11th January 2019 7 minutes read

No black academics in senior university roles for the third year running: A universal, not university, issue

There are no black academics in manager, director or senior official roles in any British university for the third year running, according to data produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency on the 19th January 2017, taken from the 2015/16 HESA Staff record.

The figures represent 163 of the UK’s state-funded higher education institutions, in addition to the privately funded Buckingham University. Out of 535 senior officials, 510 identified as white, 15 as Asian, 10 as “other including mixed” and 30 did not record their ethnicity.  No senior officials identified themselves as ‘black’ and in roles less senior the figures are not much better.

In 2015-2016, British universities employed 3,205 black staff, as opposed to 158,000 white staff, in academic posts. They also employed 1,805 in secretarial roles and 1,410 in “elementary occupations”, including cleaners, porters and security guards, as opposed to a total of 70,000 white members performing clerical or manual labour roles.

These figures reaffirm the findings of our Autumn 2016 report, the Green Park Public Service Leadership 5,000, mapping the gender and ethno-cultural diversity of selected board and executive leaders in public organisations and charities, which found that the public sector was lagging behind the FTSE 100 in ethno-cultural senior leadership representation which, in turn, was still far behind that of the proportional UK Working Age Population.

As an executive search and Interim consultancy that specialises in diverse placements, we have had multiple conversations with university senior officials, including Heads of House at Oxbridge colleges, for whom increasing the diversity of their applicants and students is a high priority on their agenda and, yet, their methods of attraction are bearing little fruit in the diversity of candidates they attract, particularly in reaching candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Need for Initiative

Rising tuition fees aside, the figures from the HESA help go some way to explaining why diversity initiatives, particularly those aimed at increasing student’s ethno-cultural diversity, are failing.

Of course, there’s a case to be made that the problem needs to be tackled upstream, inspiring children as young as primary school age to see themselves as going to university: We recently spoke to the Chair of Governors of a primary school in a deprived area who had invited past pupils with a university education to speak with the primary school students about their experiences and, as a result, saw an increase in the pupils primary school attendance. However, the value of having relatable role models does not stop there. We know from experience that when an organisations has diverse senior leadership, the overall staff body is likely to be more diverse, as are the candidates applying and accepting new roles – so why would this be any different for University applications? They will be looking for role models at the highest levels, including academic and senior staff.

Speaking to The Guardian, David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham and a former higher education minister, said: “Universities talk about widening participation and fair access but the complete lack of diversity in senior positions sends out an absolutely dreadful message to young people from ethnic minorities who find themselves wondering whether university is for them or not.”

And it’s not just about doing the right thing. As a result of higher tuition fees, increased competition and Brexit threatening international student numbers, universities need to work harder than ever to sell themselves. School leavers who are researching prospective degree courses will expect to see people who look like them on the university website and welcoming them at open days. Increasing employee and student ethno-cultural diversity will help to appeal to a broader student community.

Meanwhile, the audience that universities are marketing to has changed, and having cognitive diversity among the senior leadership is vital if the institution is going to stay relevant and appealing to Generation Z. Seeing these statistics make you question what is going on in recruitment decisions. Every university needs to ask itself how, at every level, is diversity encouraged?

Changing the Conversation

For any organisation, the first step to increasing diversity is always having the conversation, and in the search process this needs to be done from the out-set. A best practice example from one of our charity sector clients, is Citizens Advice. They are actively trying to increase applications from disabled and BAME candidates in order to better represent their community, stating under job opportunities on their website, “we particularly welcome applications from disabled and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates as disabled people are currently under-represented throughout Citizens Advice, and BAME people are currently under-represented in senior management positions.”

Addressing this conversation from the outset enables recruiters to analyse the experience and skills needed for the role and identify ways to broaden the candidate pool, maintaining relevance but removing barriers that may be hindering diverse candidates from applying. Are there blockers in the appointments system?  For example, if Universities are hiring for a senior position, is it a pre-requisite to have served so many years in a university academic role? Based on the HESA figures, we already know ethnic minorities are underrepresented in university academic roles and therefore the prerequisite can only yield a candidate pool that lacks diversity. The question needs to be asked, how can we open the criteria to get relevant experience from a broader pool of talent? What other skills and sector experience is transferrable?

