Wellcome ‘perpetuating and exacerbating systemic racism’, report finds

10 Aug 2022 News

Wellcome has made “insufficient progress” on its anti-racism policies since pledging to take action two years ago, an external evaluation has concluded. 

The charity commissioned the Social Investment Consultancy and the Better Org to evaluate its anti-racism programme after it pledged to eradicate structural racism in 2020

The final report, published this morning, found that Wellcome remains an “institutionally racist organisation”. 

It said that “through harmful action and inaction, Wellcome is perpetuating and exacerbating systemic racism within the wider research sector which it operates”. 

The report also found a number of “significant challenges” across the charity, such as an unwillingness to fund experimental anti-racist research to test new ideas. 

Wellcome’s director Dr Jeremy Farrar acknowledged that the charity needs to do more to address racism and pledged to take further anti-racism actions.

Failure to address structural racism

In June 2020, Wellcome admitted that it was not an inclusive organisation and “perpetrated racism”. At the time, the charity launched an anti-racism programme, committing to tackling the problem by adopting anti-racist principles, making more resources available and offering training to its employees. 

Two years on, the evaluation found that there has been limited progress on these initiatives, both externally and internally. 

It said that the charity’s institutional racism is linked to “cultural, structural and leadership deficits” across all levels. 

“It is our conclusion that whilst there has been a commitment made towards anti-racism, supported by a number of targeted interventions which have resulted in some positive behavioural and practice shifts, there has been insufficient action taken to allow this commitment to take root. We conclude that this is due to a myriad of cultural and structural factors, many of which serve to disproportionately impact staff and grantees who identify as Black or people of colour,” it said.

“This leads us to an assessment that not only has Wellcome failed to meet its original commitments to implement anti-racism practice, due to a series of harmful action and inaction, institutional racism has been allowed to fester within the organisation. Similarly, we also find that through harmful action and inaction, Wellcome is perpetuating and exacerbating systemic racism within the wider research sector which it operates.”

Lack of diversity in managerial roles and staff of colour let down

The report also found a “distinct lack of diversity” among Wellcome’s leaders, which has translated into a “deficit in management capability and the robustness or organisational process”. 

“This problem is compounded by the lack of transparency and oversight over line-managers in the decision-making process surrounding promotion of staff,” the report read. “In many teams, decisions are made by line managers who are not held accountable for their decisions and operate without a clear decision-making framework.”

In addition, staff who identify as Black and people of colour said they often feel responsible for creating change at the expense of their mental health and wellbeing.

They also reported experiencing racial discrimination and harassment, which in some cases had been perpetrated by managers and leaders. As a result, some employees admitted not feeling safe or comfortable at the charity, due to incidents not being dealt with adequately. 

‘We will do better’

“We have fallen short of commitments made to colleagues and to the research community. As a consequence of us not doing more and not acting sooner, Wellcome remains an institutionally racist organisation," said Farrar.

“Wellcome has played and continues to play a role in sustaining racism both in its own operations and in the wider research sector. I am sorry for the actions and inactions behind this, and the hurt and disappointment these have caused. 

“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.” 

New measures to address racism

Wellcome has now committed to favouring funding applications that add to the diversity of the pool of people it supports, when it receives two of similar merit.

It has created an equity, diversity and inclusion role at executive level, reporting to Farrar, to lead on Wellcome’s internal and external anti-racism work.

And it will introduce a dedicated funding stream for researchers who are Black or people of colour, targeted at the career stages where this will have the greatest benefits for diversity. 

Detail about these approaches will be determined over the coming months, and all will be implemented by September 2023. 

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