An update on the work of the Anti-Racism Steering Group

Following the publication of our Institutional Statement on Race Equality in March, and as part of our response to the Black Lives Matter movement in June, the senior leadership team announced the establishment of a new Anti-Racism Steering Group.

The Group, co-chaired by myself and Dr Jane Khawaja, aims to help the University develop strategies and take action to address individual, cultural and structural racism across our institution. Reporting directly to University Executive Board (UEB), the Group will develop an institutional action plan focused on key pillars that will incorporate:

  1. Teaching and Learning: to cohere with the attainment gap plan
  2. Recruitment: of staff and students, to include widening participation
  3. Naming: buildings and the crest
  4. Support: for students and staff – harassment policies and training.
  5. Governance: to include external validation and recognition
  6. Research and Civic Engagement: connects to city partners and collaborative research

As you can see, the Group has a wide-ranging remit and will build upon many of the activities and initiatives that are already in place. These include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Establishing the BAME Staff Network where colleagues can share a sense of community and work with us to ensure that BAME staff have a consistent and positive experience at the University;
  • Setting targets to significantly increase the number of Black students and Asian students enrolling at the University by 2025;
  • Creating the new post of Professor of the History of Slavery at the University, and the appointment of Professor Olivette Otele earlier this year;
  • Signing-up to the Race Equality Charter (REC) and our ambition to submit for recognition in 2021;
  • Delivering outreach work with local schools and community groups;
  • Increasing our support for local communities, most recently by reaching out to the Changing Your Mindset group in Bristol to support young people’s success;
  • Delivering the Insight into Bristol summer school programme which guarantees students who complete the programme an offer of a place at the university, usually at the contextual offer level;
  • Launching Report and Support – a new online platform that offers staff and students a quick and easy way to report specific incidents;
  • Developing our Stand Up Speak Out web resource bringing together a range of policy, support and learning resources for staff who may be experiencing or witnessing unacceptable behaviour at work;
  • Participating in the Stepping Up initiative, a positive action programme aimed at improving the representation of BAME people, as well as other groups, in senior leadership roles within Bristol and the wider region;
  • Launching an apprenticeship talent pipeline to drive ethnic diversity whilst taking into consideration the skills gaps present in underrepresented groups in industry demand areas such as Finance, IT, Human Resources, Engineering and the Creative Industries;
  • Publishing the results of our first Ethnicity Pay Gap Report and taking action to address any inequalities;
  • Introducing positive action measures and training in unconscious bias with a specific focus on recruitment and promotion of staff;
  • Funding research internships which provide paid experience in research for new graduates, in order to increase the number of BAME students progressing to postgraduate study;
  • Setting an ambitious target to eliminate the BAME awards gap at the university by 2025 and developed a comprehensive action plan to address this, informed by research we have commissioned from Bristol SU;
  • Beginning the work of decolonising our curricula, led by academic colleagues with expertise in this area;
  • Providing staff training in race equality; harassment and hate crime awareness training delivered by SARI; and intercultural awareness training delivered by Kynfolk;
  • Providing access to specialist counselling services for our BAME students and staff from Nilaari;
  • Establishing a web-based resource drawn from research published by University of Bristol researchers around race, racism and anti-racism;
  • Sponsoring the East Bristol Into University Centre which serves an area of the city with a high BAME population;
  • Supporting city-based projects such as CARGO (Charting African Resilience Generating Opportunities) and Iconic Black Britons.

Leading the case for legislative change

A key focus for members of the Steering Group will be a review of our recruitment practices. The senior leadership team is committed to increasing the racial diversity of the University’s workforce across all levels of our institution and we have initiated a range of action to support progress in this space over the years.

However, we recognise that after almost ten years of working within the constraints and uncertainty of the positive action measures included in the Equality Act 2010, more directive action is needed.

We believe that a tension exists within the existing legislation between direct discrimination and positive action measures. This tension has restricted efforts to improve the representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff across our organisations, our city and across the wider UK.

To that end, alongside several other local organisations and community groups, we are formally requesting that the government introduce an amendment to existing provisions in the Equality Act relating to direct discrimination.

This amendment aims to enable specific ethnic groups to be treated more favourably in employment that other ethnicities where we reasonably think that the specific ethnic group experiences disadvantage. It would also provide clarity and reassurance to employers in terms of what is and is not permissible by law to improve representation of specific ethnic groups in all levels of employment where they are currently under-represented.

Ultimately, an amendment of this kind would support all employers to take a flexible, evidence-based and focused approach that would actively seek to level the playing field and minimise barriers to employment experienced by different ethnic groups.