Opening the pre requisite criteria for a job role shouldn’t just be about meeting a quota. By diversifying the career paths of the leadership team you are also protecting your organisation from the risk of “group think,” gaining differing perspectives and altering the conversation. When examining client’s previous hiring processes, we often find that unintentional blockers to cognitive diversity lie within the selection process. For example, if the selection panel chooses to interview only those with very standard career paths, the chances are mothers who have taken career breaks won’t be included and if graduates from elite universities are prioritised, then a cycle of privilege is likely to be perpetuated.

With this in mind, another consideration is the timing of placements and the leadership pipeline. Making a few diverse placements that meet a quota and make the investors/consumers happy is not enough. When these individuals move on, who will be replacing them? Have internal processes been put in place to ensure the diverse hiring cycle continues?

Maintaining Momentum

At Green Park, we partner with organisations through our social enterprise, Diversity Recruitment Institute of Value and Excellence (DRIVE), to understand what current equality programs are actually delivering sustained behavioural and statistically validated change. We also identify what missing factors are currently holding back corporate efforts to increase diversity and inclusion and how best to implement this new knowledge into an organisations culture which powers tomorrow’s operating models.

Our latest piece of research from DRIVE, dovetailed recent research conducted by Business in the Community and The Parker Review which shone a new spotlight on the business-critical issue of ethnic minorities in the workforce. Having spoken to the DRIVE network (67 associate companies), and our BAME Board Network (650 associates) one of the report’s recommendations was to create a talent map and pipeline, tasking recruiters with creating programmes that engage and progress talent, reporting regularly to senior stakeholders to ensure representation is proportionally maintained. One of the ways this can be achieved is through driving more accountability.

A spokesman for the Department for Education, speaking to The Guardian, said “universities are independent of government and “entirely responsible” for the recruitment and promotion of their own staff.” They also stated that, “under the Equality Act 2010, universities have a duty to ensure equal opportunities for those who may be discriminated against or under-represented.”

According to the DRIVE report, Changing the Face of Tomorrow’s Leaders, 78% of people surveyed said their organisations have no accountable targets for minority ethnic leadership representation. It is therefore likely that, while universities may have a duty to operate under the Equality Act 2010, a lack of accountability attributed to the departments or individuals responsible for hiring means diversity initiatives are not being sufficiently monitored or investigated when they fail to yield results.

The Domino Effect

The figures from the HESA are a shocking reminder of the work that needs to be done, particularly in the public sector, to ensure that senior leadership teams are representative of their communities. Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said: “We recognise that there is a serious issue with the lack of black representation among senior staff in universities. The evidence is clear that black and minority ethnic staff continue to be underrepresented at senior levels in higher education. We need to acknowledge and nurture the talent of our BME academics, and encourage those who have left to return.”

While increasing diversity at senior level should be high on the agenda of all organisations, its importance is particularly significant in the education sector which is so uniquely placed to influence and support the ambitions, careers and futures of young people who, ultimately, will become the leadership pipeline of the future. Disappointingly, these damaging patterns are increasing evident in people focused sectors that should be leading the way. Instead, all too often, the domino effect is decreasing the talent pool rather than expanding it.

It is disappointing but not a shock to learn that the charity sector is also perpetuating the same pattern. In the same week that HESA released their 2015/16 staff record, Stonewall released their LGBT Top 100 Employers list, containing only four charities, and ACEVO’s annual pay survey listed just 3% of surveyed senior leaders as BAME.

Education and charity institutions are key in securing their beneficiaries a better future with increased opportunities, however, their relevance in society is also reliant on it. Such low representation of the communities they serve among their senior ranks, threatens the organisations ability to perform effectively, which reduces the skills potential of their beneficiaries and, therefore, the universal talent pipeline.

Society is continuing to diversify and, with the increase of geographical and social mobility, the speed at which it will continue is only going to intensify. In order to give our organisations, and our society, the best chance of success both today and tomorrow, we must make sure we effect change today – at all levels.  This means developing and maintaining a pipeline of tomorrow’s leaders and diversifying the pool of candidates for positions we are hiring for now.

It is encouraging that more people are talking about this subject but this cannot just be talk. If we want to ensure a positive, progressive future – what we need is action.

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