30% Club highlights the importance of diversity in the Higher Education sector

26 April 2016, London - The event, hosted at the Canary Wharf Accelerator Hub, One Canada Square, included presentations on the role of schools and higher education in preparing women for the workplace, as well as the need to improve crossover between academia and corporates. The speakers demonstrated how the 30% Club is bringing cohesion from schoolroom to boardroom and impacting positive change at every stage of women’s lives and careers. Indeed, to date leaders of 35 universities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have become members of the 30% Club, creating the opportunity to share best practice and set the agenda for future success.

The event included three panel debates. The first, opened by Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost (International) UCL, discussed the experience of higher education students – ‘Generation Z’ – and featured panellists Professor Cara Aitchison, University of St Mark & St John; Jonathan Black, University of Oxford; Helena Eccles, undergraduate at the University of Cambridge; Rosin Murphy, KPMG; and Karen Usher, NMiTE.

The panel discussed the key findings of the national Think Future Study which found that female students fear their gender will influence their pay and career progression in later life. Polling over 20,000 students from across the UK and Ireland, the study, which was rolled out in November 2015, found that significantly less than half of women (43%) were confident that their gender would have no impact on pay and reward, compared to 73% of men, and only 42% of women felt confident that their career progression would not be impacted by their gender, compared to 72% of men.

Brenda Trenowden, Global Chair of the 30% Club said: “Women and men need to work together to create more balanced teams across the workplace. Excellence and quality requires diversity and to achieve this more needs to be done to level the playing field in the workplace. The Think Future Study revealed that this is a process which needs to begin in school to ensure that women feel confident that they will have the same opportunities as men once they enter the workplace, including receiving equal pay.”

Dame Nicola Brewer added: “Confidence in your own diversity can be a source of personal and organisational strength, and it is important that companies foster an environment of ambition and confidence among men and women.”

The second panel debate examined the academic experience and the role of universities as employers of women. Panellists were Ismail Badat of the British Council, Professor Janet Beer University of Liverpool, Professor Patrick Johnston, Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Jane Norman, University of Edinburgh, and Dr Jim Smith, Medical Research Council.

Jane Norman said: “It is a myth that women don’t want the leadership roles at universities. It is once they are given the chance to experience leadership that they can realise their potential. We need to give more women that experience.”

Anne Richards, Co-lead, 30% Club Higher Education Initiative, CIO, Aberdeen Asset Management, and Vice-Convener of Court, The University of Edinburgh, commented on the panel:

“Unfortunately women are often reluctant to put their heads up above the parapet for fear of being shut down. It is not about trying to fix the women - it is about coming up with solutions to fix the system, and in doing so make the system better for both men and women."

The panel also highlighted research by Ismail Badat on the tertiary education landscape in South Asia. The research suggests that conventional models of higher education delivery and economics cannot meet the scale of the challenges faced by countries in this region, with UK education providers having a key role to play in the reforms needed.

Professor Simonetta Manfredi, Director, Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brooks University, presented on her research on the trends of corporate women on governing bodies and high education sector women on corporate boards. This research was further debated in the third panel session which featured Karin Barnick, Korn Ferry, Sir Win Bischoff, Financial Reporting Council, Professor Simonetta Manfredi and Helena Morrissey, CEO Newton Investment Management.

Professor Simonetta Manfredi said: “There is a huge pipeline that academia can offer to the boardroom with many individuals in academia having a variety of skills and leadership experience that is largely underused. There is a shared goal of gender diversity in both the corporate sector and academia, but while there is a healthy flow of female expertise from the business sector to university boards, there is a very limited flow of expertise from academia to company boards. There is therefore a large talent pipeline in academia which is untapped.

“It is imperative that a better understanding is promoted amongst the business community about the talent available from academia and this needs to start with a greater number of conversations between the public and private sector.”

Also speaking at the event was David Ruebain, Chief Executive of Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), who highlighted that there is a slipstream of energy around equality, but still a significant under-representation of women in senior positions in Higher Education.

The ECU, a policy and research agency funded to advance equality and diversity in UK universities and colleges in Scotland, established its Athena SWAN programme, recognising advancement of gender equality, in 2005.

The 30% Club Higher Education initiative was launched in the Spring of 2015 precisely with the intention of creating a unique forum through which those in the Higher Education, like the ECU, and those from the corporate world could learn from each other on improving diversity in their respective organisations.