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Celebrating and nurturing black scientists

Dr Imeobong Antia celebrates the Black biomedical science workforce and looks at the issues faced and the action that should be taken.

Black History Month, first officially celebrated in 1970, is generally believed to originate from “Negro History Week”.  The week was first sponsored in 1926 by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, founded by African American historian Dr Carter G Woodson, and minister Jesse E Moorland. In the UK, Black History Month has been celebrated every October since 1987, following efforts by the activist Akyaaba Addai-Sebo and others. It aims to highlight the contributions of Black people to society (see box, right, for some examples).

This article highlights a few Black scientists in the UK who have made significant contributions to science.

This is an addition to amazing Black scientists all over the UK contributing positively to UK education, pathology, healthcare and research – we celebrate with you. As well as celebrating Black scientists, we must provide an enabling environment for the growth and development of the Black scientists of the future. As such, it is important to consider some of the challenges faced in education, career progression and job satisfaction.

Black Scientists

  1. Dame Elizabeth Anionwu – British nurse, lecturer and emeritus professor of nursing. Helped establish the first specialist nurse-led thalassaemia and sickle cell screening and counselling centre in the NHS.
  2. Kathleen Okikiolu – Renowned British mathematician and first Black person to win the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship. Several holders of this fellowship have subsequently won a Nobel prize.
  3. Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE – Award-winning space scientist and educator. Also famous for presenting the BBC’s The Sky at Night programme
  4. Professor Frank Chinegwundoh MBE – First “Black British” urological surgeon. Studied the incidence of prostate cancer in Black men and published the first UK data that revealed the three times greater risk of prostate cancer in Black men in the UK.
  5. Bamidele Farinre – Biomedical Scientist, Chartered Scientist and IBMS Fellow. Winner of the Advancing Healthcare Biomedical Scientist of the Year Science Award 2022 for setting up mobile labs for COVID-19 testing during the pandemic.
  6. Akinola and Olubukola Adewunmi – Husband and wife biomedical scientist duo. Winners of the Health and Wellbeing Advocate award at the National BAME Health & Care Awards 2021 for their work in supporting those with sickle cell disease (including driving blood donations). Akinola Adewunmi also spends his time mentoring young and future biomedical scientists.


Education is vital to the training of future scientists and the staff at our learning institutions and should reflect the diverse student population and society. The Athena Swan Award and the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, which recognise gender equality and LGBTQ+ inclusion, respectively, are proudly displayed by universities and institutions. However, the Race Equality Charter, which recognises organisations addressing barriers facing Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff, does not appear to carry similar acclaim. As of August 2023, only one UK university has a Silver Award under the Race Equality Charter, which was achieved in April 2023 – seven years after the charter was launched. In the 2021/22 academic year, only about 2.6% of higher education academic staff were Black, although about 8.2% of Common Aggregation Hierarchy level 1 undergraduate students were Black, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), which publishes the statistics about UK higher education. A recent article highlighted that as of 2021, only 0.6% of all UK science professors were Black (of which less than one-fifth were women), which is a significant underrepresentation of the proportion of Black undergraduates in science (8%). It is difficult to aspire to what you cannot envision – representation matters, in the people that teach and the content being taught.

“It is difficult to aspire to what you cannot envision – representation matters”

Regulation and professional training guide the science profession. The pathology profession should also reflect the diversity of its society and the people they care for. In a 2021 survey conducted by the HCPC, 12% of biomedical scientists identified as Black, while only 2% of clinical scientists identified as Black.

It is important to note that a portion of registrants on the HCPC register have their undergraduate degree from outside the UK and data of Black biomedical scientists with an overseas undergraduate degree are not readily accessible. A recent benchmarking exercise of the IBMS carried out in 2021 identified that the percentage of minority ethnic people on the Board was only 5% and due to lack of data it is difficult to determine the representation of Black people in leadership roles in the IBMS and across membership. Consequently, the IBMS created a new EDI Working Group in 2022, which is working to address these issues, including the collection of diversity data to inform some of its EDI initiatives.

Career progression and job satisfaction

In academia, research grants are linked to career progression and promotion. There is evidence that Black scientists are less likely to be awarded research grants. UKRI is arguably the largest funder of science in the UK and their diversity data for funding applicants and awardees 2020 to 2021 showed that the percentage of principal investigator grant holders who identified as Black was at an abysmal 1% compared to 81% of their White colleagues. The award rate of this grant was also lower for Black scientists at 13%, compared to 29% for scientists in the White ethnic group. The abysmal number of UK Black science professors is not surprising. Reports from research grant funders containing diversity data of awardees is a step in the right direction in identifying and addressing inequalities in research funding.



In NHS England, the data on diversity in the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) 2022 data analysis report for NHS trusts is encouraging. As of 2022, Black and ethnic minority staff account for about 25% of the workforce. However, they make up only about 13.2% of board members across all trusts (a significant improvement from 7% in 2017). Despite this increase, Black and ethnic minority staff are significantly underrepresented on executive boards (9.6%) and overrepresented at lower pay bands (Band 5). Furthermore, compared to White staff, Black and ethnic minority staff are more likely to be harassed, bullied, or abused by other staff, more likely to enter the formal disciplinary process, and less likely to be appointed following shortlisting.

In fact, in the same report, only about 35% of Black NHS staff compared to about 59% of White staff believe that the organisation provided equal opportunities for career progression or promotion. Where available, a breakdown of the Black and ethnic minority category to see the data on Black NHS employees is even less encouraging. Compared to Black men, Black women experienced higher levels of discrimination from a manager/team leader or other colleagues.



I would like to start by appreciating individuals and organisations who help break down barriers and challenge inequalities. Being Black should not affect how far you go in life. Sadly, it has for some – hopefully it does not continue. Remedies for the issue of inequality are not novel, and I would like to highlight the following:

  • Evaluate your organisation to identify disparities between groups and address them, e.g. underrepresentation of Black staff in senior/managerial positions. Development of a diverse workforce will ensure there are role models/mentors for future scientists and help combat discrimination in the workplace.
  • Celebrate, recognise and value Black and minority ethnic members of your team, otherwise they may feel unsupported, invalidated, and excluded, which would affect morale and job satisfaction. Avoid microaggressions, e.g. shortening staff names (unless preferred by the staff), intentionally mispronouncing names.
  • Assemble a diverse hiring and promotion interview panel, anonymise the shortlisting process and recognise and deal with unconscious bias during selection.
  • Provide access to and support career development of underrepresented groups, e.g. attendance at events (such as IBMS Congress), mentorship, and leadership training programmes, such as StellarHE and NHS Leadership Academy.
  • Diversify individual/organisational pool of examiners and accessors.
  • Inspire and support the development of future scientists from underrepresented groups at all levels. One example is the UKRI Black in Biomedical Research project.
  • Ensure senior management/leadership are aware of their responsibility for ensuring an inclusive work environment free from discrimination.  

Dr Imeobong Antia is a Biomedical Scientist and Lecturer in Clinical Biochemistry in the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Central Lancashire.

Image credit | Istock | Alamy | Getty


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