Equality, diversity and inclusion will not simply take care of itself, and change requires collective responsibility from the sector, says Mark Thorpe. 

Blue neon loudspeaker with a pink cross next to it

In the months following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the research sector, like a myriad of others, was consumed by the desire for achieving more diversity, greater equality and fuller representation of (actively) marginalised groups. 

There was a clamour within the research and insights sector for change. Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) was not only on the agenda; it was the primary focus of much of the ‘buzz’ within the industry. 

Being visible in the ED&I narrative was not just the right thing to do, it was the essential thing to do. There was no opting out. It seemed that most people were ‘on the bus’ and that change was widely recognised as a collective responsibility.

Fast-forward to 2024 and the picture is very different. ED&I, in our sector (and beyond), has morphed; it has lost its sparkle for all but the most passionate and the most impacted. The cause célèbre of 2020, and the two-to-three years after, is a shadow of what it once was, and is being held together by relatively small number of people who believe passionately that change only happens when you become part of the change that needs to happen.

On the surface, all may seem well. We still have ED&I champions, and we have the wonderful Changemakers – you know who you are! There was even a slot given to a Changemaker panel discussion at the annual MRS conference in March. Surely fantastic?

Unfortunately, not. The session was poorly attended, except for the all-too-familiar faces who seem to be the bedrock of such events now. There was a palpable sense of abandonment in the room, as well as an anger that the actions of wonderful change-making individuals was not worthy of the attention of those deciding not to attend.

This is not an isolated experience. Attendance at ED&I events is now often poor, with those who do not see themselves falling under the banner of ‘diverse’ significant by their absence. Maybe there is a belief that the ‘job’ has been done? Or that there are other, more pressing, issues for people to focus on? Or that it’s all simply gone on for too long? Whatever the reason, there is a clear and evident lack of mainstream engagement in ED&I within the sector. 

As I see it, a big part of the problem is the (implicit) belief that the quest for diversity and equality is now well on its way to achieving the intended results. Support has been given, we make gains, we move on. ED&I is also less shiny than it once was (and much less shiny than generative AI). 

The problem, though, is that equality and diversity should be a mantra of and for all of us; ED&I is about improving the lived experience of everyone involved in the world of research. We need to begin seeing ED&I with fresh eyes and recognising that it is much more than a space only for the diverse, the different, the marginalised.

The future of ED&I is in our hands. Your hands. Collectively. It is not a passion-play for those who are ‘diverse’. Neither is it something that will take care of itself. My ask is that next time we have the opportunity to support an ED&I event, we think longer and harder about saying “no”.

Achieving a future that is equal and fair, and that reflects the diversity of the worlds we report on, is a collective endeavour. Everyone is needed. What’s not to like? What could be better than that? Not even AI comes close.

Mark Thorpe is board director at Truth