Impact & Opinions | Tionchar & Tuairimí

In Conversation With: Professor Anne Scott

In Conversation With: Professor Anne Scott

28 April 21
 | 17 MINS

NUI Galway’s Vice President for Equality, Diversity sat down with Cois Coiribe to talk about leading and promoting all aspects of equality and diversity throughout the University.

The office for Equality and Diversity was established in NUI Galway in 2016. Professor Anne Scott has been responsible for leading and promoting all aspects of equality and diversity throughout the University.

What are the implications of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion for the future of higher education?

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) is essential for the future of higher education, both in terms of ensuring that the sector meets a number of its civic, social and economic goals but also in terms of the sustainability of the institutions that underpin higher education.

In many ways failing to recognise the importance of things like Equality, Diversity and Inclusion would mean that higher education institutions were simply failing in meeting those social goals.

It should be a core focus in ensuring that we actually do work for the public good and do contribute, not only to economic development, but also to social and cultural and community development.

How are we performing as a university that has made a very specific commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion?

We are, as the President frequently states, on a journey.

I think the broader Equality, Diversity and Inclusion agenda has become more salient over the last probably two or three years and is now very much articulated in our new strategic plan.

Some elements we are performing reasonably well. We did start from a position of having a very difficult history in terms of gender equality. I think there’s still lots of work to be done in that area, but I think we can definitely see progress.

In terms of the broader diversity and inclusion agenda, however, there is still a lot of work to be done, including getting just a very basic profile of our institution, in terms of things like our ethnic diversity.

We need that very, very acutely.

Inclusion for me is very important because, in a sense, in order to enable diversity to work for everyone, the individuals involved, the institution, etc, we need to be inclusive, we need to ensure that people are given a voice.

We all look back now in kind of amazement at the idea of no female loos along the corridor in the science department.

There will be bumps along the way but I think things like our strategic plan and our EDI strategy and things more broadly like public sector duty will support us as we move forward – assuming that we are willing to embrace them, the NUI Galway community needs to be ready to embrace them.

I think, very often, students provide the lead, for us. That’s very much what happened around our gender identity policy.

We certainly could be performing better and will be as our understanding grows.


Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – these three words have become more combined as a single idea. What is the additionality of Diversity and Inclusion to existing theories of Equality?

I have some concerns about the notion that the three concepts – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – have combined to form a single idea. And if they have combined I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with what that single idea is.

Go back to the French revolution, the American revolution. This notion of equality has been a concept. Go back to the suffragist movement. Go back to Mary Wollstonecraft, in terms of women’s rights … heaven knows, we still have enormous issues in trying to get to grips with what we mean by equality.

We’re all saying the words together as if they mean one thing. That’s not necessarily helpful. Diversity can be really, really rich and helpful, but unless it’s enabled it can be fragmenting and disruptive and alienating.

The common exemplar used is that Diversity is having been invited to the dance, Inclusion is actually having somebody ask you to dance.

If we stopped feeding and nurturing the EDI agenda, even as it expands and becomes more demanding and as expectations increase, we will wither and become much less effective.

What structural and operational changes, if any, should universities consider in order to strengthen EDI within their own institutions, in their teaching methodologies and in their research programmes?

Unless we’re in a fairly constant, if constructive, change process we’re in danger of death and disappearance.

I think there has been a predominance of a particular style of curriculum, across the western world, in higher education, and indeed in the school system.

It’s fair to say it’s one dominated from a lens of white races or Caucasians or whatever you want to put on it, but also white men, basically.

Colleagues in NUI Galway are beginning to grapple with, and come up with solutions, and indeed share those solutions, to diversifying the curriculum, diversifying reading lists, trying to equality-proof some of our educational approaches.

Being sensitive to issues of EDI within the curriculum and taking a critical lens to look at the content is certainly one thing that needs to be looked at.

If you’re in a very homogeneous environment, an environment which has a very homogeneous leadership, we need to be more critically aware that we are only hearing one kind of voice.

I think sometimes, universities in particular, can fail to recognize the different kinds of models of leadership and the different kinds of models of management and stick with a very traditional kind of one.


In your role as a Vice President for Equality and Diversity, in the next 10 years what are the main challenges that you foresee in this area?

The level of expectation in terms of this agenda is enormous. So, managing expectations about what the institution is prepared to support in terms of an EDI function and therefore what those people are going to be able to deliver is one key issue.

Another key issue for us is recognising that this – the EDI agenda – is not a zero sum game. By that I mean recognising the broader EDI agenda and particularly trying to become more active, and more sensitive to, and inclusive of, our ethnically diverse community. That doesn’t mean that we can or should take our eye off the gender equality ball.

My concern there is that women are approximately 50% of the population, but research to date would suggest that, as soon as you’ve reached what you think is your achievement level and take your eye off the ball, we revert very quickly, within the space of a couple of years, back to big problems.

If we stopped feeding and nurturing the EDI agenda, even as it expands and becomes more demanding and as expectations increase, we will wither and become much less effective.

In relation to the University values, one of those is pursuit of excellence. Do you see any conflict between the pursuit of excellence on the one hand, and EDI on the other?

No, they’re not automatically in conflict.

If a university is not pursuing excellence they’re probably not working for the public good at one level.

Sometimes I get engaged in this notion of are universities elite institutions? Well, it depends on what bit of the University, what function of the University you’re talking about. When I left school only 20% of the school population was going on to higher education. Now, about 60 70% are going. Being an undergraduate is no longer elite. From that perspective that part of our activity is not an elite.

Research programmes and companies actually perform better with a diverse staff, with a diverse leadership team, because you’re able to get very different perspectives to feed into a discussion.

I think, in general in terms, the notion of pursuing excellence being somehow automatically in conflict with EDI is just misguided.

If I start from a position of respect ... if we can get that somehow as part of the culture and DNA of the institution, then I think we will be integrating the EDI agenda because it will be a modus operandi for the institution.

In relation to integrating EDI into the processes and daily operations of the University what would you propose and how would you integrate that into the operations of a university?

One of the really important things about Equality and Diversity and Inclusion is that this is how we should be operating. It is how we should be living our day to day lives.

Everything in the institution, and indeed in society, should acknowledge and be based on the understanding that we have a diverse population and that every member of our population or community is deserving of respect and support.

I think the other piece that is important is that this is everybody’s business and everybody’s responsibility.

In many ways the core kind of values that we now espouse as an institution is a really good lens to start with.

In many ways, if I start from a position of respect … if we can get that somehow as part of the culture and DNA of the institution, then I think we will be integrating the EDI agenda because it will be a modus operandi for the institution.

There are structural things that can help embed and mainstream the EDI agenda but it has to start with a value of respecting everybody we’re working with and recognizing that those people have a right to be treated equally, a human right to be treated equally and to be respected.


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