Shaping the Future: Equality, Diversity and Ambition

The PSA believes that the promotion of equality and diversity should be core values for the practice of politics as well as the study and teaching of politics. Statistics suggest that 31 per cent of political scientists are female, less than 15 per cent of the discipline’s professoriate is female and under 4 per cent have a black or ethnic minority background. In June 2015 the Executive Committee of the Political Studies Association (PSA) re-emphasized the organization’s need to think creatively and proactively in relation to the equality and diversity agenda. The Equality and Diversity Group has been tasked to lead on the development of a ten-year plan with the aim of shaping both the demographic structure and day-to-day culture of the discipline. This objective resonates with the PSA’s commitment to professionalism, ambition and visibility across all of its areas of activity and will therefore be embedded across the organization. This signals a fresh commitment to equality and diversity and a number of reforms and procedural changes have already been put in place:

  1. New systems for the selection of Annual Conference plenary speakers and paper givers have been established to optimize diversity on panels and with invited speakers.
  2. A new annual reporting process for our specialist groups will require evidence of action taken and future goals for achieving the PSA’s diversity and equality ambitions.
  3. The annual Heads of Departments Meeting will include some element of training or discussion in relation to equality and diversity.
  4. The PSA is exploring options for external diversity and equality training and accreditation.
  5. A range of new PSA prizes have been agreed to increase the visibility of female and ethnic minority scholars and to reward achievement in relation to the promotion of equality and diversity.

There is, however, a need to go much further than these measures and to think more creatively about equality and diversity in relation to a broad range of issues. The next phase of the agenda focuses on equality and diversity issues with regards to age, disability, socio-economic background, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, belief, sex, gender and sexual orientation. In order to achieve far-reaching and meaningful outcomes the PSA must seek not only to change the academic environment of today but also to shape the next academic generation. The PSA will be working across PSA programmes to consider the transition points throughout the educational system to encourage participation by a range of students from various backgrounds and diverse perspectives.

What Next?

As PSA President, I have asked the Diversity Working Group to lead on the development of a Strategic Plan that will draw on best practice and the experience of other organizations and learned societies around the world. Developing this plan is likely to require extensive research and the deployment of some resources but it is an investment in the future health of the PSA and an opportunity for positive change. The Diversity Group may consider the following key questions:

  1. What might the PSA learn from the experience of other professional associations in the UK and abroad?
  2. Are their subject-specific impediments to recruiting students and staff from all sections of society?
  3. What does the data show about demographic profiles at different educational levels?
  4. Is there a link between representation in politics and representation within the study of politics?
  5. How might we maintain overall coherency while focusing on particular issues and challenges?
  6. What are the risks that need to be managed and what are the risks that simply cannot be avoided?
  7. What would success look like in the context of an equality and diversity agenda and how can the measurement of success be achieved?
  8. How can the equality and diversity agenda be made to underpin advances in relation to teaching, impact and research?
  9. What would a focus on transitions – between levels or academic ranks – suggest about the need for rethinking critical elements of educational or professional pathways?
  10. How might the widening participation and outreach activity conducted by individual universities feed into a PSA equality and diversity reform programme?

The draft Equality and Diversity Strategic Plan will be open for consultation, discussion and refinement throughout 2016 with the Edinburgh Conference in May 2016 providing an important point in the process. Update reports will form a standing item for all future Executive Committee meetings. The PSA theme for 2017 will be ‘Equality and Diversity in Action’. The final Equality and Diversity Strategic Plan will be published and launched at the 2017 Annual Conference.

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Matthew Flinders, Chair of the Political Studies Association
Rosie Campbell, Vice-Chair of the Political Studies Association
Helena Djurkovic, Chief Executive of the Political Studies Association