Race awareness training advised for university interview panels

Unconscious bias training for those on promotion and recruitment panels may help tackle deficit of senior BME staff, says Leadership Foundation study

August 26, 2016
Multicultural London workers
Source: Alamy

Unconscious bias training should be mandatory for all staff on university recruitment and promotion panels to help eliminate potentially racist hiring decisions, a review has said.

The radical proposal was put forward in a new Leadership Foundation for Higher Education study into the experiences of senior black and minority ethnic (BME) UK university staff, many of whom said that they had faced racism and prejudice in the workplace.

Based on interviews with 15 BME academics in leadership positions and a survey of 127 BME university leaders, the report found that several staff members believed unconscious bias was responsible for their failure to get promoted in the first instance.

“I didn't get [a promotion] because they didn’t want someone like me who is not white to be part of that senior elite,” said one Indian female academic quoted in the report, titled Black and Minority Ethnic Leaders: Support Networks and Strategies for Success in Higher Education. “I don’t represent what a professor looks like,” added the academic, saying, “If you are not white or male or middle class then it’s harder to get that promotion.”

A black female academic also interviewed explained how she had been “naive” when applying for promotion, saying that she “thought that [her] work would speak for itself, but that didn’t happen”.

She later concluded that her unsuccessful application was “not because of anything I have done maybe, but because of how people perceive black [people]”.

Another interviewee – a male academic of Pakistani origin – believed that senior managers “dislike strong ethnic minority males” who were liable to disrupt the “white, male-dominated culture in universities”.

As part of a seven-point plan to improve the career chances of BME staff, the report’s authors – Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Southampton, and Hazel Brown, senior lecturer at the University of Winchester’s Faculty of Business, Law and Sport – suggest that unconscious bias training offered by the Equality Challenge Unit, used by several universities, should be compulsory for interview panellists.

Higher education institutions should also guarantee BME staff an interview for promotion if all selection criteria are met, while interview panels themselves should include more BME staff, the report also recommends.

A formal requirement to ensure that BME staff are represented at managerial level, possibly via the use of a quota system, should also be introduced, it adds.

Many of the interviewees also spoke highly of mentoring schemes, both formal and informal, for BME staff, and BME staff networks, leading the report to recommend more support for these initiatives.

While most interviewees spoke highly of the Athena SWAN gender equality scheme, some felt that “gender has more attention than ethnicity” – with “internal politics” now focused on promoting more women to professorial level than wider equality issues.

To that end, the report suggests that institutions should give more training to BME staff in a “formal recognition of the [specific] issues faced by BME academics".

There was not universal support for unconscious bias training in the report. One interviewee quoted believed that such “education awareness training doesn't always help” as “people perceive it as being kind of interfering, political correctness”.


You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy

Participants enjoying bubble soccer

Critics call proposal for world-first professional recognition system ‘demented’