How City, University of London is working to understand and address racial inequality

A message from Professor Zoe Radnor, Vice-President Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Like the rest of the City community, I have been shocked and saddened by recent events and I stand with our Black students, staff, alumni and community.

The last couple of months have prompted a great deal of difficult but much needed self-reflection for many of us, both individually and as a University. The killing of George Floyd which sparked protests around the world and the disproportionate impact Covid-19 is having on members of the BAME community has highlighted the broad racial inequalities that exist.

At City, we have confronted the historic links of our Business School’s previous namesake to the trade of enslaved people. Staff and students have told us about their own experiences of racism and racial inequality in today’s world and recently, one of our Black colleagues was unfairly stopped by the police while on a charity bike ride with his son. We know we cannot be complacent about racism in our society and the experiences of members of our City community have brought this into sharp focus.

There has never been a more important time to talk about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and to take action to ensure that City, University of London is a truly inclusive place to work and study.

We recently launched City’s new EDI strategy, developed through consultation with staff and students, which sets out our vision to provide an environment and culture that is truly inclusive, where staff and students have a sense of belonging; feel valued for who they are; and are supported to be the best they can be.

We know there is a lot of work we need to do to challenge injustices and remove barriers. As Executive lead for EDI at City, University of London, I want to share some of the very important work we are already doing to fight racism, address inequalities and advance race equality.

Our commitment to the Race Equality Charter

We are pledging our commitment to the Race Equality Charter's (REC) aim to improve representation, progression and success of minority ethnic staff and students within higher education by applying for the REC Bronze Award in February 2022.

Work on the application is being led by the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team (RECSAT). I am the Executive Sponsor and it is co-chaired by colleagues from the School of Arts and Social Science (SASS) and the Students’ Union, with representatives from across the University. RECSAT has set up five sub-groups, which work closely with ongoing projects across the institution - in particular with Student and Academic Services on their essential work to address the Degree Awarding Gap.

To understand how people feel about race and how we can improve race equality at City, we have launched a REC survey for students, which ran last year, and for staff, which will run this month.

Since we began our REC journey in the summer of 2019 we have had brilliant engagement from colleagues and students at City and initiated several race equality initiatives, including our Reciprocal Mentoring Scheme which pairs up a BAME colleague with a member of the Executive Committee so they can inform and challenge each other on their experience as a BAME member of staff and senior leader.

Our dedicated Race Equality Charter Manager, Dr Kavita Powley, has set up a ‘Diversify Your Mind’ book club where colleagues read and discuss books about race and created a reading list for our students. Kavita successfully applied for the Advance HE Good Practice Grant award which will be used to create ‘Let us talk about Race’, an online toolkit of guidance on race equality and to set up a series of events highlighting stories from members of the BAME community in collaboration with London Metropolitan University.

Sharing information about ways to educate ourselves is key to anti-racism. Alongside the new Resources Hub, we have created dedicated intranet pages for our staff and students and are working closely with our Students’ Union who have developed further resources.

It is important for us to achieve the REC Bronze Award, but it needs to be so much more. REC provides a useful framework to self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers for BAME students and staff, to develop initiatives and solutions for action and we need to use this to bring about racial equality and positive changes. This is not just a tick-box exercise for us to complete – it’s about creating sustainable changes in the way we work and behave as a university.

University Executive Team: Tackling racial inequalities through action

Meaningful change needs to be championed and supported by senior leadership, whilst being driven and led by BAME students and staff and really listening to the views, input and advice of those who experience racial inequality and racism. I am working with my colleagues in the Executive Committee (ExCo) to tackle racial inequalities through action as a high priority.

In June, we launched a review into all of City’s historic sources of funding, chaired by a member of Council and including representatives from the BAME Staff Network, RECSAT and the EDI Committee. The Review panel has already contributed to the recent renaming of the Business School, and will provide further recommendations in August.

Listening, understanding and educating ourselves are essential parts of allyship and the foundations of creating real change. Alongside the staff and student surveys, we are also organising a townhall session to open up these conversations. We will be furthering that education through a series of panels and presentations and by setting up a ‘white anti-racism’ group for conversations about whiteness, privilege and allyship to better support our colleagues and students.

Implementing appropriate training is crucial to ensuring colleagues engage with these important topics and we are currently reviewing material for EDI, Active Bystander and Inclusive Leadership courses which are now mandatory for all Senior Leaders and Managers. We know there is still a long way to go, but this is an important start which allows conversations to be had and understanding to increase.

A statistic which has struck me in relation to this is that in the UK only 140 professors are Black[i]. To address this, we need to encourage and enable the Black community to enter academia and to help us on this journey, we are investigating the creation of PhD studentships to fund Black students.

At City, over 50% of our students are from a BAME background while 26% of City staff are[ii].  For our academic staff at City, that figure is just 17%[iii]. Our students need to see more equal representation and this is one the greatest challenges facing the sector.

As an Executive Team, we need to listen to the lived experiences and concerns of our BAME students and staff. We recognise that these experiences are often difficult to speak about, particularly if it concerns your place of work or study. I want to reassure all of our staff and students that we will listen to you, we will work to understand and we will support you.

All of this work is incredibly positive, but it is only the start. What is really important to me when driving this agenda is to be clear that it is only by working together that can we make a difference. I strongly encourage all members of the City community to get involved, make your voices heard and support colleagues across the institution as we deliver real, sustained and long-awaited much needed change.

Professor Zoe Radnor

Vice President (Strategy and Planning; Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

[i] HESA data, 2018/2019

[ii] City, University of London Staff and Student Equality Monitoring Report 2018-2019

[iii] City, University of London Staff and Student Equality Monitoring Report 2018-2019

Find out more about Professor Zoe Radnor here.