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28 Oct | Diversity & Inclusion

Academics come from Mars

Metaphorically speaking, practitioners and researchers are often planets apart – like Venus and Mars. In the way they think, the way they challenge, their approach, their vision, their solution. Undoubtedly there is some common ground – usually misunderstanding, suspicion, a desire to keep at a distance, a lack of engagement with each other’s realities. If only these misunderstandings were resolved, and suspicions laid to rest, it would become abundantly clear how invaluable, how insightful, how disruptive, how transformative, practitioner–researcher collaborations will become

working together - differently

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), historically, has been bedded firmly within HR. As people-focused experts − even if not EDI practitioners per se – HR undoubtedly has a fundamental role to play. But the traditional approach to EDI – the mandatory training (not forgetting unconscious bias), the awareness-raising events, the initiatives that have been cut-and-pasted from other organisations − is no longer enough. Over 30 years of significant investment in ‘traditional EDI’ has failed to create a fully diverse workforce. Enough.

Over recent decades, the EDI drivers in the UK have defined our landscape, and essentially taken EDI out of organisational hands. Athena SWAN has pushed gender equality, to the detriment of other under-represented groups; the misguided alignment of Athena SWAN attainment with core institutional / research funding has succeeded in pushing the whole process far away from the underpinning principles; add in the Race Equality Charter – another EDI silo − and institutions are moved even further away from the holistic approach that is so imperative.  

Today, the Black Lives Matter movement and, to some extent, the Covid-19 pandemic, has brought the importance of EDI into much sharper focus. No longer can ‘EDI’ be considered a synonym for ‘gender equality’. No longer can other protected characteristics be neglected, nor considered less important. No longer can we fail to recognise the importance of intersectionality – gender equality and race equality are not mutually exclusive. Identities are multi-dimensional.

There is now a much broader understanding of the need for transformational and progressive EDI. Progressive organisations are beginning to ask questions, to seek solutions, to look for evidence of change, for impact. Now is the time for Venus to meet Mars.

HR teams have a crucial role to play in ensuring that EDI strategies are adopted and implemented. But transformational and progressive EDI comes through research. To answer the questions, to find the solutions, to establish the evidence and the impact, there needs to be effective practitioner−researcher collaboration. It is disruptive thinking that will change the EDI landscape and influence the EDI agendas of the future. It is only through partnership that we will succeed.

Prof Belinda Colston, Director of the Eleanor Glanville Centre

Programme Director, EPSRC ASPIRE