HEPI’s report on ideas for reducing racial inequality is great. But what’s next?
While I was reading it, a few questions came to mind.
Who is going to continue the conversation?
Which universities are going to step up, make a pledge and meet a target?
Leadership is still a problem in this area. VCs who are great at this take an active role in championing race equality in all its forms and journeys (staff, student, alumni). They have a well-informed opinion. They have meaningful relationships with the right internal and external networks. They use a robust data strategy to inform and improve on their interventions.
How much of a role do the BME/BAME/Multicultural staff networks at institutions have to play?
They have a leading role to play. Put them at the centre of everything you do for race equality. This is where the raw conversations are happening and some of the best innovations are coming out.
What can we learn from other sectors?
It must be admitted that higher education is playing catch up when it comes to race equality. The private sector is well ahead of the game. Take Ernst & Young for example – how are they bridging the gap between the experience of partners right at the top and their new talented and underrepresented fresh-faced graduates? They are using Virtual Reality. Are they open to conversations? You bet – go and ask them.
Are we right to align funding criteria to Equality interventions such as the case with Athena Swan?
Yes. But is this the only role we want funding bodies to play? Do we dare ask them about their own EDI policies and how diverse their teams are? Perhaps there is a leadership role for funding bodies to play here too. In the same respect, I love HEPI for the report but it only took my colleague 30 seconds to point out the same lack of diversity ‘elephant in the room’ exists within many bodies related to or working with Higher Education, and it’s an issue we are well aware of at Halpin too. Is the report enough? Maybe. But the perception of your organisation and its lack of representation is real.
How important is the Race Equality Charter (REC)?
The REC has received mixed reviews up and down the country from HR teams and leadership committees across the sector. In my experience this has blighted REC’s reputation, and therefore its effectiveness. If REC is to have any kind of impact like Athena Swan or Stone Wall then we need to work with it. Let’s not get too hung up on the semantics – it’s never going to be perfect – The notion of ‘Race’ itself is not perfect. What the REC provides is a target and that is the best way to start achieving some change.
There are some home truths in HEPI’s report, and in the comments from various authors of the essays.
The one that hit home for me was that…
This is an equality emergency.
Action has to be taken.
Working in higher education, we strive to solve the most pressing challenges in the world. Imagining that we can do this as one homogeneous group is a mistake. In fact, it’s probably how we got to this situation in the first place.
If you want to effect real change at your institution, get in touch. Halpin’s consultants conduct equality, diversity and inclusion reviews to help institutions achieve best practice.
Fezzan Ahmed is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin – the home of experts in higher education and beyond.