You can read more about the campaign in this Bristol 24/4 article which features our employability and opportunity manager, Rebecca Scott.

Next steps

I’m proud that out University is leading the way on this campaign and we hope to garner widespread support for our proposed changes. However, we recognise that parliamentary action can take time and success is not guaranteed. In the meantime, we will continue to develop a targeted and segmented approach to positive action measures with the view to develop their efficacy and impact across our community.

We must eradicate racial discrimination in all its forms from our University and ensure the experience of studying and working here is positive and welcoming for everyone, of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. We aim to be bold and far reaching in our action, as I hope the above example demonstrates.

There is still much work to do, but I look forward to updating you on further progress in the coming months.


4 thoughts on “An update on the work of the Anti-Racism Steering Group

  1. Hi there,

    I can see that you think this well intended petition will do some good. However, it is not obvious that you have given due consideration to the inherent dangers in going down this road.

    I wonder if you might be able to respond to some of the following concerns.

    If we seek to amend existing legislation based on the idea that everyone should be treated equally regardless of type, in favour of an idea that we should discriminate positively based on type, we run the risk of undermining the whole principle that people are of equal worth regardless of their group identity. This is without even getting in to the horrendously complex issue of deciding who is disadvantaged and who isn’t.

    Whilst racism and prejudice still exist in society, advantage and privilege are determined by multivariate factors, not only the colour of a person’s skin or their ethnicity.

    Will the University consider how much poverty a person grew up in, or what school they went to, where they are from, or the occupations of their parents? Will they consider whether or not a person grew up in a single parent family, or whether or not they were abused as a child? Or does skin colour and ethnicity alone matter where privilege is concerned?

    These may be questions that you have asked yourselves, but have you considered the unintended consequence of people/organisations who might seek to abuse this legislation in favour of further negative discrimination?

    Who indeed gets to decide what is the most disadvantaged group? Do you see all BAME individuals as being equally disadvantaged, or do you recognise that society is more complex than that?

    You may think that whilst good people are in charge, a change in this legislation will be used for good reasons. I contend that it is very shortsighted to think that only good people are ever in charge.

    Positive discrimination may have its place in very specific settings, but the implications of amending the legislation so that organisations and people in any setting can confidently recruit an individual over another because of the colour of their skin, gives organisations too much power, and has a diminishing impact on everyone’s inalienable and natural rights.

    I do not think this is the right way to address racism, and I believe that it will most likely make things worse.

    Thank you,

    A concerned employee

    1. Thank you for your comments.The proposal is based on current provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that already allow for different treatment based on protected characteristics. We are seeking clarity and reassurance in terms of what is/is not permissible by law to improve representation of specific ethnic groups in all levels of employment where they are currently under-represented.

  2. Thank you for the updates regarding the work of the Steering Group. As a long term staff member I’ve witnessed the considerable steps the University has taken over recent years in addressing perceived inequality, recognising our social responsibility and taking proactive action to address under representation which is well documented within the post. The University is a special organisation and we must strive for make it a place where all staff and students feel proud and comfortable to be a part of regardless of our backgrounds and personal characteristics.

    I do however have concerns over our formal request for amendment to the Equalities Act 2010 which has offered legal safeguards to all our staff and students in the battle against discrimination. As you have identified the current provisions allow for different treatments where candidates for a role are evenly matched and allow an employer to make a decision with representation in mind. The amendment you appear to be requesting would be a radical and extreme step beyond this and permit organisations to actively discriminate against the most suitable candidate directly due to their ethnicity which is surely contradictory to the very notion of equality?

    Can you confirm which disadvantaged ethic group would be stipulated within the amendment and how you would intend to apply the amended law within recruitment in future?

    Striving to address inequality and adopt a society wide compassionate approach is admirable on many levels. However it’s important to take a holistic view and appreciate just how complex the very notion of disadvantage is. When it can be quantified through research studies it’s apparent that many individuals face significant barriers to achievement through no fault of their own. The proposed amendment fails to take these findings into account and appears to be based exclusively on surface level which feels overly simplified, unjust and open to contention.

    I worry that the wider University commitment to diversity has become increasingly selective in recent years with a disproportionate emphasis on group identity rather than focusing on the individual. By focusing away from what we have in common and the idea of ‘one community’, I have concerns that campus could become an increasingly divided environment.

    Thank you for inviting feedback and taking the time to listen to these concerns.

    1. Thank you for your comments. As noted above, the proposal is based on current provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that already allow for different treatment based on protected characteristic. We are seeking clarity and reassurance in terms of what is/is not permissible by law to improve representation of specific ethnic groups in all levels of employment where they are currently under-represented.

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