As we enter a new academic year, I would normally use this opportunity to reflect on successes and challenges faced over the previous year, and outline our priorities and ambitions for the year ahead. But, of course, this is not a normal year. However, despite the pressures we all face, it is critical not to lose sight of the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in delivering all that we strive for at the University, and so I am using this blog to outline how we will be continuing to pursue our EDI ambitions within the ever changing context in which we find ourselves.
Firstly, we will be continuing to embed EDI in our decision making. We have reviewed our approach to Equality Impact Assessments over the past year, and will be working to increase transparency and visibility of these analyses over the coming months. Most critically, EDI has been embedded into our thinking around teaching delivery, face coverings, and return to campus. We are also launching the sunflower lanyard scheme. This scheme enables those with invisible and visible disabilities to, if they wish, wear a lanyard to signal that they are exempt from wearing face coverings, and may also benefit from other adjustments as they work and study. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the input of Beth Titchiner, our SU Disabled Students officer from 2019-20, for her thoughtful work that led us to adopt this scheme that will benefit both our students and staff.
We were all, rightly, impacted by the Black Lives Matter protests and response that followed the murder of George Floyd this year. The protests and response from our students and staff highlighted that we need to do more to respond to and address systemic racism within the University and Higher Education, to be more open and clear about the work that we are doing, and to deliver real action to accompany our aims. We have been responding to these challenges, and will continue to do so. This week, we will be outlining how we are responding to some of the key issues raised by our black students and staff, and over the coming academic year we will continue to listen and respond to concerns and questions raised. A key opportunity to have these conversations will be during Black History Month, this October. I am pleased that alongside a University Black History Month programme committee, staff and students will be able to participate in local events organised by teams around the University. I strongly encourage as many staff and students to attend at least one Black History Month event. It is particularly important that our white students and staff make an effort to engage, to learn, and to listen. I know that, as a white woman, I will never fully appreciate the systemic experience of racism, but that continuing to talk and work with black colleagues and students is critical as we work towards our goal of being a truly anti-racist University.
Alongside this work to implement EDI in all that we do, a significant piece of work has been taking place to be much clearer about our longer term aims. In June 2020, the University EDI Committee approved a set of Key Performance Indicators and Stretch goals to accelerate and focus our work towards targets to be worked towards over the next 5 years. We may not reach these goals within 5 years – that is why they are ‘stretch’, but it is vital that we bring urgency and focus to our work in EDI, where our activities to date have not delivered sufficient change. KPIs perhaps have quite a dry reputation, and I firmly believe that it is critical to only use quantitative indicators alongside a strong culture of listening to and believing qualitative feedback and stories. However, our quantitative data does show us where there is systemic bias within our organisation. We already have a clear set of goals for our undergraduate student recruitment, progression and attainment, through the Access and Participation Plan. We have therefore now begun work to set similarly ambitious goals for considering recruitment, progression and performance for our staff.
We have deliberately taken a nuanced approach to this activity. On the face of it, some of our data, such as our overall data on gender representation, may look as though we have a roughly even distribution. But when we look in detail at the distribution of gender across job families, levels and teams, we see a very uneven picture. For both our staff and our student EDI goals, we are therefore asking local Faculties, Schools and Teams to identify the priority areas for their own part of the University, and set local KPIs that will contribute to a clear and accelerated direction of travel for the University as a whole. We must not try to boil the ocean, and we hope that through local ownership of key targets, we can deliver effective change. The paper that was initially agreed at EDI Committee as our framework will be developed and published as a more detailed implementation plan in the coming months.
I appreciate how busy and at times overwhelmed some of our students and staff have felt with the many changes, both in the University, and in our personal lives, that Covid-19 has brought. It would perhaps be easy to think that we need to prioritise things other than EDI right now. The unequal impact of Covid-19 has shown us that there has never been a more important time to embed EDI in all that we do within the University.
Professor Sarah Sharples
Pro Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and People
21 September 2020