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Advance HE is committed to creating an anti-racist culture

25 May 2021 | Advance HE A message from our Chief Executive Alison Johns about our journey to creating an anti-racist culture.

On the anniversary of the tragic murder of George Floyd and the following Black Lives Matter movement that rippled across the world, I feel it is important to reflect on the racial injustices that continue to pervade our society and within Advance HE. We are committed to tackling racial inequalities, both within Advance HE and supporting our members to do so in the sector more broadly. This is what we have been doing over the last year to make sure we address racial inequalities within Advance HE.

We, at Advance HE are committed to creating an anti-racist culture. Co-creating this with our colleagues, we want Advance HE to be a place where staff from all backgrounds feel they belong, and can actively and safely report concerns and call out racism when they see and hear it.

We have a long history of working in race equality in the higher education and research sector. From our evidence, knowledge and insights, and through the operation, development and implementation of the Race Equality Charter (REC), we approach our race equality work from the position that structural and institutional racism do exist. We also recognise that like the rest of the sector we are not immune from structural racism.

Since Advance HE formed, we have embedded equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in our governance structures through the EDI Committee as one of our statutory committees of our Board. In 2020, we committed to implementing the REC process internally, using the robustness of the REC framework to inform the changes we need to make to becoming anti-racist. I have committed that we will ‘lead by deeds, not just words’ in one of my conversations with Lord Simon Woolley.

We understand the urgency to drive forward change internally. The murder of George Floyd, spurred us on to be reflective and have honest conversations about race and to take action. We engaged staff through interviews and focus groups to better understand the lived experiences of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic colleagues. We have also begun interrogating our own quantitative data. From this evidence and learning, we better understand the significant issues to address, which we are now acting on.

Simultaneously, we recognised the need for all colleagues to have the capacity and awareness to engage in critical conversations about race. We have invested and delivered organisation-wide race awareness training for all colleagues with additional specific sessions tailored for the Chief Executive’s Group and the Senior Management Group. We have also created a new post and budget to support this work.

Through these sessions, colleagues made recommendations on what and how we can change going forward. These recommendations and the findings from our analyses now form part of the basis of the action plan as part of implementing the REC process internally.

To accelerate our work, in November, I convened a nascent Chief Executive Officer’s Race Action Group whose responsibility is to develop and implement changes to progress race equality at Advance HE. The membership of the group expanded in March 2021 to become our self-assessment team, as aligned to the REC process. The membership of this group is drawn from across the entire organisation, has diverse ethnic representation, and shares the common goal of critically examining ourselves in order to develop meaningful actions to progress race equality at Advance HE.

What we are doing?

Having been on this journey so far as an organisation, we are currently working on the below actions as our core priorities. Over the next six months we intend to commit to achieving the following actions:

  • publish an anti-racist statement and commitment, and associated action plan
  • work to fill the data gaps to continue to build a stronger evidence base to gain full oversight of the race equality landscape in Advance HE
  • continue to scrutinise our HR policies and processes to ensure they are fit for purpose
  • publish our staff ethnicity data, while ensuring anonymity
  • create safe spaces for discussion about race and racism, and continue two-way dialogue with colleagues
  • continue to report on progress to our EDI committee
  • complete and sign off our REC action plan.


At Advance HE, we recognise the critical role higher education, research and educational sectors play in helping society to become anti-racist. Our work recognises there is still much to be done, and more we need to do ourselves. We are sharing our journey to enable and encourage others in the sector to do the same, and will continue to communicate our progress with the sector which we serve to advance. We live by our values of being open and transparent about the ways in which we do this work, actively listening and sharing knowledge, and this is reflected in the recent launch of our strategy.

My hope is that we, as an organisation, can contribute to enabling the sector to become bolder and confident in tackling racism, and nurture a generative discussion to learn from each other as we embark on this journey to anti-racism.

Alison Johns, Chief Executive


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