Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Equalities and Diversity) Professor Claire Annesley talks candidly about Inclusive Sussex, our blueprint for creating a fairer and more equal university for the whole community.
You launched Inclusive Sussex last summer. Why do we need this strategy?
The purpose of the strategy is to make sure that we’re not just focusing on reducing inequalities between people who have so-called protected characteristics and those who don’t. We are creating a truly inclusive campus at Sussex, where all members of our community have equal opportunities to experience the University as one that really allows them to thrive and achieve their best. Inclusive Sussex is a way of trying to inspire the whole campus to get involved, to think about how they can use their expertise, commitment and courage to try to make the campus a better place for everybody.
What are the key aims?
The strategy focuses on four things: making Sussex more equal, diverse, accessible and flexible. One of the first things we did after launching the strategy was relaunch our flexible work policy – we wanted to flip it on its head and make sure that flexible working is an option for everybody. The early indications are good. We’re getting positive feedback from people who feel they can better organise their working day so that it allows them to balance work with caring responsibilities or work with a disability.
Our commitment to start work on tackling racism, different experiences of racism within our community and different outcomes in terms of race is of crucial importance.
How do you go about addressing something like race inequality?
The first thing is just to name it as a problem. Signing up to the Race Equality Charter commits us to identifying that there is an issue around race inequality on our campus. We can be much smarter about where we recruit our staff and students from and then make sure that the environment we offer here is far better. We need to have some really honest and open conversations across our community about the experiences of our Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff and students, compared to other staff and students, and then commit ourselves to trying to address those. BAME staff have felt very isolated across campus and so our newly established BAME staff network is a great first step towards creating that community.
What progress has been made so far with Inclusive Sussex?
Our first ‘fist pump in the air’ moment was the Flexible Sussex relaunch. When we published our gender pay gap data, we realised that none of the jobs at senior level were advertised as open to flexible employment. Opening up flexible work for everybody means that we’re opening up senior roles too.
We’ve signed up to the Race Equality Charter, established a dedicated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) unit, set up a University-wide mentoring scheme, started a staff network for BAME staff and one for staff with disabilities. We’re also working on an institutional renewal for Athena SWAN, a gender equality charter, particularly focusing on the support that we offer to staff when they return from a period of caring leave. Getting those things in place is starting to change the feel and culture of Sussex in general.
How will you know if the strategy has been successful?
We want to halve our gender pay gap by 2024, which is a real stretch target. It is a hard one for us to meet but it's really focusing everyone’s attention. Rather than just having a target for representation, this is actually more fundamental; it’s about making sure that what people get out of the institution is more equal.
In our next staff survey we are aiming for an increase in the percentage of people reporting that they are proud to be working at the University. Inclusive Sussex is about making sure everybody feels that they belong and that they can contribute.
We have those key measures, plus things like getting our Stonewall and Race Equality Charter marks and our Athena SWAN renewal.
Where do students fit in?
Students are at the heart of Inclusive Sussex. The new Learn to Transform strategy has a lot of Inclusive Sussex elements to it. For example, making sure that we close the BAME attainment gap, and that students who are living with disabilities have the same opportunities to thrive and succeed at Sussex.
We have an initiative at the moment, working in partnership with the National Autistic Society, to establish Sussex as the UK’s first autistic-friendly university. This is a really exciting initiative. We’re trying to harness all of our existing support and expertise and put into place a framework for what an autistic-friendly university looks like.
How can alumni get involved?
It’s always great to hear from alumni as role models for our students. Just recently, for LGBT History Month, Professor Tom Welton OBE (MOLS 1982), Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College, came back to campus to talk to staff and students about his time at Sussex and his career. He reflected on experiences of LGBT issues in Britain during the 1980s, such as Section 28 and imposter syndrome. It was so inspirational. Any dedicated opportunities or support from alumni around issues like that, or mentoring to understand what different career options there are, are invaluable. It’s great for our students to know ‘that could be me’.
About Claire Annesley
Claire joined the Department of Politics at Sussex in March 2015 and was appointed Deputy Pro-Vice- Chancellor (Equalities and Diversity) in November 2016.
Her research on gender, politics and policy was awarded the 2011 Richard Rose Prize by the Political Studies Association, the 2011 Carrie Chapman Catt Prize by Iowa State University and the 2012 Public Policy Section Prize by the American Political Science Association.
She is currently writing a book with Karen Beckwith (Case Western Reserve) and Susan Franceschet (Calgary) on Cabinets, Ministers and Gender.
Community and business
Claire is on the Management Committee of the UK Women's Budget Group and contributes to their analysis of the impact of economic policy and changes and tax and benefits on gender equality.
Alumni can get involved by joining Sussex Connect, the University's eMentoring platform for current and former students.