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Tuesday 2nd, Feb 2021 (Published on Tuesday 2nd, Feb 2021)

Ways UK Universities Can Recruit More BAME Staff Into Academic and Non-academic Roles

Practical steps for the Higher Education sector in recruiting more BAME candidates into academic and non-academic roles.

Ways UK Universities Can Recruit More BAME Staff Into Academic and Non-academic Roles

Black colleagues in a meeting room having a conversation.

In 2010 the UK government established the Equality Act, the Act compels employers to take positive action to support individuals from under-represented groups, in order to help align them in a more vantage position when competing for jobs or applying for developmental programs and trainings. Among the people covered by the Act are Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), who made up about 13.8% of UK population according to a 2018 statistics.

However, implementation of positive action which is intended to promote and enhance the opportunities that minority groups have within the society, and to grant them a measurable level of equality with the majority population, is not half as satisfactory as it should be.

One major area where underrepresentation of BAME is as glaring as daylight is in the workforce of UK universities. The percentage of non-white staff, both academic and non-academic, represented in educational institutions within the United Kingdom is insignificant compared to the white majority.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), although UK universities steadily employ a good number of new staff into their academic and non-academic workforce, only a few of them are from ethnic minorities.

Data obtained from the Agency showed that of over 21,500 professors among the academic staff, about 18,000 of them were white, constituting about 85% of academic staff at professorial level in the higher education sector. The remaining 15% consisted of only 140 black, 1,360 Asian, and more than 2,000 from other minor ethnic backgrounds.

Christopher J. Skidmore, the former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, appalled at the imbalance had condemned the inability of the university authorities to recruit more academics from black and minority ethnic groups. More so for their failure to promote black staff as figures had shown that the number of black academics employed at the most senior levels had dwindled from an estimated five in 2017/2018 down to zero in less than a year.

Likewise, the narrative is not too different within the non-academic staff. Figures published by HESA in 2018/2019 revealed that among the 535 staff employed at the most senior levels across British universities, 475 were identified as white, 25 as Asian or other ethnicity, and none as black. The rest were of unidentified ethnicity. For non-academic managerial roles, out of 11,860 staff 10,510 were white, with only 760 identified as belonging to BAME.

The figures above clearly indicate the gross under-representation and inequality in the recruitment and promotion of BAME staff in UK universities. The reasons for this can be traced back to a couple of factors which mostly stem from social exclusivity, colonialism and imperialism paramount in British universities. Most world-class institutions pride themselves on social and economic elitism. Therefore, tenacity to traditional tenets and rigidly held historic values are holding down the struggle for ethnic diversity in university staffing.

Many other universities are making efforts to diversify and decolonize the population of both staff and students. However, the efforts are not really yielding significant results as the percentage of BAME staff is still low. It is important to note that being open to recruiting non-white staff isn't just enough, for tangible success to be recorded in this aspect university authorities must be deliberate in drawing up strategies to achieve the ethnic diversity agenda in their staffing.

This article discusses ways universities can creatively and strategically recruit more BAME staff into both academic and non-academic roles in the UK.

Strategies to Recruiting More BAME Staff Into Academic and Non-academic Roles

1. Understand the relevance of BAME staff: University authorities need to learn and understand the importance and benefits of having a racially diverse workforce. There is need to give non-western knowledge prominence and adapt a non-monolithic curriculums that would reflect an organic multi-cultural richness in teaching content and research. Without understanding the relevance of this diversity, the effort to recruit more BAME staff will lack motivation and likely be half-hearted. 

2. Create an unbiased work environment: the obstacles that create bias and place BAME staff at disadvantage should be identified and eliminated. Rules are not to be bent in their favour, that would be illegal. The bottom line is to eradicate prejudice and unconscious bias, and provide a conducive work environment where minoritised persons can hope to work and grow with others without feeling harassed.

3. Train HR/recruiting team on diversity: to drive an effective diversity recruitment program, university HR teams should be given good foundational and expert training on fair recruitment and selection. Recruiting managers and every member of the assessment panel should also undergo this training so  as to gain knowledge about diversity and inclusion.

4. Hiring and promotion on the basis of value: Hire minoritised persons based on the values they bring to the role by way of their skills, abilities and knowledge, and not because of any self-identifying features. Employing BAME individuals creates value to the institution by increasing the diversity of thought or spectrum of perspectives. Moreover, minoritised staff should be positioned for the level of authority the office they hold requires. It is very noticeable that even in universities where BAME are not underrepresented, they are usually concentrated at the lower rung of the ladder. Promotions should be granted on a basis of meritorious service and hardwork, and not on some unwritten rules to success. The promotional processes and the qualifications required for the next level should be transparent and open to all employees.

5. Set Inclusive Job Adverts/Job Descriptions: Jobs advertised should be broken down into competencies. Job descriptions should be inclusive and made attractive enough for BAME individuals to apply. Knowledge, skills and experience relevant to the job duties should be projected forward as the determinants to recruitment. Job descriptions that place a bottleneck on eligibility of persons from historically underrepresented backgrounds should be disapproved. Race or national origin are of no relevance to diversity recruiting.  Requirements that may deter qualified non-native English speakers from applying, such as “strong English-language skills” should not be mentioned.

6. Selection of Interview Panel: the interview panel for BAME applicants should constitute of trained and qualified interviewers. Members of the panel are to be given adequate interview training on cultural awareness, eliminating unconscious bias in hiring, best practice interview techniques, etc. Also, interview questions should be relevant to specified job descriptions and related to the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience required for the duties. All interview feedbacks submitted by panel members must be value-added, relevant and connected to the requirements of the job.

7. Understand workforce supply: in order to increase BAME representation, sourcing should be made on platforms dominated by BAME individuals and more recruitment should be made for those positions were the group is underrepresented.

8. Effective Retention: an effective diversity recruiting program inadvertently involves being able to retain employees from marginalized populations. Retention, on its part, requires an inclusive work environment.

9. Qualifications above presentation: Judging a candidate's competency by how they present themselves during interview rather than whether they have the knowledge and skills to do the job amounts to biased judgement. Hiring decisions cannot be based on gut feeling but by thoughtful evaluation of candidate's competence.

10.  Planning and Budgeting: an effective diversity recruiting program should have a budget mapped out for its implementation. This will be used to create visibility by way of funding adverts, organising events, purchasing supplies, and so on. 

11. Analyse and measure success: to be able to effectively determine if success is being made as regards diversity recruiting, an analysis of the hiring data from previous years should be made and measured against the outcomes of diversity recruiting.

Through a dogged implementation of the above strategies, diversity recruiting of BAME individuals and their equitable representation into the workforce of UK universities can become an achievable goal.


Jennifer Tardy (2020) Platinum Checklist for Hiring. Immediate Actions Leaders Must STOP in Order to Increase Diversity.