Banji Adewumi and Dawn Edge: the Race Equality Charter and our race equality journey
This month, July, marks the start of the 12-month countdown to the University’s next Race Equality Charter (REC) submission. As a University, we stand firm in our commitment to REC and to progressing race equality and equity for all.
What is REC?
The University has been part of REC since its inception in 2015 and our previous submissions in 2015 and 2018 received Bronze awards in recognition of our robust foundation for eliminating racial inequalities, developing inclusive cultures and moving from commitment to sustainable and integrated bold and ambitious action*. We re-stated our intention to accelerate progress in the Race Matters report in 2020.
For us, REC provides a framework for engagement, critical self-assessment and action planning on race (in)equality. Adopting this framework allows us to identify our own good practice and areas for further positive action. We can benchmark ourselves against other Higher Education Institutions, including those in the Russell Group, and make our commitment to race equality clear internally and externally with formal accreditation.
Ultimately, when utilised effectively, REC is an institution-wide commitment to and mechanism for meaningful change.
To realise the full impact of REC for our University, we must critique our own motivations and actions in the context of REC. Have we utilised the opportunity that REC presents sufficiently in the past to drive progress? Are all staff and student voices heard and represented equally? Is there genuine buy-in and accountability for race equality at all levels?
These questions, considerations and reflections are equally relevant for the University’s other equality chartermarks – Athena Swan (gender), Disability Business Forum (within which Disability Confident is covered) and Stonewall (sexual orientation). The University will make submissions for all these chartermarks in 2023, so now is the time to get our approach right, be clear on why we undertake these chartermark submissions and how we can better utilise them as mechanisms for change, rather than being goal-orientated towards accreditation.
Plan of action
Our plans for the submission process and beyond are developing. A key part of our REC preparations will be about engaging with our staff and students to hear their experiences. This has been a prominent feature in the development of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy which will launch later this year, and we will continue with this approach.
Invaluable insights gained from staff and student surveys, feedback from the University’s EDI conference in May and focus groups will feed into our submission to highlight where progress has been made as well as where ongoing barriers, differential experiences and discrimination still exist, and action is needed. Staff and student voices will inform the action plan developed as part of the REC process to ensure that the University is a great place of work and study for all its staff and students.
We want to hear from colleagues and students from all ethnic groups. The REC survey will launch in the autumn – please do take the time to complete it. Focus groups will also run in the next academic year. If you would like to hear more about taking part in a focus group, please complete this short expression of interest form for staff and students. Full details about the survey and focus groups will be shared on StaffNet and with students later this year.
Please be assured that your views will be heard and will feed into meaningful actions that will bring about change for the better.
Our race equality journey
Our work surrounding EDI is a continuous endeavour that we can all be contributing to. REC presents an essential opportunity for critical self-reflection as an organisation. It allows us to pause for thought and consider: Have we made progress? Is it enough? What has been the impact of our EDI and race equality initiatives?
Several actions have been undertaken as a result of our last REC 2018 submission and our Race Matters action plans, including:
- The ‘Speak Up! Stand Up!’ active bystander campaign co-delivered by the University and the Students Union
- A new process, guidance and exit questionnaire for staff leavers to provide better information and insights into the reasons that staff leave
- Embedding initiatives such as Inclusive Advocacy, StellarHE, Aurora and 100 Black Women Professors Now to support the career progression of academic and PS staff from underrepresented groups
- The University conducting initial research and publishing its findings into historical links to slavery.
We will report action taken and evidence of impact in the REC submission to support our case for a Silver award. If successful, we could be the first university to achieve this recognition.
We recognise that we need to do more to ensure equity of opportunity and a truly inclusive experience for all members of our University community. Progress and change are often too slow and we need to move at pace.
We understand that the pace of change can cause frustration, disengagement and distrust of the University for underrepresented and marginalised groups. We have to be prepared to hear the good, the bad and the uncomfortable through our staff and student consultation and to genuinely listen to the experiences of our colleagues and students.
While we must give greater focus to our race equality work – with REC providing one mechanism for this – we will move beyond a siloed approach of considering groups, characteristics and chartermarks in isolation. This hinders overall progress towards equity for all and fails to recognise the multiple identities that each of us hold. An intersectional approach is not only required for our chartermarks but is essential in understanding and enhancing the nuanced experiences of our staff and students.
We cannot meaningfully undertake this work without the important voices of our staff and student communities; ‘no decision about us, without us’ epitomises our ethos in approach and engagement**. If you would like to share your experiences in a focus group, please complete this short expression of interest form. We are ready to listen.
Dawn Edge is Professor of Mental Health and Inclusivity, The University of Manchester’s Academic Lead for Race, Religion and Belief and Chair of the REC self-assessment team (SAT).
Banji Adewumi MBE is Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at The University of Manchester and a member of the REC SAT.
* This definition of the REC Bronze award level comes from Dr Arun Verma, Head of the Race Equality Charter at Advance HE.
** This wording and approach is taken from the NHS policy document, Liberating the NHS.