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HE must respond creatively to the current interest in inclusion to make lasting change

15 Sep 2021 | Clare Pavitt As we invite the sector to submit proposals for the 2022 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Conference, Advance HE’s Senior Adviser, EDI, Clare Pavitt shares her thoughts on why partnerships and collaboration are key to making progress towards social justice.

Genuine inclusion

Increased diversity of students and, albeit at a slower pace, staff is a reality for many higher education institutions. While an increased representation of hitherto marginalised groups certainly does not mean that we have addressed inequality – as differential experiences between those groups and the majority continue to demonstrate - the growth in numbers does mean that the conversation is shifting.

Under-representation continues to be an issue that requires attention in certain areas and at senior levels, but increasingly institutions are focusing on the quality of the experience for their students and staff. What does genuine inclusion look like? How big is the gap between that ambition and where institutions are currently? And, crucially, what can they do to close it?

EDI Conference 2022 Call for Proposals

We are now inviting proposals for the 2022 EDI Conference from individuals or teams from across an institution or multiple institutions as well as from students, student unions or other student bodies/groups. Find out more here.

Challenging institutions

Events over the past two years across the world have provided stark evidence of the exclusion and disadvantage experienced by marginalised communities, both in HE and in society as a whole. Covid-19 has reinforced these inequalities. The energy of activist movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo in response to racial and sexual violence has drawn widespread attention to lived experiences of racism and sexism. Issues of fairness and social justice are influencing the choices that we make as service users and consumers, reflected in the increasing interest in EDI in the private sector. In our own sector, students and staff are challenging institutions to demonstrate a commitment to addressing inequality that goes beyond good intentions and is evident, active and accountable.  

In the 30+ years that I have been working in the field of equality, diversity and inclusion, I cannot remember a time when the topic has been so visibly on the agenda. This attention presents an invaluable opportunity for us to make inclusion a reality, rather than a good intention.

Urgency and innovation

In my position as Principal Adviser, EDI, I am privileged to see the energy and creativity with which some institutions are addressing this challenge. Common themes that unite this work include:

  • An interrogation of inclusion – a shift from welcoming people into existing structures and culture to creating new structures and culture together
  • A centring of the voices and lived experiences of marginalised groups
  • An understanding that EDI literacy and skills are essential requirements for leaders which must be developed, supported, valued and evaluated
  • A commitment to collaboration, co-creation and partnerships that challenge traditional ways of working
  • Learning from diverse scholarship, challenging the predominance of majority voices, seeking out counter-narratives
  • An intersectional approach that challenges silos, recognises multiplicities of disadvantage and navigates complexity.

Amongst these institutions there is a recognition that we need to be urgent and innovative in our responses to the disadvantage and exclusion that marginalised people within the HE community continue to experience. There is a willingness to try out new ideas, to bring people into the conversation who have traditionally been kept out and sometimes hand the conversation over to those groups, along with the power and resources to make change happen. Activist energy has galvanised activity - many institutions have made public commitments to action and are acutely aware of the responsibility that brings. There is a hunger to learn about the new approaches others are taking, what is successful and learning from what hasn’t gone well.

Inclusive Institutions in Action

This year the Advance HE EDI Conference aims to make a significant contribution to feeding that hunger. Our theme is ‘Inclusive Institutions in Action’ and we want to bring together the innovative ideas, practices, strategies and approaches that are creating institutions that are accessible, respectful and welcoming to everyone. It is an opportunity to share to what is working and why it is working, and to learn about the essential ingredients that make change stick.

We would like to hear about the partnerships and collaborations that are bringing people together in ways that challenge traditional structures and hierarchies, about initiatives that are redistributing power, and about students and staff working together to create inclusive learning. Pioneering approaches to developing inclusive leadership, toolkits and resources that embed EDI in strategy, policy and practice, courageous processes for conflict resolution and dealing with tensions that threaten good relations between groups – let’s share our insights and celebrate our creativity.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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