Making the workplace more equal – Oxford Brookes University

A passionate commitment to putting equality at the centre of employment practice is the driver for research by Professor Simonetta Manfredi and her team. Simonetta, who is the founding director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, has harnessed the Centre’s broad-ranging research skills to improve standards of workplace equality, leading to major change within higher education and other sectors including the horse racing industry in the UK and beyond.

Bringing significant research expertise to the table, the Centre was set up in 2004 so that a pool of academics, professionals, policy makers and public representatives could collectively identify where improvements were needed around equality and inclusion, and then frame research accordingly.

More diverse senior roles in HE and greater inclusiveness for women as researchers

Simonetta and her team have shaped HE employment policies and practices across the sector ensuring better compliance with the 2010 Equality Act which requires the public sector (including HE) to place equality at the core of its activities.

Prompted by research into the role of executive search firms in board-level roles at universities, Simonetta was asked to contribute to the development of two frameworks – one on diversity principles and the other on board recruitment. The resulting frameworks encouraged executive research firms to take active steps to promote diversity. There has been a ripple effect too with the Director of HE recruitment firm SearchHigher reporting that they were applying the same methodology to race, sexuality, disability and other protected characteristics. While it can’t be proved, It’s likely that the work conducted has contributed to the significant rise in women’s representation on university boards from 32% in 2013 to 41.9% in 2018.

Long-term research from the Centre has also led to greater inclusiveness for research academics participating in the Research Excellence Framework – the national evaluation of research quality by UK universities. The research by Simonetta and her colleague Professor Lucy Vickers has helped UK Funding Councils develop clearer guidance on equality, in turn prompting universities to make it easier for staff to disclose equality-related circumstances. The result for the last completed REF of 2014 was a rise in the numbers of researchers submitted with reduced numbers of research outputs, due to equality-related circumstances – for example due to caring responsibilities or disability (from 12.2% in REF 2008 to 29.2% in REF 2014).

Women in horse racing

The under-representation of women in senior roles in British horse racing became another target for the Centre’s research. Its findings led to a national steering group being set up by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to promote gender and other diversities. The research also led to the appointment of a Head of Inclusion and Diversity and prompting a cultural shift to take action.

As the BHA’s CEO Nick Rust commented ‘the survey serves as a stark reminder that there is much more that the British horse racing needs to do’. Employing over 85,000 people, and with women making up 40% of its spectators, the developments have far reaching implications.

The research findings have had an impact beyond the UK too, with the findings being shared with the Asian racing community by a Women in Racing rep at the 2018 Asian Racing Conference in Seoul, South Korea.


Transformative change

Word inequality with "in" cut off

Through their research, Simonetta and the Centre for Diversity Policy and Practice have shone a spotlight on inequalities that exist in employment practices within specific sectors. As well as driving up standards on areas like recruitment, it has led to heightened awareness of equality and diversity and mobilised new attitudes towards change. The benefits to large numbers of people working in these sectors have been significant, removing barriers to disadvantage, and promoting opportunities that are equal and fairer for all.

“Through their research, Simonetta and the Centre for Diversity Policy and Practice have shone a spotlight on inequalities that exist in employment practices within specific sectors.”

Further reading