Manchester is 'too white and male' at top, but it's not institutionally racist

Report urges measures to boost roles of ethnic minorities and women, writes Melanie Newman

August 14, 2008

The University of Manchester has failed to effectively address equality problems faced by its black and other ethnic minority staff, according to an internal report on equal opportunities.

The Race in Leadership report, the result of a two-year internal analysis of diversity issues at Manchester, concludes that minority staff are significantly under-represented in senior jobs. Many see the university as a "predominantly white, male and middle-aged institution " that operates an "old boys' network".

Aneez Esmail, author of the report and vice-president (equality and diversity) at Manchester, found evidence of discriminatory appointment processes, including the undervaluing of overseas qualifications and the use of untrained minority staff as "tokens" on job interview panels.

He recommends a range of measures to boost minority staff and women, but stops short of positive discrimination. The measures include "the controversial policy of requiring diverse slates and then appointing qualified women and minorities whenever possible", he said. "This involves some level of risk, including the potential of a backlash from white males."

Professor Esmail told Times Higher Education his recommendations had gone "as far as possible" towards positive discrimination.

"Positive discrimination is not allowed and is difficult to justify; the impression is that people who are not up to scratch are appointed to meet a quota," he said. "I want more scrutiny of shortlists. If the candidates are all white men, I will want to know why: are you really telling me there are no women or ethnic minorities in the entire world who can do this job? I don't accept the argument that people aren't applying. The search hasn't been done effectively."

The report found that almost half of Manchester's academic staff are women and 11 per cent are black or ethnic minorities - which is representative of the general population - but both groups are under-represented in senior grades.

Only 17 per cent of professors are women and 7 per cent (45 out of 600) are black or from ethnic minorities. "This may seem surprising in an institution that projects itself as a global institution," Professor Esmail said.

He noted the efforts to improve, including the "significant recruitment of black and ethnic minority staff and women into senior positions in all areas of the university", and he praised the university for prioritising diversity in its review of undergraduate education.

But he concluded that Manchester had "failed at an institutional level to effectively address the issues of equality faced by many black and ethnic minority staff".

While some staff had accused the university of being "institutionally racist", the professor concluded that it was not according to the definition given by the Macpherson report into the Metropolitan Police's handling of the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

"There are no similarities between the Metropolitan Police and the university, and the culture of institutional racism that Macpherson identified in that police force pervaded all levels of the organisation," he said.

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