When in 2007 I was invited to become a member of the Council of the University of Exeter, the factor which influenced me most in deciding to accept the invitation was the evident commitment of the Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Steve Smith and the senior team to advancing equality and diversity throughout the University. Without commitment at the highest level within the Executive, I believe that Governing Bodies will struggle to comply with their obligation to promote equality and diversity throughout the institution.
The University of Exeter operates a dual assurance model of governance with a lay lead working with a member of the Executive to deliver assurance to Council. Equality and diversity is one of the dual assurance partnerships (I am the lay lead) which gives equality and diversity a prominence within the Executive and Council. This has been key in delivering equality objectives and is a very real demonstration of the commitment of the University.
Clearly there are significant legislative and regulatory requirements and Governing Bodies need to be assured of compliance with these as part of the management of risk but at Exeter our focus has been on going beyond compliance. A key aspect of this has been 'landing' the equality and diversity strategy to ensure that all staff and students understand that equality and diversity is about everyone taking individual responsibility for their behaviour and actions and giving them the tools to do so. Equality and diversity should not be something institutions 'do' but the way they do everything.
I would encourage all members of Governing Bodies to insist on sector specific equality and diversity training (including on unconscious bias which I believe is a significant limiter on most institutions' ability to bring about real change). I found the Governor Development Programme particularly helpful together with the excellent resources produced by the ECU.
Bettina Rigg, lay member of Council and dual assurance lay lead for HR and Equality and Diversity, University of Exeter.