Diversity in UK think tanks


This report from Smart Thinking looks at diversity in UK think tanks in 2020. 

Today we release ‘Diversity in UK think tanks’. We interviewed people working in think tanks to see what they believed the issues to be and what work was already happening in this space. We also conducted a high level data review of 40 of the top UK think tanks to try and provide a picture of current diversity levels. We provide this analysis as well as some tools and resources to help those interested in this area.

The lack of robust data was the first major challenge. We conducted an internet review of all staff at those 40 think tanks. This is highly problematic because it does not take into account how staff themselves identify and can lead to incorrect assumptions. Whilst acknowledging the dangers of this method it provided some interesting first observations. We also take a look at what and how data could be collected and examples of where it is being done effectively.

Further findings include:

  • There is a broadly even gender split across all staff with a slight tilt towards women at 52% widening to 63% female to male in non-research roles. In research roles it moves back towards men at 56%
  • Overall, staff across all roles were 86% white which mirrors the general UK population however, in the context of London’s population where most UK think tanks are based, it is significantly less representative
  • In senior roles there is less diversity – 58% of all senior staff were male and 94% were white. For research that gender split increased with 71% of senior research roles being filled by men
  • Trustees also saw more uneven splits with 64% men to 36% female. Of the 40 executive directors 75% were men and 95% were white
  • Common obstacles think tanks listed in their work on diversity was a lack of awareness of think tanks as a career, the university pipeline of applicants, the application process itself (in particular interviews) and access to internships predominantly based in London
  • Some suggested tools include outreach with universities, case studies of staff for students, competency based interviews with applicants being given some questions beforehand, information on the application and interview process and partial or full virtual internships
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