Since then, there has been specific progress in academic promotions. The promotions panel achieved significant change, with the number of women at senior lecturer level increasing from 33% to 46%, and at personal professor grade, 16% to 28% . Women currently represent 23.7% of the professoriate at University of Galway. Figures like this illustrate change but also hold up a mirror to help us to continue to improve. We need to understand our promotions process more in order to ensure efficacy in addressing inequalities for all staff. We also need to look at other measures such as the intersection of race, gender and disability. Identities are multifaceted; we have to address those complexities.
We have successfully renewed our Athena SWAN Institutional Award [a global framework supporting gender equality within higher education]. There is a number of school awards, and the Silver Award for the School of Engineering is the only the second of its kind in the Republic of Ireland and the first in Engineering. These signals of progress are accompanied by a set of expected tangible actions. The emphasis in Athena SWAN can often be more to the advantage of academic women. It’s important that we don’t lose sight of enabling opportunities for progression for PMSS [professional, managerial and support staff] – a highly gendered area. The job sizing scheme introduced this year has been one measure to address that.
Student experience is another important focus – widening participation and attention to the diversity of student needs. What kind of systems and supports are in place to firstly recognise those differentiated needs, and secondly, respond directly to them? The Access Centre focuses on this area. The establishment of the post of Traveller Officer in the Access Centre was an innovative initiative, increasing the visibility of challenges for members of the Traveller community, and creating a more supportive environment. Access is only one measure of equality; we have to consider the route for progression after access. What are we doing to make the University a supportive place for Travellers, or people from other underrepresented communities?
We have been working in other related areas, including sexual violence and harassment prevention and response. We continue to develop our strategy, policies and practices, but we need that whole-of-institution approach and a theoretical basis. Understanding informs actions, and equality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. People have different views and perspectives. For some people, equality is as simple as saying, “we treat everybody the same,” but treating everyone the same is not an effective approach. People have different needs by virtue of their characteristics and societal responses to these aspects of identity. It’s not enough to simply have policies and practices that adhere to the national legislative and rights framework. We can’t provide a supportive environment, regardless of background or identity, without first understanding barriers to substantive equality. Inequality is systemically rooted in higher education and the wider society.
BS: What structural and operational changes has University of Galway embedded so far?
HM: Initially, it was the establishment of the post of the Vice President for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. That was a real recognition of commitment to progressing EDI; we were one of the first Higher Education institutions to introduce such a senior role. We have senior personnel leading out on the delivery of an impactful strategy; for example, the post of Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and the support structure developed to support this work in practice is encouraging. The level of action needed to address systemic inequalities cannot be achieved by one person. We have to collaborate and take collective responsibility. In that regard, the EDI Committee (EDIC) was established as a subcommittee under Údarás na hOllscoile – placingEDI at the heart of institutional governance – with staff, student and external representation.