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Differential attainment (DA) exists in research and academia, where individuals with protected characteristics face barriers to progression at different stages from selection in training or career pathways through to obtaining funding and getting research published. The causes of DA are multifactorial, however, more barriers are associated with an individual’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or other social and economic factors rather than academic factors related to research. DA is seen across medicine and healthcare therefore it is likely a manifestation of wider inequalities experienced by these individuals within a society. This scoping review takes a first step at exploring DA through the lens of equality, diversity and inclusion in research and academia, specific to healthcare professionals in medicine, in the UK. Given the paucity of published data, benchmarking and investigation of the causes of DA and access in this area, this review seeks to identify what published reports exploring this issue reveal. There has been mixed success in the area of gender equality with the Athena Swan benchmarking exercise; however differences in outcomes exist within gender when other protected characteristics, such as ethnicity, are also explored. The DA observed among women despite the Athena Swan programme demonstrates other factors such as allyship, apprenticeship, sponsorship and mentoring which may be accessible to some individuals, but not others. Furthermore, ethnicity appears to be a barrier to accessing this form of support, and non-Black and minority ethnic women appear to be more privileged to receiving this type of support. Without more research into the lived experiences of individuals from non-traditional backgrounds at the micro-level, as well as data across the career progression pathway overtime at the macro-level, the problem of DA is unlikely to improve. If anything, lack of openness and transparency around such data at an organisational level, may exacerbate the sense of injustice within research and academia among individuals with protected characteristics, especially given that the perceived sense of DA is very real for them. The purpose of this paper is to start the conversation with stakeholders within research and academia, about DA and commence the process of reducing the gap using equality, diversity and inclusion as fundamental concepts for achieving a level playing field for all. This type of accountability is essential for developing trust and in the system. Such open conversations need to happen across every organisation, that is a stakeholder of research and academia in the UK.
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