Where have all the BAME psychologists gone?

How can The Psychologist increase participation amongst ethnic minority groups? (Including editorial update).

When the ethnic monitoring form for the BPS landed on my doormat I pondered… who will be bothered to complete this form?

For the last 10 years, I have been doing some ‘ethnic monitoring’ of my own, observing with curiosity when a black and minority ethnic (as we are now called) psychologist would appear as a main writer or in the ‘One on one’ feature of this magazine that is prepared for us as paying members.

A recent enquiry that I made to the BPS provided the statistics that BAME psychologists represented some 20 per cent of the paying members of the Society. If my memory serves me correctly, out of the 48 psychologists featured in the ‘One on one’ feature since 2011, 47 (98 per cent) of the psychologists featured have not been members of the BAME groups.  If the ‘One on one’ feature portrayed a representative sample of BAME psychologists, they would have featured a majority of 10 BAME psychologists in that four-year period. However, at the current rate we may see the feature of BAME psychologists creeping up to a whopping 4 per cent over the similar time period and would not reach the equivalent of 20 per cent BAME psychologists being featured in ‘One on one’ for another 432 issues or about 40 years – nearly a whole career lifetime of the average psychologist. Will all newly qualified psychologists be on the verge of retirement before they see an equivalent number of BAME psychologists featured in our magazine?

I have had several e-mail discussions with The Psychologist about featuring a BAME psychologist even once every year in their ‘One on one’ feature, which would represent a relatively huge 8 per cent (a 400 per cent increase) of the psychologists whose good work is making a positive contribution to British society.

Whilst my main point is not that after 114 years of existence the BPS can easily import a quota system, (BAME psychologists need to be more proactive too!) I do wonder just why The Psychologist is so satisfied with these comparative statistics. And if not, then is complacency enough? Hotep!
Professor Jeune Guishard-Pine, OBE

Jon Sutton, Editor of The Psychologist, replies: As I had hoped to make clear during our correspondence on this issue over a number of years, Jeune, I am far from satisfied with the representation of BAME psychologists in our publication. I do question your sole focus on ‘One on one’, and some of the specific figures you have provided, but this is hardly the point. There is definitely scope for more BAME psychologists to feature throughout our pages and in ‘One on one’. I spend a good chunk of my working life searching for potential authors to fill these pages month after month. But also (as you yourself know, Jeune), when I receive suggestions for or contact from suitable authors and interviewees, I tend to act on those. So the message, as ever, is to get in touch ([email protected]) – as Jeune says, be more proactive! See https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/contribute for details.

UPDATE 12 July 2017: I took Professor Guishard-Pine's correspondence to heart, and I think over the last two years you can see some evidence of a real effort to find and feature more BME psychologists in our pages, whether that's through the 'One on One', interviews, reviews, articles etc. Browse our archive. And we continue to support calls for better representation of BME psychologists, along with other underrepresented groups. Meanwhile the Society more broadly has published its Declaration on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining my tetchy reaction on Twitter yesterday when David Marks called us out over our July cover as having 'only white faces' and therefore displaying racial bias. To clarify, the cover was a crowd scene from Latitude Festival selected to tie in with both our appearance there this month, and the topic of the feature 'Faces in the wild'. If you actually look at the photo, there are several non-white faces in that crowd, but I think this is hardly the point anyway. I will take some persuading that a single cover choice like this can suggest racial bias. Of course, we always consider equality, diversity and inclusion in our illustrative choices throughout the magazine and across months and years. Nobody is denying that we (and photo libraries) could probably do more in this respect. But surely the main considerations are whether we have equality of access to featuring in the magazine, review processes which are fair to all, and a proactive editorial approach to featuring the voices of BME psychologists and other minority groups.

Under the guidance of the Psychologist and Digest Editorial Advisory Committee, I feel confident over the first two of those aspects. I know I could always do more when it comes to the third; and I am continuing discussions off Twitter with people who seem willing and able to help me take this forward in a constructive manner. This is all part of an effort which has been underway for many years. Surely everyone is in agreement that more needs to be done to represent BME voices in The Psychologist, the Society, psychology more broadly (particularly academia?), and all sorts of other areas of public life? Please don't suggest that we are unaware of these issues or do not care.

The main message remains the same as it was above: if you are a BME psychologist doing work that is likely to engage and inform our audience, or if you know somebody, get in touch!

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