Source: The Guardian
Higher education is a hugely successful sector, contributing about £40bn to the UK’s GDP annually. But as universities are now massive global businesses, how do they ensure they have a diverse workforce to reflect the people they serve?
“Universities are incubators for ideas and knowledge. And it’s right that people from all walks of life should have the opportunity to participate in them,” says David Ruebain, chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU). “There is also anecdotal evidence that ideas-based sectors thrive with diverse input. Homogeneity is the enemy of excellence.”
Forward-thinking universities are approaching diversity in a data-driven way that is worlds apart from the box-ticking of old. “I’ve heard organisations say: ‘15 % of our workforce are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – we’ve nailed diversity,’” says Stuart McKenna, equality and diversity manager at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), which recently won Excellence in Diversity’s Diverse Company Award for Education. “But everything we do is information-driven. Yes, you might find that 15% of employees are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – but what if the majority are working as domestic assistants, or in other entry-level roles?”
From 2012 to 2015, out of 66 new of vice-chancellors appointed, only 29% were women. Ruebain believes that the problem is not one of structure but of organisational segregation, which exists in all sectors.
“Some occupations within higher education, such as professional and support services, are much more likely to have women than other occupations, such as senior academic positions. But you also find that in schools, where more women than men are teachers but the leadership tends to be disproportionally populated by men. I think it’s more about structural disadvantages – whether that’s around leadership, seniority, part-time working or access for people from marginalised communities.”
At the University of Sheffield, the Women Academic Returners Programme provides additional support to female academics and researchers, helping to minimise the impact of extended leave on their research activities and help develop their careers. Women may request up to £10,000 funding to support an additional post, or up to £5,000 for research-related activity, such as conference attendance. The Parent to Parent (P2P) buddying schemesupports both staff and postgraduate students preparing for, taking, or returning from parental leave by providing an informal “buddy” – staff or postgrads students with personal experience of taking and returning from parental leave.
“We’re committed to advancing the careers of all staff and have established a culture in which there is equality of opportunity, fairness and respect for all,” says Julie Campbell, HR manager for equality and diversity at the University of Sheffield. “Our mission is to attract, grow and engage staff from all backgrounds and all parts of society to create a truly remarkable place to work. [Equality Challenge Unit’s] Athena Swan, the UK’s leading champion for female researchers, has honoured us with several awards for gender equality and advancing the careers of women staff across all of our faculties. ”
To attract a diverse workforce post-Brexit, universities should set out their stall, says McKenna. “Our vice-chancellor gave a speech in which he said that we are open for business and, in line with the university’s very pro-remain stance, we continue to welcome any staff and student, irrespective of where they are from. He made that very clear.”
But Brexit, says Ruebain, is currently an unknown. “All we really know is that asinine phrase: ‘Brexit means Brexit,’” he says. “The UK’s higher education success may be arrested, or at least limited, if it is made harder for students and staff to come here. Universities UK and individual universities’ vice-chancellors are doing a lot of work in this area, maintaining and building their links with overseas institutions and governments. But nobody yet knows what the ultimate framework is going to look like and, therefore, what the impact will be.”
Mitchell, a chartered psychologist and former deputy vice-chancellor of the University of West London (UWL), believes that ensuring diversity starts at recruitment level, and must continue throughout staff development in order to be effective.
As a working mother, she has seen first hand how restrictive working practices can hinder diversity. “When I arrived at the University of Derby, senior lecturers had to take on a management position to progress,” she says. “That structure would have snookered me.
“Now, we have a framework where people can map themselves against certain criteria in order to achieve that level of recognition and promotion. You must have that clarity in an organisation. Everybody who is leading across the university should be able to articulate very clearly how they are developing their staff in an inclusive way.”
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