Wellcome Trust has perpetuated racism, its own analysis finds


Elika Roohi


The Wellcome Trust – one of the wealthiest foundations in the world, with an endowment of $46.2 billion – has identified that it has made ‘insufficient progress’ and ‘perpetuated racism’ within the organisation, according to a report released this week.

The Wellcome Trust offices. Photo credit: Matt Brown/Flickr

The foundation publicly recognised in June 2020 that it had perpetuated racism and acknowledged there is structural racism within Wellcome and the wider research system. However, though it pledged at the time to become an anti-racist organisation and adopt a plan to work toward this goal, an evaluation of progress on anti-racism work at Wellcome has found insufficient action on ambitions the funder set out two years ago.

‘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,’ said Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome.

The report on Wellcome was prepared by the Social Investment Consultancy and the Better Org, with advisory from Ngozi Cole, Lyn Cole Consultancy.

Findings from the report

According to the report, a quarter of staff that identify as people of colour feel they have been treated unfairly or discriminated against due to an aspect of their identity. And 20 per cent of staff identifying as Black and people of colour experienced racist of classist comments targeted at them, or regular microaggressions.

One anonymous respondent to the survey said: ‘[There is] lots of focus on hiring “diverse talent” without fixing the culture alongside it, so therefore [we are] bringing these people into a potentially hostile environment’.

Another said: ‘We’ve brought more people of colour into the organisation, which is terrifying for some of us who know what some of these people might go through’.

The report also found that where there has been an effort to create a culture of change, the burden of that work fell predominantly on minority staff members.

One anonymous survey respondent clarified: ‘Engage staff outside of [the Wellcome Racial Equity Network] to do this work. We’re relying on staff from minority backgrounds to do the work and it is exhausting. This is probably my fifth workshop on D&I where I’m invited to give thoughts’.

Two key outputs of Wellcome’s anti-racism programme – an anti-racism toolkit and training – have so far failed to have a positive impact, the report found.

The evaluation acknowledges the pressures on the organisation because of a major staff restructure undertaken during the pandemic and lockdown periods, which ‘required significant allocation of organisational attention and resources’.

Looking ahead for the Wellcome Trust

Following this evaluation, the Wellcome Trust has announced new actions to drive greater progress against anti-racism. These actions include:

  • 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. 

These measures aim to address key recommendations raised by the evaluation. According to Wellcome, details about these approaches will be determined over the coming months, and they will all be implemented by September 2023.

‘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,’ said Julia Gillard, chair of the Wellcome Trust.

Elika Roohi is Digital Editor at Alliance magazine.

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