personal repercussions, and access others in power through networks.
  • Use your power to ensure you, and those you are accountable for, make measurable progress towards racial equity.
  • Set stretching indicators of progress towards racial equity each year. The key performance indicators (KPIs) should be tailored to your department or the area you are accountable for, and ambitious to ensure we rapidly counter the racial inequity at Wellcome. A combination of short-, medium- and long-term KPIs will allow for a comprehensive assessment of progress and can account for yearly fluctuations.
    • For example, a KPI could be halving the difference in funding success rates between White applicants and Black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants in a year.
  • Publish your progress at least once a year, including any anti-racism KPIs you have not met. At an organisational level, publicly report on Wellcome’s anti-racism progress in the Annual Report.


Authors and acknowledgements