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:
- Teaching and Learning: to cohere with the attainment gap plan
- Recruitment: of staff and students, to include widening participation
- Naming: buildings and the crest
- Support: for students and staff – harassment policies and training.
- Governance: to include external validation and recognition
- 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.
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.