Inside Track | Driving change together – a community approach to equity, diversity and inclusion
Professors Louise Bryant and Iyiola Solanke, and Dr Kendi Guantai, Deans: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), explain how our new EDI strategy will bring about vital change at Leeds and beyond.
Professors Iyiola Solanke and Louise Bryant, and Dr Kendi Guantai, Deans: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Out of more than 22,000 university professors nationwide, just 41 are black women. Just think about that statistic. That’s in the UK in 2022, not in 1956 or 1967. And there are many more stats like it across a whole range of protected characteristics.
Behind this and every statistic of inequality are painful lived experiences, opportunities lost and potential squandered.
We need to do better as a society and as a sector. And we are convinced we can. But we can only do it together, as one community.
That’s why we are launching a new Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy that sets out a blueprint for how we can go about implementing real change at Leeds. It is rooted in a firm belief that, while universities are deeply affected by these challenges, they are also ideally placed to find solutions to them.
We want Leeds to be in the vanguard of that movement. The new strategy will be our guide. In essence, it will enable us to embrace much-needed institutional cultural change, make the University of Leeds a beacon of best practice within higher education and beyond, and hardwire EDI into every element of our life and work.
As a vital early step, our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Simone Buitendijk, argued in a recent blog post that we need to find a way to talk about, acknowledge and address EDI issues, without fear. Often that fear comes from a good place – from not wanting to get it wrong and inadvertently offend or upset others. But nonetheless, if it stops us fully acknowledging the issue, we will never address it. So, we believe this strategy will provide a platform for us as a community to have that conversation and take action.
So next, what is our vision for EDI at Leeds? In essence, it boils down to two things.
First, to create an inclusive environment that is a magnet for students and staff from all backgrounds, cultures and communities. Diversity is a great strength. We need to create the conditions to draw a wide range of people to us. The sign on the door needs to read ‘open’, not ‘open but…’.
And second, to make Leeds a place which brings together the broadest representation of people, where every person is accepted as equal, inspired to participate and empowered to succeed. That’s about ensuring everyone can flourish and reach their full potential when they get here, and then go on to make a positive difference in the world.
We believe that our EDI strategy is fundamentally different from what others in the sector are doing. There are three reasons for this:
First, it is holistic. Unlike many EDI strategies, it recognises that this is an issue that can’t be compartmentalised. EDI has to be approached in the round. That means it will use targeted action to focus on a wide range of issues, from bias and discrimination, to inclusion, to access in physical and digital spaces, to our ambitious work in decolonisation; and, essentially, to foster the syngeries between activity in these different areas.
As an example, it is hard for a disabled student to feel a sense of belonging if they can’t easily access the campus. That may in turn affect their educational outcomes, which will limit their ability to do something impactful later in life that can help drive down inequity for others. It’s all connected. This strategy recognises that.
Second, because it recognises – really recognises – that EDI is absolutely fundamental to the impact we want to achieve globally through driving down inequalities and educating the next generation of global citizens. Without the EDI foundations, we won’t achieve these objectives, which lie at the heart of our new overarching strategy.
Third, it is a comprehensive strategy that touches every part of our organisation and what we do. If we do this well, we will work differently and collaboratively as a community of scholars and peers.
We’ll build truly inclusive research communities, creating a healthy environment within which people and ideas, research and researchers can flourish, reinforcing our existing research culture statement. In practice, this means building diverse and inclusive research teams, providing opportunities for all, embedding equitable knowledge production through inclusive research design and practice, as well as through considering the impacts of research in terms of EDI.
In student education and wellbeing, we will redouble our efforts to enhance the sense of belonging that is so crucial for everyone learning at our University (in addition to all of us who work here, of course). The research and the evidence show that, if we get that sense of belonging right, so much else will follow – student outcomes, wellbeing and a sense of fulfilment, and ultimately the drive towards sustainable global change, as our graduates go on to become change makers.
And, of course, it will also affect the way our essential professional services help support all this vital work.
Why equity not equality?
Finally, a word on why we are referring to ‘equity’ and not ‘equality’ Equity recognises that each person has a different starting point and that treating everybody equally, for example, by providing the same resources, still risks leaving some people behind. We want our strategy to reflect the importance of giving individuals what they need to thrive and succeed.
Two illustrations are pictured above. The first depicts equality as three adults of different heights standing on boxes of the same size to look over a wall at the Parkinson Building. The shortest person is unable to see over the wall. The second depicts equity as three adults of different heights, who are all able to look over the wall at the Parkinson Building because the shortest person is standing on two stacked boxes, the medium-height person is standing on one box and the tallest person is not standing on a box, so their eyelines are at equal heights above the wall.
A catalyst for change
Ultimately, this is a strategy for all of us. It will live or die by its ability to act as a catalyst for genuine, lasting change that improves outcomes for those who face bias and disadvantage. But, ultimately, it will bring significant change for everyone, and make us a more diverse, supportive and fulfilled community.
It is proactive, accessible and implementable. In other words, it gives us the tools to make change. We now just have to use them. We hope you will join us in that endeavor.
* Professor Iyiola Solanke will leave the University of Leeds on Monday 1 August to take up a new role at the University of Oxford. Dr Kendi Guantai was appointed as an EDI Dean at Leeds earlier this month and will begin her role on Monday 1 August.