Diversity is a beautiful thing: every single person has a different perspective due to their unique background as they are of a different race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and age to the next person. Without diversity, our world and lives would be dull. Diversity must be celebrated in all facets of life: at schools and universities, in the workplace, in media and television, in sport, and in the government. Unfortunately, racist and prejudicial beliefs dominate society and faculty at higher institutions, which tend to be overwhelmingly White, with the highest positions predominately filled by men.
In 2020, less than 1% of the professors employed at UK universities were Black and only a few universities employed more than two Black professors. On the other hand, 85% identified as White. Even more shockingly, only 25 Black women were employed as professors at UK universities and no Black staff were employed in the most senior levels of leadership roles in 2018-2019.
Does it make a difference if the faculty does not accurately represent the actual demographics of the population of the country? Absolutely.
Representation is necessary for a discipline to develop and strengthen. Early pioneers of evolutionary biology were men and almost all studies of primate behaviour were conducted by men who supported Darwin’s theories of evolutionary biology: men competed for access to passive females and the dominant male primate had access to or would be chosen by all the females. It was never considered that females played a more active role in mating. However, when female biologists such as Sarah Hardy conducted field studies, they found that female primates in fact did compete for rank and resources and sometimes solicited with multiple males at the same time. As Sarah Hardy wrote, “When a female lemur or bonobo dominated a male, or a female langur left her group to solicit strange males, a woman field worker might be more likely to follow, watch, and wonder than to dismiss such behavior as a fluke”. Living in a patriarchal society, the primatologists’ adopted selective memory, only paying attention or remembering observations that favoured their view of a patriarchal society, ignoring observations that challenged it. However, through diversity and representation, a century of scientific assumptions was undermined, eroding the bias and developing the discipline.
Olivette Otele was appointed as history professor at Bath Spa University as the UK’s first Black professor of history as she had to overcome the belief that Black people cannot study colonialism without bias. Otele said she has faced people’s opinion that “as a black person… [she]… would be too partial to look at evidence”. While a Black historian may be tempted to only use facts that present their viewpoint, the truth is that there is some bias present in every historian’s work, regardless of background. Lack of representation will simply favour only the biased viewpoint of represented groups. This jeopardises the development of the discipline, as students who represent the future of the discipline are taught the same perspective and will then be wired to analysing the knowledge in the same way.
Beyond the quality of research produced and bias in teaching, diversity is necessary for creating a more inclusive culture that caters to students of all backgrounds. Low levels of diversity have an impact on BAME students’ sense of belonging within the institution and their perceptions on the possibility of pursuing an academic career . It is important for students to have mentors they can look up to and ask for advice, and it can be more beneficial if the mentor is of a similar background as they can understand struggles better. Without mentors and staff from similar backgrounds, students can be reluctant to ask for help and gain support.
Academia prides itself on its creativity and constant innovation but without diverse individuals, this creativity and innovation is hindered.
Something similar to The Rooney Rule — a rule regulating hiring practices established in the NFL — could be implemented. The rule mandates that at least one minority candidate must be interviewed for all head coaching spots, allowing more diverse candidates to be interviewed and therefore potentially hired. Additionally, organisations should require employees to take mandatory workshops and training to eradicate bias and racist attitudes.
JAN Trust offers award winning workshops that can help make the workplace friendlier and more inclusive. We also deliver workshops covering CV writing, interview techniques, confidence building, amongst other things, for minority ethnic individuals. If you are interested in any of our work, please contact us through our website or at [email protected].