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The University of Manchester: Systemic Change by Challenging Assumptions

Target Group
Academic staff
Early career staff
Professional and support staff
Initiative Theme
Career development
Targeted to BAME staff
Initiative institution
The University of Manchester
Application type
Race Equality Charter
Publication date

Institution and Department: The University of Manchester
Author: Fran Guratsky and Banji Adewumi


To address ethnic minority and intersectional underrepresentation at senior level at the University of Manchester, we have invested in and offered significant targeted careers support through leadership development schemes and opportunities. This has contributed to representational shifts in recent years.

About your organisation

The University of Manchester is one of the UK’s largest single-site universities with approximately 40,000 students and 12,000 staff. The University has three Faculties – Biology, Medicine and Health; Humanities; and Science and Engineering - and a large population of central Professional Services (PS) staff. Aligned with our core goal of social responsibility, we are committed to promoting equality and valuing diversity – we have been part of the Race Equality Charter since 2015 and received a Silver award in 2023, the second university and the first Russell group university to achieve this award. We have also been part of the Athena Swan Charter since 2008 and have achieved three Bronze awards and have recently received (Jan 2024) the Silver award following 2023 application). Currently, staff from an Ethnic Minority background, currently make up 23.5% academic staff, 15.9% PS staff, 24.5% postgraduate students and 35.1% UK domicile undergraduate students. See the Equality Information Report 2023.

Purpose of the initiative

There has been longstanding underrepresentation of Ethnic Minority and Female staff in senior positions, including on leadership committees. In 2017/18, Ethnic Minority representation on University-level leadership committees was 11%, and 41% for Females. By 2022/23, this increased to 13.3% and 55% respectively. One key factor is our ongoing investment in individuals and programmes to support diverse leadership development, including Stellar HE, Aurora, 100 Black Women Professors Now, Women into Leadership and Inclusive Advocacy.

Description of the initiative

To accelerate the diversity of senior pipelines, we invested in 36 Ethnic Minority staff to participate on the StellarHE Diversifying Leadership development programme since 2015. The programme focuses on applied learning, introducing participants to practical strategies and innovative tools they can implement immediately. 

Similarly, to address intersectional underrepresentation, particularly of Black women, at higher grades (we have one Black female professor), we partner with the Women in Higher Education Network (WHEN) on the 100 Black Women Professors Now (100BWPN) programme. Developed with input from University experts (REC and Athena Swan SAT Chairs), this innovative accelerator programme aims to address sector-wide underrepresentation of Black women professors through systemic change and commitment from managers and leaders, while participants benefit from career planning workshops, coaching, mentoring and sponsorship. We have funded 20 places to date (over three cohorts). 

We have long been involved with the Aurora Women’s Leadership development programme. 2020 evaluation highlighted a significant lack of ethnic minority females participating in our Manchester cohorts (9%). Taking an intersectional view, we addressed this through inclusive recruitment changes (open call, EDI statement, independent panel, clear criteria), resulting in 33% ethnic minority participants for last two years. 

To complement the offering of external schemes and while acknowledging systemic barriers for females and minorities navigating networks and accessing sponsorship (advocacy), we piloted an internal ‘Inclusive Advocacy’ programme (2021). 22 pairs of ethnic minority participants (PS Grade 5-7, 77% female) and senior advocates took part. In 2022, we expanded advocacy to 18 Research Staff from underrepresented groups (50% female, 70% ethnic minority), partnered with senior research leaders. All advocates received training to explore intersectional gender and race issues, privilege and bias.


Taking part in external development schemes for diverse and minoritised groups or developing internal initiatives demonstrates our commitment to individual development and progression. Impact evaluation shows the individual benefit as well as the long-term impact on diversifying our senior pipeline. Participation also signals our recognition of systemic challenges and barriers faced by minority colleagues, rather than schemes ‘fixing’ individuals. These contextual issues are also addressed through our participation, particularly through the programme design of 100 BWPN, meaning a much wider impact for our investment. The blend of internal and external programmes on offer reflects capacity considerations, the scale of demand and desired reach, and also offers participants choice of context and access to wider external networks.


