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Improving Board diversity and inclusion

21 Oct 2021 | Advance HE A new Board Diversity Practice Project toolkit will be launched on 2 November at our ‘Leading HE board diversity and inclusion: Roles, priorities and practice’ event. Victoria Holbrook Assistant Director, Governance, sets the scene.

Advance HE is delighted to be launching the Board Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit, the first of its kind for higher education, to assist its members to improve the diversity and inclusivity of their governing bodies.

We know this is a topic which many are keen to address, as they should, to ensure that the governance and strategy of institutions is informed by the richness of talent and lived experiences that exist in modern society, not least our staff and students, and at a time when higher education continues to grapple with the ongoing implications of Covid-19, Brexit and ever-changing policy. As a result, this project was funded through our membership Collaborative Development Fund and in partnership with Perrett Laver. We were delighted to appoint University of Gloucestershire as the project team.

We will only see improved board diversity if those responsible use their power and creativity to deliver change, drawing on the evidence and the support available including this toolkit. So who is responsible? It is undoubtedly a shared endeavour. Governance professionals, Chairs, governors and Executive leaders must all play their parts.

At our toolkit launch on 2 November, a panel will consider this very question. We hope that you will join us.

Victoria Holbrook, Advance HE Assistant Director, Governance, said, "Advance HE has long supported higher education’s efforts to improve board diversity, producing the sector’s frameworks in 2017-18 and publishing in 2020 the first full report drawing on HESA data about the makeup of governing bodies. However, our members told us that what they need is more practical tools and insights to help them deliver on this agenda in their various contexts. It is quite simply true that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to addressing the issue. And it is also true that we cannot achieve successful board diversity without addressing what makes a governance culture and operation truly inclusive. We hope that this toolkit goes some way to helping you think through practically how to achieve board diversity and inclusion, to secure the best possible chance of an effective strategy for your institution. We invite you to explore it thoroughly, and to provide feedback."

Dr Adeela ahmed Shafi MBE, Associate Professor in Education, University of Gloucestershire, said, “The team at the University of Gloucestershire is delighted to be able to bring you this Toolkit in partnership Advance HE and Perrett Laver. Using this guidance, informed by new data, we hope that you will be able to make important and meaningful adaptions to your Boards. The Toolkit is designed with you mind as a Secretary, Chair of Governors or Governance & Nominations Committee member but is suitable for anyone who is interested in tacking under-representation and aiming for inclusion at Board level in the higher education sector. We hope the Toolkit will be at the heart of your strategy for diversifying your Board membership and we look forward to your feedback.”

Lucy Simpson, Head of the Board Practice, Perrett Laver, said, “Enhancing the diversity of Higher Education Boards is an incredibly important issue for the sector. Perrett Laver are excited to have collaborated with Advance HE and UoG to develop this new toolkit, which we hope will be one solution to making progress on this crucial issue.”

Advance HE’s report into the Diversity of Governors in HE in 2020 showed that:

  • Just 41.9% of governing board members were women, compared to 54.6% of staff members overall
  • Around nine in ten governors were white (89.2%), 5.3% were Asian and 2.6% were Black
  • 5.4% HE governors were disabled.

Yet we heard consistently from our members that many struggle to understand the most impactful approach to creating lasting change and the practice that would be meaningful for them. We hope this toolkit – the first of its kind in HE – helps our member institutions to explore new ways of approaching the agenda and improve their success.

'Leading HE board diversity and inclusion: Roles, priorities and practice' is an Advance HE member benefit event and is free to attend for colleagues from  Advance HE member institutions with an interest in governance. 

Find out more and book your place.

Join us on 18 November for our 'Governance Conference 2021: Evolving Governance fit for our futures'

This one-day virtual conference will focus on the skills and attributes required for good governance of HEIs.


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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