Following a student campaign called WE are LSE to increase diversity in the LSE public events programme, the School developed a policy statement and set out targets to improve the representation of minorities in the School’s public events. In this post, LSE Director Craig Calhoun and We are LSE explain the need for and importance of this commitment to equality and diversity.
LSE students’ campaign for improved diversity in public events
Kitty Webster on behalf of WE are LSE
A group of us – students – started a campaign, WE are LSE, at the beginning of 2013 calling for more diversity in LSE public events. We had all attended too many public lectures with a decisive lack of diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity and decided to do something about it. Public events are a key arena of engagement with the wider world and contribute to public debate. Therefore, panels lacking diversity should rightly be called out for what they are – out of touch and out of date.
We called on the School to publicly commit to improving the proportion of women and black and minority ethnic (BME) speakers in its public events programme. We argued that LSE public events should reflect the diversity of its staff and students and ensure that a wide range of voices are heard and represented.
It isn’t about numbers or having a ‘token’ woman or black speaker on a panel. It isn’t about identity politics or atomisation of the individual. As students of the world’s leading dedicated social science institution, we were taught that the inclusion of differing perspectives is vital in finding solutions, improving society and making progress to “understand the causes of things”. Women and BME speakers have unique ideas and perspectives that can enrich and strengthen LSE’s contribution to global debates and it is the Schools’ duty to actively seek their participation.
©2010 Stanko Gruden/STA
Who you have on a panel matters because not only does it convey the power and authority to speak on a subject, it also affects who will engage in the discussion. Who hasn’t been to an event with an all-male panel where the chair continuously fields questions from male members of the audience?
LSE is also primarily an institution for teaching and learning. Young women and young BME students need strong role models to show them that their ideas are important and their voices worthy of being heard. Attending events with a wide range of speakers will help all LSE students to accept diversity as the norm and prevent them from assuming which voices carry authority and who they should look to for information.
As students of the world’s leading dedicated social science institution, we were taught that the inclusion of differing perspectives is vital in finding solutions
Leading think-tanks, including IPPR, have gone further by committing to no longer hold or support events that feature all-white or all-male panels. In doing so they are sending out a strong message and have stated that they do not feel it will be difficult for them to find interesting and talented speakers from diverse backgrounds. If UK-focused institutions believe it can be done, then for an institution like LSE, with its global reach and reputation, it should be even easier.
But credit where it’s due to the public events team for taking an important first step by instituting a formal monitoring system (amongst other measures). Committing to transparency by pledging to record data on speakers at LSE events, disaggregated by department, gender and ethnicity, will help ensure that at least we know just how (un)equal and diverse (or not) the public events are and give us a base to progress.
Whether or not this will then lead to a more diverse events programme remains to be seen and, as the School agreed, quotas and targets are much easier to establish than what is really needed: an underlying culture shift across the institution (and academia as a whole). By taking steps to increase awareness and host a more diverse events programme LSE has made a critical and very welcome first step for to ensure it has a relevant and representative global voice. LSE can’t boast of its most diverse students and staff bodies in the UK while overlooking a distinct lack of female and BME involvement in its public events.
But departments themselves and those that organise events need to play their part by making sure that diverse voices are given the opportunity to be heard and represented. Students of LSE can also engage by talking to course representatives and encouraging their lecturers and departments to hold more inclusive events and inviting those from outside the corridors of power. Some of us involved in WE are LSE have resolved not to attend anymore all-male, all-white, all fully-abled panel events at LSE or any other institution.
At a time when the UK ranks 57th in the world in terms of women’s representation, men outnumber women 4 to 1 in parliament and government cuts mean that disabled and marginalised voices are even harder to hear, it’s only right that we celebrate diversity of LSE staff and students and create a more inclusive, representative and inspiring LSE public events programme.
WE are LSE would like to thank all their lecturers, fellow students and wider LSE staff for supporting our campaign.
The importance of diversity to the public events programme
Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of LSE
LSE’s public lecture programme is terrific. The series of high-profile speakers from academia, business, politics, and the media connects the School with the wider public, enhances the student experience, and cements LSE’s reputation as the place where people ‘join the global debate.’
But as the We are LSE group has convincingly argued, the speakers are disproportionately middle-aged white guys (starting, I have to admit, with myself). This doesn’t represent the diversity of the School, and a limited range of speakers limits the range of views presented.
This move is part of a broader intention for equality and diversity to be part of everything we do
Of course, this is a problem which extends beyond LSE. There are fewer women and other under-represented groups in top positions in politics, finance, business and the media. This means there is a smaller pool from which the School can select under-represented speakers. And the women and others in that smaller pool confront many demands on their time and often turn down our offers to speak.
©2011 LSE/Nigel Stead
But this cannot be an excuse.
To try to change the pattern, over the summer the School adopted a new strategy for facilitating a more diverse programme of events.
Among other things, the School set itself the goal of ensuring that at least 40% of speakers at events will be women by the start of the 2016-17 academic year (bear in mind that invitations are often made far in advance). In addition, all events on the public lecture programme – e.g., panel discussions – will be closely monitored for diversity.
Having a better representation of women and other under-represented groups, including ethnic minorities and those with disabilities, will enrich our already vibrant public lecture series and encourage a wider range of people to join in discussions and debates.
But this move is not just about big events. It is part of a broader intention for equality and diversity to be part of everything we do. So that, even in the smallest forums, interviews or seminars, we automatically consider- ‘are we truly representative’, or ‘are there other viewpoints we haven’t considered?’
The benefits are clear: it will enable LSE to listen to a truly wide range of voices; access the widest-possible pool of talent and expertise, and reach new audiences in the UK and overseas. This can only be a good thing.
But note that this is not simply a charge to LSE Events to invite more women and minority speakers. It must also be understood as a call to all LSE departments and other units to propose and help recruit women and members of minority groups who will be speakers of broad appeal and to ensure that there is strong attendance at the events where they speak.
It would be tempting to say that merely setting a new policy will bring us the diversity we seek. Much more is required, and required from all members of the LSE community.
Tell us what you think about this in comments below or email us – Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk.