By Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association 


It’s been a year since the British Science Association’s mission was updated, to put equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at the heart of what we do. We believe we need to unlock the potential of a more diverse group of people to achieve our strategic aims: to reach under-served audiences, to improve science education, and to influence stakeholders. 

The Wellcome Trust Sustaining Excellence grant, awarded to the BSA in 2018, has enabled us to accelerate our efforts to transform the diversity and inclusivity of our organisation and sector. One area of focus for the grant is creating the capability to drive EDI and address our low baseline of knowledge and experience in this area.  

Of course, a clear strategy is important, but as a well-known quote by Peter Drucker puts it: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. We need to create a more diverse and inclusive culture so that we can achieve our strategic goals. Although embedding EDI in the culture of an organisation takes time, we wanted to reflect on our journey so far, and share some progress.  

Our first step was to understand where the BSA’s activities and policies sit against best practice in EDI. Our internal Diversity Working Group found the Royal Academy of Engineering diversity and inclusion progression framework to be a very useful resource for starting this work. Then, in December 2018, we commissioned a diversity audit from McKenzie LLP to conduct a more thorough analysis. The diversity audit was timed to coincide with the annual staff survey – together, these reports highlighted areas in which the BSA is performing well and areas for improvement.

Three key areas that we are taking immediate action on are:  

  • Training and organisational development 

The staff survey returned many positive results: 77% agree there is strong, effective leadership on diversity and inclusion at the BSA; 84% agree that the BSA takes EDI seriously. However, one area for improvement is around training and development: only 42% of staff feel that they have the right skills and training on EDI to support the BSA’s mission. With this in mind, we have started the procurement process to identify a provider for a two-year programme of learning and organisational development.

  • Sharing and discussing progress 

We will be more upfront and transparent about our commitment, for example, by obtaining accreditation from organisations which promote EDI, by signposting and championing areas of best practice, and by continuing to share our journey with updates like this one.

  • Recruitment and retention 

We collect annual data on the protected characteristics of staff, volunteers, and governance, which has helped us identify gaps in representation. Yet, who the demographics that the BSA should represent is a complex question. We serve the UK population so perhaps ought to represent them? Yet, our main staff team are based in London so perhaps ought to represent the (considerably younger and more ethnically diverse) population of London? Our research also shows that audiences with a weaker science identity, are more likely to be female and have a lower income, so perhaps the BSA should aim to represent them? Whichever of these groups we choose, the diversity audit recommended that we identify the tangible steps we may need to take to develop a more inclusive and representative workforce. Ideas we’re currently exploring include targeted recruitment campaigns, use of targeted social media channels, strategic use of advertising agencies, and analysis of exit interview data. We have already worked with Inclusive Boards on our recent trustee recruitments, who helped us find trustees from groups that are under-represented in the science sector, and who understand the importance of EDI to the BSA’s mission.  

 The BSA accepts that diversity has ‘no quick fix solution’ and that culture change will take time, external expertise and resource. Staff readiness to begin the change process is high and though work has already begun on small scale changes, the appointment of a learning provider will increase momentum. 

We have also launched a call for an EDI Advisory Groupto provide critical friendship to the BSA’s senior management team and Council (board of trustees). We are looking for a range of individuals from different backgrounds and sectors who are excited by our vision and would like to apply their experience, knowledge and networks to help the BSA on our journey to leverage change across our organisation, science and society.

We have an ambitious goal; we want many more people in society to see science as part of their culture. But there is a significant hazard ahead: if we succeed in building a stronger science identity only among people from groups that are already over-represented among our society’s decision-makers and leaders, then we will have worsened social inequalities. As a charity, that would be a disastrous outcome for us. The risk is real – and to avoid it, we need to make swift progress on improving the diversity and inclusivity of our team and our programmes.  

The British Science Association has changed many, many times since it was formed by a group of progressive thinkers in York in 1831 – and it’s time for it to change once again. By placing diversity and inclusion at the heart of our strategy, we have committed to changing the diversity and inclusivity of our team, our culture, and our audiences. We’re at the beginning of a journey. We can’t know for certain where we’ll end up - but ultimately, we want a much bigger, more diverse proportion of the British public to see science as part of their culture. As the Chinese proverb says, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.