What is equality?

I’ve been exploring definitions, descriptions and statements relating to the benefits of promoting equality in the workplace. Such definitions do not apply specifically to women but also to all those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and show that by resolving inequalities, everyone (including students) can experience a better quality of university life and work.

Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents, and believing that no one should have poorer life chances because of where, what or whom they were born, what they believe, or whether they have a disability. Equality recognises that historically, certain groups of people with particular characteristics e.g. race, disability, sex and sexuality, have experienced discrimination.” (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2016)

Addressing inequalities…

Neil Thompson (1997, 2006) designed a model that has been influential in both social work and education contexts to enable practitioners to understand the need to address inequalities:

Thompson suggests that individuals are affected by what he calls personal, cultural and structural influences that come together to impact on how we fit into the social world. What Thompson calls ‘cultural’ influences encompass broader shared approaches – such as what is seen as acceptable behaviour. Structural issues refer to the ‘bigger picture’ of how society is organised and include aspects such as government policy and the shape of the welfare state. Thompson calls his PCS model an ‘analysis’ because it is a way of examining different aspects of situations that [practitioners] come across. However, he emphasises that it is about action as well as thought. [Practitioners] (…) need to do more than understand how individuals are affected by social and other factors; they need to act on this understanding to challenge disadvantage and prejudice. The PCS analysis could be set out in a diagrammatic form (below), showing how the individual or personal experience is surrounded by cultural and structural influences.” (The  Open University, n.d).

Thompson’s PCS analysis model (1997, 2006)

 This is also the model that many of us in the SoE teach to students at all levels in order that they understand how equality issues are relevant to both themselves and their work, or future work practice.

 Why work for equality?

Equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. When women fulfil their potential, everyone benefits. Equality means better politics, a more vibrant economy, a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population and a society at ease with itself.” (Women’s Equality Party, n.d)

The position of our university is clear:

The University of Brighton is committed to providing a fair environment that embodies and promotes equality of opportunity.  We value the different contributions and experiences of all who make up our community, promoting mutual respect and understanding as well as freedom of thought and expression.” (The University of Brighton, n.d.)

There are complex issues to get our heads around, and do not just apply to the purpose of Athena SWAN, but will probably also arise when exploring the data to support other equality charters, such as The Race Equality Charter.

I would like to put forward the idea of employing an outside facilitator to run a session for an extended whole school meeting (1 day?) in the next academic year. This would give  ‘professional’ support to help us all understand the issues of inequality that will be highlighted through our forthcoming Athena SWAN consultation process, and to support the building of our Athena SWAN action plan. Such an initiative would also illustrate the commitment that the SoE has to the achievement of a Bronze Award.  What do you think?



Equality and Human Rights Commission (2016). Understanding Equality. Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/secondary-education-resources/useful-information/understanding-equality  Accessed 7.5.17.

The Open University (n.d.). Empowering Practice.  Available at http://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/social-care/introduction-social-work-wales/content-section-6.2 Accessed 7.5.17.

The University of Brighton (n.d.). Equality, Inclusion and Diversity. Available at: https://www.brighton.ac.uk/about-us/your-university/equality/index.aspx Accessed 7.5.17.

The Women’s Equality Party (n.d.). About. Available at: http://www.womensequality.org.uk/about  Accessed 7.5.17.

The UoB’s Athena SWAN Bronze Level Action Plan states that ” A need has been identified to ensure that Athena SWAN activity is explicitly considered within the future workload model“, and there will shortly be news about the resourcing this project.

Many of my colleagues, both female and male, have indicated a commitment to the process because they believe in what it represents and what it could achieve. The Athena SWAN guidance is very clear about it being a group of people who takes the self-assessment forward, so if there are colleagues out there who still want to get involved in our submission please contact myself or Andy Davies.

Not achieving the Bronze level award may have a direct impact on the SoE’s access to funding in the future, as funders are increasingly looking for organisational commitment to equality processes. So, as university lecturers, researchers and professional support staff,  we all have a vested interest in making this work.

Bronze Level requires the creation of an action plan based on the responses to the consultation process that’s yet to come. This will require us to look closely at the personal, cultural and structural  (thanks Mark!) make-up of the SoE, in order to determine the actions needed to comply with the Athena SWAN mission.


University of Brighton Institution Bronze Award Submission (2016).  Available at: https://staff.brighton.ac.uk/hr/equality/pubdocs/UoB_Institution_Bronze_April_2016_publication.pdf