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Firms join forces to combat racism in chemistry

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Grace O'Donlaide

Grace O’Donlaide hopes the scheme will enable her to gain a network in the industry that many of her fellow white students already seem to have.

Leading companies have started a scheme to help black and minority ethnic students obtain jobs as chemistry researchers.

The initiative follows an investigation that found racism was “pervasive” in chemistry research.

There is only one black chemistry professor in the UK and blacks in this field get paid less and are less likely to get promotions.

The initiative, called “Broad Horizons”, is led by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Its chief executive, Dr. Helen Payne, said the goal was to make a “radical change” in getting blacks in particular to pursue a career in science.

An RSC investigation, published in March, found that racism was “pervasive” in the chemical sciences and that talented students were leaving the profession at every stage of their careers.

Victor Eveni

Victor Evene has applied for 15 jobs in the chemical sciences industry – and none have succeeded

The problem of racism is not limited to chemistry. A BBC investigation last year revealed the scale of the problem across all sciences.

The RSC is among the many scientific bodies and universities trying to solve the problem.

In an investigation, he found that in chemistry, ethnic minority researchers are less likely to receive funding or promotions and be paid significantly less.

In 2019/20, the average scholarship for minority ethnochemical researchers was £320,000, compared to £355,000 for white fellows.

The RSC’s investigation has transcended the situation in the chemical sciences.

It also highlighted that 37% of FTSE 100 companies do not have minority ethnic representation on their boards, despite the goal set by an independent review, also in 2016, to have one director from a minority ethnic background on each board by 2021. .

According to Dr. Payne, the report has “shocked” a number of industries that chemistry is driving into action.

“It drove them to bring the community of chemists together and work in a way that could actually make a difference.”

Several companies work with RSC to provide black and minority ethnic students studying in the UK and Republic of Ireland with orientation, industry experience and the opportunity to apply for an internship over a three-year period.

Among them are RSSL, Syngenta, Unilever, GSK, Nanopore Technologies, AM Technologies, Astra Zeneca, Johnson Matthey, and BASF.

Professor Robert Meguia

Robert Mokaya is the only black chemistry professor in the UK. All his applications for research grants to the main funding body in the country were rejected.

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Grace O’Donnled is among 94 students about to start the programme. She is a third year undergraduate studying Medicinal Chemistry at Trinity College, Dublin. Her parents came to Dublin from Nigeria when she was two years old. She believes that the scheme will greatly help in getting a job in chemistry.

“I am a first-generation immigrant, so my parents didn’t have the network that many people in my studies have.

“During the summer, some people were talking about the training they had and how they got it through family friends. I can’t say the same because of my background.”

Victor Ezego came from Nigeria to study a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and was applying for jobs in the UK.

So far he has applied for 15 jobs. None of them worked.

He told BBC News: “Various organizations say they are for diversity and equal opportunity, but that’s just talk. None of them actually do.”

But he feels that the broad horizons plan will make a difference to his job prospects.

“It brings me closer to organizations that I really want to work with, like GSK and AstraZeneca.

“I will see the board members and key brains of these companies one-on-one, and I will be able to connect with them and express myself.”

Black scholars are less likely to be professors.

Black scholars are less likely to be professors.

Ijeoma Uchegbu, co-founder of the drug company Nanomerics and a professor at UCL, was one of the driving forces behind this initiative.

She believes that increasing diversity in chemistry is not only fair, but makes economic sense.

“It’s not so much about social justice. It’s about getting the best output for your business. You can’t know your customer if the employees in the company are of the same type.

“There is a lot of evidence to show that if you have ethnic minority leadership, you are more profitable.”

This is a view supported by Jason Harcup, Global Vice President of Skin Care Research at Unilever.

“We’re seeing a disproportionate loss of talent, especially in leadership positions, and that’s a loss for the economy,” he said.

“The starting point in these situations is experience, and that’s what the Broad Horizons program offers.”

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