Taking action in higher education

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There are a number of schemes that your employer will have signed up to, to demonstrate their practical commitment to equality.  Branches can raise their employers participation in these schemes and ask what actions are being undertaken to meet the aims of each scheme. All the following  schemes are based on self assessment by the employer so branches can use awards as a way to discuss equality with their employer and how the employer is meeting the aims of the scheme.

The main ones are:

1.  Athena Swann

ECU's Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in higher education and research. Members can use the  Athena SWAN logos to highlight your commitment to gender equality on institutional websites, materials and job adverts

In May 2015 the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law (AHSSBL), and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly, and not just barriers to progression that affect women. Including:

  • in relation to their representation
  • progression of students into academia
  • journey through career milestones
  • working environment for all staff.

For a first-time bronze application, a department will need to make a thorough assessment of how well it promotes equality of opportunity, and to identify areas for improvement. The first step is to collate and scrutinise (and ultimately submit as part of an application) a range of quantitative data that capture key gender trends. A detailed action plan will need to be drawn up to address gender imbalances. The department will also need to explain in its application how it will promote a culture of inclusivity and assist women at key career points. Department heads will be asked to write a statement of support. Awards last for three years. For a silver award, departments must be able to show a significant record of activities to support gender equality and demonstrate the impact of good practices.

2.  2 ticks - Positive about disability symbol (England, Scotland and

The 'two ticks' positive about disability symbol is awarded by Jobcentre Plus to employers who have made commitments to employ, keep and develop the abilities of disabled staff.

The five commitments

Employers who use the disability symbol make five commitments regarding recruitment, training, retention, consultation and disability awareness.

The five commitments are:

  • to interview all disabled applicants who meet the minimum criteria for a job vacancy and to consider them on their abilities
  • to discuss with disabled employees, at any time but at least once a year, what both parties can do to make sure disabled employees can develop and use their abilities
  • to make every effort when employees become disabled to make sure they stay in employment
  • to take action to ensure that all employees develop the appropriate level of disability awareness needed to make these commitments work
  • to review these commitments each year and assess what has been achieved, plan ways to improve on them and let employees and Jobcentre Plus know about progress and future plans.

3.  Stonewall Diversity Champions/Stonewall top 100 employers
     (England, Scotland and Wales)

The Diversity Champions programme is a good practice employers' forum on sexual orientation and from this year, trans.  Membership provides benchmarking via the Workplace Equality Index, good practice seminars, discounted entry to the annual Stonewall Workplace Conference and a profile on Stonewall's Starting Out Careers Guide website. Those who join the programme can promote themselves as a member.

The workplace equality index is an annual survey (2016 includes trans) which asks institutions to benchmark their performance across a number of areas including policies, monitoring, training, networks and visible LGBT senior employees. There is also a staff survey which participants are encouraged to make available to staff. There is no obligations on 'champions' to participate in the survey and it is unclear how many employers actually do as the website states over 1000 have participated since 2006. The Global Diversity Champions programme is Stonewall's best practice employers' forum for global organisations.

Stonewall produces a top 100 employers list from the survey. Many universities and colleges participate.

4.  Race equality charter mark

ECU has piloted a Race equality charter mark which focuses on improving the representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education.

It covers:

  • professional and support staff
  • academic staff
  • student attainment, diversity of the curriculum and progression of students into academia

By becoming a member of the race equality charter mark, institutions are committing to following these guiding principles:

  • racial inequalities are a significant issue within higher education. Racial inequalities are not necessarily overt, isolated incidents. Racism is an everyday facet of UK society and racial inequalities manifest themselves in everyday situations, processes and behaviours
  • UK higher education cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of the whole population and until individuals from all ethnic backgrounds can benefit equally from the opportunities it affords
  • in developing solutions to racial inequalities, it is important that they are aimed at achieving long-term institutional culture change, avoiding a deficit model where solutions are aimed at changing the individual.
  • minority ethnic staff and students are not a homogenous group. People from different ethnic backgrounds have different experiences and outcomes of higher education, and that complexity needs to be considered in analysing data and considering actions
  • all individuals have multiple identities, and the intersection of those different identities should be considered wherever possible.

To participate in any ECU charter mark, an institution will need to establish a self-assessment team responsible for undertaking a full evaluation of the institution to identify racial inequalities and barriers. The self-assessment team will lead the institution through the charter mark process by:

  • reviewing quantitative and qualitative data
  • reviewing policies and practices, and the outcome of policies and practices
  • reviewing the results of the mandatory staff and student survey and managing other forms of involvement and engagement
  • managing the process of developing SMART actions and action plans and submitting an application to ECU for the charter mark.
Last updated: 2 November 2016