Our new starter and Client Engagement Coordinator, Anisah K discusses diversity and inclusion in Higher Education...
As an ethnic minority, I have always been inquisitive about the need for Equality and Diversity Monitoring. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to fill in extra forms when completing questionnaires, applying for jobs, enrolling in academic institutions and even when receiving treatment on the NHS. It’s always brought to mind a plethora of questions. How will they be used? Who will see the answers? Will my answers be used against me? Why does it need to be monitored in the first place? Surely, we’re all humans and should be treated individually as such?. I told you I wasn’t joking when I said I have a lot of questions!
Being the inquisitorial soul that I am, I set out to find some answers. I knew if I straight up asked someone those questions, they’d probably get sick of me. So, in a softer approach, I asked my university’s Inclusion and Diversity team if I could spend a week with them. Here’s what it taught me.
E&D doesn’t just take place when filling out forms. I sat in on a meeting in regards to Professorial Promotion Workshops designed to ensure equality for staff, particularly staff with protected characteristics, wanting to pursue promotions. It quickly became apparent that my experience of E&D was limited to my own experiences and I could not fathom some of the protected characteristics that weren’t directly relevant to me such as gender reassignment and disability.
I was also involved in seeing how Equality Impact Assessments are used to ensure that changes in policy or projects carried out by the university do not discriminate against protected groups. I learned the difference between positive action and positive discrimination. An example of positive action would be where ‘excellent’ BAME candidates are interviewed before excellent White candidates. Whereas, positive discrimination would occur when a ‘good’ BAME candidate is interviewed before an ‘excellent’ White candidate.
Being a millennial, it was no surprise to learn that there was a high turnover for staff aged 35 and under. I was tasked with reviewing millennial drivers – things that millennials want from their jobs and how to incorporate this into practice. But the bigger picture involves understanding why under 35’s resign from their jobs and whether the job description and person specification contain any inclusive language which promotes millennial drivers or information which may hinder the retention of these staff. Other actions for the university to take involve reviewing how to improve the recruitment process, conducting and reviewing leaving interviews and surveys, and considering other programmes such as apprenticeships and internships.
Taking the focus away from recruitment, the university launched ‘Salford Inclusion & Diversity Week’ with the theme of culture and faith differences. A multitude of events and initiatives were held including Diversity Downloads, a BAME Graduate Employment Roundtable I got involved with, where students were able to meet with employers across the North West to discuss barriers to employment that BAME graduates may face. There were also tours of the faith centre held by the Chaplaincy team, the launch of gender-neutral toilets in the ‘Just a Toilet’ campaign. The week closed with the Role Models session led by the university’s Chancellor, Jackie Kay, in which students, staff, and alumni gave talks on their personal experiences of culture and faith differences.
The week gave me a chance to inquire about the ‘BME Attainment Gap’. I had actually never heard of it until a few months ago. From a personal cultural perspective, I knew of more British Asians that decided to attend university than their white counterparts. But then it dawned upon me – as a student rep, I’d often have more negative feedback from BAME students about their experiences of university and complaints in regards to their assignment feedback or grades. The work experience week taught me about the procedures in place to ensure fair marking and moderation of assessments. The roundtable I attended in November as part of Salford Inclusion and Diversity Week taught me the ways to overcome barriers I may face as a BAME individual.
Furthermore, in 2016, the university was successfully awarded the Athena SWAN Bronze Award as recognition for its commitment to gender equality. The university continues to work towards the Silver Institutional Awards which has enabled some key achievements. Achievements include the launch of Women’s Voice and the launch of self-assessment teams within each school and Professional Services to review diversity-related data and tackle the barriers to female career progression in a proactive manner. Additionally, there has been greater emphasis on the I&D team and their new addition, a Graduate Intern, in the support of the institution-wide delivery of the I&D Strategy.
My experience as a whole has helped to broaden my experiences and understanding by being involved with different aspects of I&D. I have witnessed first-hand the work that goes on behind the scenes at the university, and the impact it will have. While my time here as a student comes to an end, it will be interesting seeing the changes as the university transforms into a more inclusive institution, benefitting the students and staff, both present and future.