UK Study of Diversity and Inclusion in Social Research Finds We Have ‘Far to Go’

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The Young Foundation and the UK-based Social Research Association launched the first-ever study on diversity and inclusion in the social research profession this year. While the effort determined that diversity, both in beginning and remaining within the profession, is poor, “it also shows that there is a strong appetite for change and that many organizations are starting to take steps in the right direction.”

The study finds that:

  • The social research profession has far to go in order to represent the wider society,
  • Inclusive research practice often gets squeezed out due to timing, funding or resourcing issues, and having narrow range of perspectives represented in the design of briefs and research itself,
  • Marginalised groups share negative experiences of working in the profession as part of the study, revealing that intersectionality of multiple personal characteristics compounds the complexity of challenging poor behaviours, and
  • Minority groups feel burdened with the need to lead and create change in the sector.

More than 900 researchers took part in an survey, followed by a qualitative study. Download the resulting report here.

The study calls for improved access to profession and better retention of talent, making five overarching recommendations for the sector:

  1. Build a culture of reflection, support and transparency: scrutinize your own work and practice, and ensure that staff are closely involved with this process, whilst not inflicting the burden of leading and creating change on those already most negatively affected.
  2. Develop meaningful action plans that: actively involve staff in design and implementation, build on best practice within the profession and from other industries, are explicitly endorsed by senior leadership, can be embedded in organizational policies, processes and practice, and have a linked framework for measuring and reporting progress, to ensure collective accountability.
  3. Commit the necessary resources: provide the necessary financial, practical and human resources to implement the actions identified, provide the training and specialist support to allow staff to adapt to new ways of working, and ensure the mechanisms are in place to respond appropriately and supportively if/when staff feel that poor behaviors, practices and processes are happening.
  4. Welcome challenge: invite feedback (and respond to it) on how inclusive your research or commissioning practices are and what can be done to improve them, and ensure there are safe and supportive forums for staff who experience workplace exclusion or discrimination to come together for support and change-making.
  5. Be willing to collaborate: contribute to efforts within and across sectors in social research to share best practice and approaches to improving diversity and inclusion –  in line with the principles of ‘open access’ and the ‘creative commons’ – and provide financial and in-kind support to initiatives which are working to improve the profession as a whole.

The Social Research Association is a membership body of more than 1,200 researchers, many in applied settings, that promotes high standards in social research and supports practitioners via training. The Young Foundation, a UKRI accredited research organization, aims to develop better connected and stronger communities across the UK.

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Janet Salmons

Janet Salmons is an independent researcher, writer and consultant through her company,Vision2Lead and is the resident methods guru at the website MethodSpace. In addition to her latest book and numerous articles and book chapters, she has written Doing Qualitative Research Online, Qualitative Online Interviews, Online Interviews in Real Time (2010), and edited the Cases in Online Interview Research (2012) for SAGE Publishing.

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