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EDI is the agenda

01 Sep 2021 | Sebastian Bromelow "By framing EDI work as simply part of the everyday it shifts the perspectives of leaders and project owners away from a dry list of tasks and towards a list of enablers and outcomes." Sebastian Bromelow, EDI Partner at Kingston University, argues that equality, diversity and inclusion is for everyone, not just those who need it.

There’s too much EDI stuff going on!

Raise your hand if you’ve heard that said by someone… *raises hand*. Whether it’s at work or even in one’s personal life, there seems to be the notion that diversity and inclusion work is an agenda unto itself that exists purely to woke-ify the world and gives us more to do and/or be worried about getting “wrong”. Partly, these opinions stem from those with particular political persuasions and/or who occupy positions of power having already benefitted from the very systems that are going to be changed through all this “EDI stuff”. However, this narrative is hard to change when we, within the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) world, seem to work so hard to separate this work from the mainstream. Be it the relentless professionalisation of D&I, the obsessive nature of charter marks (with one for each of its own group of people) or the determination to continue to find new ways to other ourselves from the ever-shifting notion of the “oppressive majority”.

Now some of the above is said perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, but it still stands that, for many, EDI work is seen as work separate to the core delivery of the sector, particularly if each protected characteristic is making its own demands one by one. But, the reality doesn’t need to be this endless list of additional asks, I’d argue that nearly everything the HE sector is seeking to change about itself is directly linked to D&I work. D&I work is not an agenda, it’s the agenda.

People, people, people

Often I am asked, “what does EDI mean” and I will reply that, “EDI work is any work that involves or impacts, directly or indirectly, people. It’s about people.” When viewed through that lens, suddenly the notion of EDI as a discreet package of work doesn’t make sense anymore, I mean what is a university if not its people? D&I is key to your student recruitment strategy, it’s core to your pedagogical design, it’s vital to your staff development, it’s foundational for your estates programmes and it’s every part of your upcoming five-year strategy. By framing EDI work as simply part of the everyday (#EDIeveryday if you will) it shifts the perspectives of leaders and project owners away from a dry list of tasks and towards a list of enablers and outcomes. HE ultimately wants high-performing staff and students, the only way that that can be achieved and sustained is if people feel as if they are included and belong in their learning and working environments. D&I methodologies and approaches enable this to be achieved for the widest possible group of people, meaning everyone’s a winner.

Align and conquer

One of the simple tasks to do is to align your various action plans coming from Athena Swan, Race Equality Charter (REC), Disability Confident, Stonewall etc. Without diminishing the importance of all of these, they are, for the most part, very similar in the areas they address. Rather than going to your staff recruitment team with a list of REC actions, then two months later the Stonewall ones you’ve just agreed, and then at some point also throw in some of the Disability Confident stuff, instead, align all the actions into a singular list which checks off the requirements of all the areas. This not only reduces the list itself, it enables a more inclusive and intersectional approach to naturally evolve and it can even be packaged up as “best/good practice” rather than, necessarily, something “EDI”, making it more digestible to those who may be sceptical of the D&I work.

Now, this not about shirking people’s responsibilities or creating a simple check-box exercise, that would be the very antithesis of what I’m trying to advocate for. However, those who live, breathe and “get” EDI need to remember that, for many, the “obvious” stuff actually isn’t so obvious. By packaging up and mainstreaming the work with/for others it becomes an enabler of sustainable and impactful outcomes, a useful tool, a core agenda, rather than the problematic EDI child in the corner saying, “but what about me?”

It's about us, not them

I’ve said in a few other blogs about the need to be aware of how we frame our staff and students, the general need to start talking about “us” rather than “them”. And that message does apply to everyone, not just those seen as in power. It’s not uncommon for EDI work in the round, and then specific strands of work underneath that, to focus on themselves (rightly so) but then forget about the need to bring the majority along on the journey with them or to appreciate where their work sits within a wider context. On the reverse, it’s not uncommon for work that should be central to a university ie accessibility, anti-racism etc. to be pushed on to “the community” to find its own solutions and direct the work. Neither of these approaches suit as they alienate people (in the first instance), or absolve responsibility (in the second). EDI work, if understood simply as “work”, should be everyone’s responsibility. Anti-racism work isn’t just “for Black staff and students” it’s something we should all be working to achieve. Accessibility doesn’t just benefit “those who need it”, everyone benefits from a learning and working environment that’s more accessible – plus what’s to say that you might not be one of “those who need it” in the future?

So, start talking about action plans, aims and outcomes – drop the need to place “EDI” into every title or strategy, break it out of its own special box. This work is about our people and it’s the agenda that will foster a higher education system that will continue to be world-leading, we just need to make sure that everyone knows about it and is engaged in it.

Sebastian has been working within education for the past 10 years across Widening Participation/Outreach, Schools and FE, Students’ Unions and University EDI and has been recognised multiple times for his contributions to diversity and inclusion work. #EDIeveryday

Submit proposals for workshops and presentations for the Advance HE Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2022: Inclusive Institutions in Action. The call is open until 4 October and you can find out more here.

During 2021-22 we will be running a series of workshops focused on equality, diversity and inclusivity topics to support practitioners, managers and leaders within HE institutions across the UK. Find out more about our new, two-part Inclusive Learning and Teaching EDI Workshop Series here.


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