The Royal Institution has been in existence for 221 years and has a rich heritage. Many great people did many great things at the Ri; world-shaping scientific advances honestly applied for the benefit of society. There is a great deal in our history – most of it we think – to be celebrated.
When the Ri was founded, however, society was different. People were different, morality was different, and accepted behaviour was different. Thankfully, times have changed. But like many organisations of any significant age, there are elements of our past that would not, and should not, be celebrated today. Donations received from money linked to slavery; research into discredited ‘science’ like eugenics; a definite lack of prominence for, and probably even a discrimination against, women scientists as well as Black, Asian and minority ethnic scientists.
Certainly, these are not celebrated by those of us who work at the Ri today. We reject them as wrong, and are actively working to redress the balance to better reflect society as well as those who work in STEM. The world has moved on since 1999, let alone 1799, and we are glad of it.
At the Ri today, we are striving to be a more diverse organisation because it is the right thing to do. One of the products of the wonderful difference in us all is a diversity of viewpoints. Diverse, representative voices are crucial if science is to be informed by everyone in society, which is something we feel very strongly about.
We’d like to say we’d made great progress this year, but for obvious reasons, it’s been a bit of a write-off. With lockdown and furlough, we’ve been concentrating on survival. Last year, however, we placed ‘demand diversity’ at the heart of the Ri as one of four new values that everyone was involved in developing. We continued to broaden the scientific and cultural topics discussed in our theatre, and ran more events celebrating the contributions to science of historically under-represented groups.
We were able to offer more free Science in Schools shows and more free tickets to the CHRISTMAS LECTURES for schools that benefit from additional support. We developed our Instagram account to reach a younger audience. We relaxed the 200-year old dress code for our Discourses. And our staff, for whom inclusion is important, took their own decision to form an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion group at the Ri. With the support of the Ri’s senior management, they will begin to analyse and address what more we need to do.
We know that these are small steps and that there is much more to do. And we’re sorry that what we do won’t happen quickly enough for some, but we will get there, with your support.
At the Ri today, we are acutely aware that our past is not perfect. We can’t change that past, but we can acknowledge it, and we must learn from it. We pledge to work hard to make the Ri a better place for everyone.