University College Dublin (UCD) has launched a Diversity Screen programme, asking staff to divulge personal information to track diversity progress.

The voluntary scheme asks staff members to report their gender, sexuality, date of birth, ethnicity, nationality, religion, civil status, family status and disability. The information is not mandatory to divulge, however, UCD is seeking to track their progress on implementing Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) goals.

UCD’s Vice President for EDI, Professor Colin Scott, hopes this will help the university “support colleagues from all backgrounds” and “enhance our inclusive culture”.

The data will also put the university one step closer to achieving a higher Athena SWAN equality award, which is key to receiving millions worth of research funding each year.

The new screening forms part of the university’s EDI action plan, which is “at the heart” of UCD’s strategy “to be a leader and role model in equality and diversity in the higher education sector nationally and internationally” by 2025. 

Mandatory Breakdowns

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) recently indicated it will be compulsory for higher education institutions to provide an annual breakdown of ethnic diversity amongst staff. According to TheJournal.ie, this information must be ready by December 2020. 

The university explained that the data will be anonymised, and aggregate statistics will be available as per data privacy legislation. The university also releases annual EDI reports, which this new information will supplement. As this information is not mandatory to provide, the accuracy of the statistics provided to the HEA will be limited to the relative uptake from staff. 

Removing Barriers

Professor Scott spoke to The College Tribune about the rollout of the university’s EDI targets, saying that progress on their strategy is “good”. 

Scott emphasised that both the University Management Team (UMT) and the Governing Authority (GA) have at least 40% men and women. He also announced that “plans to change the composition of Academic Council to achieve this goal will come before Academic Council later this month.”

Speaking about the data collection effort, Scott explained: “The main rationale for collecting better diversity data with respect to employees is to better understand the extent to which barriers to equality impact on such matters as recruitment and promotion for the groups protected by equality legislation and to evaluate the impact of EDI policies on removing those barriers.”

Since developing its EDI strategy back in 2018, UCD boasts a swift implementation across the institution, indicating a strong likelihood of meeting its targets by 2025. 

A review of the university’s Dignity and Respect Policy is also undergoing consultation with stakeholders across campus. This follows a media storm after Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin revealed she was repeatedly harassed by a former professor over a two-year period.

In Pursuit of Key Funding

The Athena SWAN Charter grants awards to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in recognition of commitment to gender equality. To achieve the entry-level Bronze accreditation, an institution or department must self-assess gender challenges within the university and present a four-year action plan. Silver and Gold levels are awarded for demonstrating the impact of gender equality activities. To present such information, UCD will need to continue to implement schemes such as this, as well as setting their sights on higher awards.

Currently in UCD, six Schools and one College have been awarded Bronze awards from Athena, with the university also ranking Bronze. 

14 higher education institutions and 42 departments have received Athena Bronze awards since 2015, with 15 new awards announced this year. The HEA funds the scheme in Ireland, although no Irish institution has yet gained awards higher than Bronze from the AdvanceHE in the UK who run the award programme. 

Grant awarding agencies Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Irish Research Council (IRC) and the Health Research Board (HRB) now require Athena SWAN gender accreditation to receive funding. The combined annual budget for the three agencies is about €230 million, and with underfunded universities competing for grants – every penny counts.

By 2023, institutions will be required to hold at least Athena Silver awards to receive funding from these agencies, meaning UCD’s EDI strategy is worth much more than just gender equality and diversity. 

When asked if the university is collecting this data in part to satisfy conditions for such an award, Professor Scott said: the information will “enhance the ability of the University to move towards Silver Athena Swan recognition.”

“I Would Prefer Equity”

Professor Mary Gallagher, who lectures in French and Francophone Studies, is highly critical of the university’s EDI strategy. She worries about four areas in relation to the diversity collection at UCD:

“1. I would prefer to see UCD adopt a policy of equity rather than equality. Equality, like diversity, is an arithmetical concept, whereas equity is a moral concept of justice and evaluation, requiring reflection and judgement. It transcends data analytics.

“2. There isn’t much point in ‘including’ people with the ‘right’ diversity credentials only to bully, ignore, humiliate, demoralize, marginalize, and exclude them when it becomes expedient to do so, which is usually once their EDI value has been cashed in. I have seen this happen again and again to UCD employees and I see absolutely no sign of it stopping any time soon.

“3. How are people of ‘mixed’ or ‘multiple’ ethnic origin(s) and nationality/ies going to be ‘counted’. 

“4. For an organization that purports to be pursuing an inclusion strategy, it is remarkable that the words ‘exclusion’ and ‘excluded’ are such frequently recurring ‘keywords’ in the documentation outlining (or exposing, rather) our official academic recruitment and promotion policy.”

Conor Capplis – Senior Reporter

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