07 March 2022

This year's International Women's Day theme is #breakthebias. Worldwide, women are still less likely to be senior leaders in organisations, and more likely to face discrimination when they do reach positions of seniority. While there has been progress of women in the workplace over the last decade, with the numbers of women in private sector jumping up to 39 per cent in 2021, from just 12.5 per cent ten years ago, recent figures show that in the UK,  only eight of the UK's top 100 companies are run by women.

Similarly the progress in the higher education sector on gender equality has been slow. Figures from Advance HE show that men still make up the majority of senior managers (66.3 per cent) and that the gender pay gaps persists across the sector - with a 16.1 per cent average gap.

At the University of East London (UEL), we want this to change and can already evidence significant positive progress with a statistically insignificant gender pay gap at 1 per cent. We are committed to strengthening the diversity of the talent pipeline and to building an environment of success, where students and colleagues are supported to achieve, and our larger community can flourish and thrive. Equity, diversity and inclusion are core values at UEL and are embedded throughout our 10-year strategy, Vision 2028. I see this year's International Women's Day slogan #breakthebias, as a call to action for staff and students to strengthen their commitment to systemic and cultural change at the University and wider society and to embody UEL's core values.

Our commitment to diversity is evident in the makeup of our staff population and our diverse leadership. 50 per cent of our Board of Governors and 63 per cent of our University Management Board are female, and it is not just representative at the top of the organisation. Overall, throughout our organisation 61 per cent of all our management staff at UEL identify as female.

We do recognise, however, that individuals' identities are often intersectional, and this intersectionality can compound further bias and barriers. We have a strong commitment to racial equality, which is best exemplified by our racially diverse staff populations, with 50 per cent of our professoriate identifying from black or minority ethnic backgrounds.  We are delighted to have achieved both the Athena Swan Bronze Award and the Race Equality Charter Award, for our work in tackling and reducing inequality – and it is so important that the principle of intersectionality has been added to the application for the Athena Swan award.

To continue our positive progress in reducing inequalities we have recently launched a new Talent Management Framework, which identifies diverse career pathways and potential barriers to progression. Mandatory staff training includes provision to recognise and address gender, race and other biases in the workplace. UEL is also one of six universities pioneering the first cohort of the WHEN 100 Black Women Professors Now programme.

Yet #breakingthebias and true equality does not stop with statistics and awards; day to day, the responsibility falls on everyone to challenge our own biases and the biases of others. True diversity and inclusivity are not a tick-box exercise or a series of steps. Instead, it is a continuing learning process, where as individuals and as a community, we listen to and value the different lived experiences of our staff and students. Therefore, this International Women's Day, I will be crossing my arms to show female solidarity, highlighting the biases and barriers women face every day. I hope you will join me as we commit to a fairer future.

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