What is £211,500 a year to head up equality and diversity at a healthcare research non-profit? A ludicrous waste of money? A grift non-job and sector that exist only to further themselves, which if they were abolished overnight the economy would lose nothing. And what business does a charity have paying an equality and diversity officer (whatever one of those does) £50,000 more than the Prime Minister anyway?
So ran the – by now fairly predictable – online response to the Wellcome Trust’s ad for a chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer yesterday. Leave aside the question of how much we pay our PMs, or the likelihood that many complaining would be all too delighted if the Prime Minister was awarded a £50,000 pay rise tomorrow. The Wellcome Trust isn’t just any charity: it’s a global one, estimated to be the world’s fourth-wealthiest with a £35bn endowment. It is also the largest private funder of medical research in the UK, giving out £1.3bn in research grants last year, with £16bn of funding planned for the next ten years.
In this context, £200k – incidentally, similar to what the Wellcome Trust pays all its directors – is pennies. A £211,500 salary compared to £1.3bn of annual grant spending is equivalent to spending 20p on something when you have a £1,300 monthly salary. Given there are many gripes with modern healthcare, the role can help this funding deliver a better service even more effectively.
Let’s face it: there is a long, shameful history of underfunded research into conditions that affect women (or which disproportionately involve minorities). Reproductive health conditions affect one in three women in the UK; reproductive health research makes up a mere 2 per cent of UK health funding. Cripplingly painful ailments such as endometriosis that cost the UK billions each year still don’t have cures, and have notoriously long and ineffective diagnosis procedures. On a more global scale, some of the Wellcome Trust’s work focuses on scaling up vaccine manufacturing in Africa. With Covid and, more recently, monkeypox – a genuinely deadly disease on the continent, with a 4.4 per cent fatality rate in the African countries most affected, compared with just three deaths in the UK – it doesn’t take much imagination to see the value of a top-table medical funding role that keeps front-of-mind the lethal and chronic ailments that blight the lives of people who don’t happen to be white, male or Western.
But then, cries about the supposed uselessness of equality and diversity officers aren’t new. Last year, howls of rage emanated from the Daily Mail and Guido Fawkes about the UK’s “top-paid taxpayer-funded diversity chief”, Network Rail’s Loraine Martins, having the temerity to be paid more than Boris Johnson. Never mind that equality and diversity at Network Rail mainly involves managing the organisation’s Access for All project, working to increase the mere 200 out of the UK’s 2,000 railway stations that are wheelchair accessible. This is complex, skilled project management work that, frankly, probably requires someone more competent and with a stronger record of delivery than Boris Johnson.
It’s obvious these jobs have value – just as it is obvious that critics wouldn’t themselves like to be walled off from train stations. It is part of a trend that devalues the work of equality and diversity officers, largely by people who rarely engage with the practical worth and dignity such work focuses on providing. You only need to look at the reactions to train strikes to see how little they’d stand for anything that might negatively affect them.