To evaluate these schemes, we looked at internal participant data and compared role/grade at the time of their participation and now (2022/23) to monitor change/progression. Internal and/or external feedback is also gathered via surveys and/or focus groups, providing qualitative insights into impact. Progress monitoring is ongoing. 

Firstly, looking at individual success across schemes: 

  • Stellar HE - 26% Academics and Researchers (n=5) have since been promoted (four male, one female), two to Professor level, and 25% PS participants (n=3, two females, one male) are in higher roles including Grade 8. Manchester participants have reported that “Stellar has allowed me to be more my authentic self” and another praised the programme as “life-changing”. 
  • · 100 BWPN – from the first two cohorts (n=14 (nine academic and research staff, five PhD students), two academics have been promoted, one from Lecturer to Reader. 
  • Inclusive Advocacy - one year after finishing the pilot programme, 27% (n=6) participants were in a role one grade higher (regrade, secondment, new role). Participants reported improved self-confidence and that advocates provided encouragement, feedback, strategic insight and networks. Early evaluation of the researcher scheme shows positive impact, including new collaborations, understanding of career pathways and increased awareness/access to internal and external research funding. One Ethnic Minority, Female participant shared: “I have been successfully promoted to research fellow with the help of this career development programme. Also, I have developed research proposals for future fellowship applications”. 

Institutional impact of the initiative is reflected in increased representation of ethnic minority colleagues at senior levels. For example, the proportion of BAME Professors has increased from 8.8% (n=74) in 2017 to 11.2% (n=99) in 2022. We also see the impact in changes to our senior leadership committee profile. In 2017/18, minority representation on University-level leadership committees was 11%. By 2022/23, this increased to 13.3%. We also know that programme alumni have taken up Faculty and School leadership roles, diversifying leadership groups at other levels of the organisation.

Key barriers and facilitators

  1. Capacity for internal schemes versus funding for external schemes – developing and delivering such programmes internally is highly effective as they are routed in our institutional context and structures, but this requires significant expert staff resource to ensure an effective programme is offered. The solution to this is ‘outsourcing’ and offering funded places on external schemes, but this comes at a much higher cost with places limited by cost or the capacity of the external organisation. We have found a blended approach of internal and external schemes provides balance between cost and capacity; choice for participants, some who will prefer to work within an internal context and others who would prefer to engage with external networks; and also offers more varied and targeted options (for example, 100 BWPN). 
  2. Due to underrepresentation and the scale of the University, we may not always reach the diverse staff groups who are eligible for such schemes to highlight the opportunities to them. For example, we see greater diversity within the Directorate of Estates and Facilities but a significant proportion of these staff do not work in roles with computer access, so may miss information about the opportunities. To overcome this, we increasingly promote these schemes through varied channels including news articles, newsletters, meetings, staff networks, EDI structures etc. 
  3. While improving, the current limited pipeline of eligible minority colleagues and senior enough levels to take part in these schemes presents a challenge for uptake. For example, participation on the academic and researcher strands of 100 BWPN is low, reflecting the institutional and sector-wide picture. However, our participation and improved inclusive recruitment processes will (hopefully) increase the pool in the coming years.

The future?

Faculty and University-level funding and buy-in mean we continue to invest in and evaluate the impact of these schemes on career trajectory and pipeline development, providing wrap-around support for participants to maximise benefit and opportunities, including networks, visibility with leaders and leadership projects to develop skills and experience within our internal context. We have embedded our continued participation and wraparound support into REC and Athena Swan action plans to enable continuation and will continue to bring cohorts together to facilitate internal networks and increase sense of belonging for those from minoritised groups. 

We are also exploring similar development schemes for Disabled and LGBT staff and will continue to take an intersectional approach to recruitment and selection for these programmes.

Advice for other members

Don’t see this as ‘training’ for individuals. You should 

  1. recognise that the context and ‘system’ that minoritised individuals are working in needs ‘fixing’, not the individual
  2. consider contextual opportunities and support for the individuals so they can implement their learning and develop within their local context to increase the impact and relevance of the programme on their day-to-day working life and environment.

Web Links: 

Advance HE shares a range of practice and approaches to charters awards. Case studies/example applications illustrate one approach to race/gender equality work but there are a variety of successful approaches and we recommend charter members consider their local evidence-base and context when deciding how to advance equality in their setting.