How do you tackle inequality in your institution? If we are starting right at the beginning of this journey (which many of us are – even though we do not want to admit it!) then the simple answer is to own it. Everything else will follow.
But how do you own it? Who does the responsibility sit with? Where do we start?
Well, let’s start with being honest.
Take a look around you – your team, your institution’s leadership. Do you see evidence of inequality?
If we do not actively look for the inequalities in our institutions, how can we expect to overcome them? How can we remove the barriers which impede certain people from seizing the same opportunities as others?
We know inequalities exist and in many different forms – social, gender or race-based to name a few. We know that tackling inequality is the right thing to do, but let’s recap on the top three reasons why institutions do it.
- It has a positive impact on your institution’s performance (up to 35%!).
- It has a positive impact on your talent management.
- If you do not address inequality, you run a high risk of significant negative impact on your institution’s reputation.
There are some examples recently of institutions taking reputational damage because they have been slow to act, not acted enough or sometimes not acted at all. Yes… some institutions think they can still brush things under the carpet, even in the age of social media.
Let’s talk about inequality more. Even if it’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t quite come out right (Liam Neeson). Harvard have a nice, open way of doing this.
How can we talk about equality in a safe way?
Here are my top three tips:
- A great first move is to provide a space for people to get comfortable with talking about equality. I say this because we need to talk to each other first before we can tell the outside world what our position on this is. Our own narrative needs to be honest and driven by all of us.
- Invite staff and student to create and join networks to talk about EDI – provide incentives (there are many).
- A real game changer is to engage alumni, senior management and governors to participate in a significant way.
Equality is everybody’s responsibility. Communicate this well and often and by everyone.
There are some great examples of owning the narrative, creating space for dialogue and clearly stating your institution’s position.
Exeter, Glasgow and Birmingham’s campaigns have all impressed me, but my favourite has to be Manchester’s ‘We get it’ campaign. Simple, clear and inclusive!
Some brave institutions are openly collaborating and collectively improving the way they tackle inequality together.
Now is really the time to get moving with tackling inequality. The government has recently called on universities to do more to tackle ethnic disparity. The very best examples of EDI in higher education are always found within the institutions that value and prioritise not just the collection of relevant data consistently, but also the subsequent analysis and implementation of improvements.
So how do you start to tackle inequality? Own it, make space to talk about it and collect the data.
For those further on in the journey – how do you continue to tackle inequality?
We still need great data practices, but then we need to use it to underpin our institutional stories of inequality. These stories will move and mobilise our leadership and that’s when the really exciting changes can happen.
Fezzan Ahmed is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education, conducting in-depth and insightful race and equality reviews for institutions just like yours.