(Dis)proportional representation in equality, diversity, and inclusivity activities in academia


I have been a member of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI) committee in my department for the past few years, and recently volunteered to continue my term on the committee due to my personal interest in EDI and drive to contribute to positive change. While I am fully committed to this role, I am also aware that “feminine” activities related to service and pastoral care have historically fallen disproportionally to women and minority groups (Social Sciences Feminist Network Research Interest Group, 2017). This work may be valued less than “masculine” activities such as research and management, and is often referred to as “invisible labour”. EDI-facing activities related to making the workplace environment better is one example of such invisible labour, but in addition to work on committees, task and finish groups, and outreach activities, this can also include substantial contributions to student pastoral care because a woman/person of colour/gay man etc may be perceived as a role model for someone with a similar protected characteristic. This disproportionate burden of invisible labour may have knock-on impacts for research productivity of traditionally marginalised groups, yet may not be recognised when applying for positions and promotion. Disproportionate representation within “feminine” and “masculine” activities are thus certainly contributing to the “leaky pipeline” and acting as a barrier to progression into senior positions within the academy.

I was interested to find out more about the extent to which membership of EDI committees and engagement with EDI-facing activities is proportional to the personal characteristics of those working in HE (Higher Education) today, so as an informal starting point I conducted a poll on Twitter to explore EDI participation by gender, ethnicity, sexuality, role, and disability. The poll ran for one day only, and received 127 votes (number of responses varies by question), and the results are shown below. As the number of responses is relatively small, and the poll was conducted via Twitter – which may bias results depending on the extent to which people from different groups engage with social media – I am taking the results with a hefty pinch of salt. That said, some clear trends emerge. Note that comparisons below relate to personal characteristics of staff in UK High Education institutions, and will differ for other regions.


69% of respondents to the poll identified as female, 27% male, and 4% non-binary. In 2017/18 54.4% of staff in UK HE identified as women, according to statistics from Advance HE (2019). This figure encompasses both academics and professional and support staff (for academic-only staff that percentage drops to 45.9%, and rises to 62.7% for professional and support staff). Staff identifying as other/non-binary were not included in the report due to small numbers, however HESA (2020) statistics from the same academic year report that 35 staff out of 211,980 (0.017%) in UK HE identified as ‘other’. That 69% of respondents to the poll were female and 4% non-binary thus clearly highlights the disproportionate “burden” on these groups to engage with EDI and drive change. Additionally, it seems likely that non-binary academics are not being fully represented by current statistics, highlighting a need for improved design in data collection around the personal characteristics of HE staff.


In response to the question around ethnicity, 93.5% of respondents identified as white, and 6.5% as BAME. According to Advance HE (2019) 9.8% of UK national HE staff identify as BAME, increasing to 29.4% for non-UK nationals. Data from HESA (2020) for 2018-19, which look at UK HE staff of all nationalities, report that a total of 15.4% of academic staff identify as BAME (black (1.9%), Asian (9.4%), mixed (2.1%), or other (2.1%)), dropping to 12% for non-academic staff (black (3.2%), Asian (6%), mixed (2%), or other (0.8%)). The results of this poll suggest that there is under-representation of BAME staff in EDI activities, however I urge caution on this due to the small sample size, as previous (much more rigorous) studies have highlighted the disproportionate burden of EDI activities on BAME faculty (e.g. Jimenez et al., 2019).


28.1% of respondents identified as LGBTQ+, and 71.9% as heterosexual. Data on sexual orientation in UK HE are limited, and Advance HE (2019) reports that only 52.1% of staff in institutions who returned statistics on this had provided the information when asked. Of staff in institutions who did return this data, 49% identified as heterosexual and a total of 3.2% identified as either bisexual, gay man, gay woman/lesbian, or other. This would suggest that there is likely a substantially disproportionate representation of LGBTQ+ staff and researchers in EDI-related activities in academia, while also highlighting a need to improve data collection related to sexuality in this context.

Academic role

When asked about their role, 45.7% responded that they were an early career researcher (ECR), 34.6% lecturer/associate professor, 11.8% professor, and 7.9% technical/administrative staff. The Advance HE (2019) report states that in the 2017/18 academic year, 49.3% of all UK HE staff worked in academic roles, and 50.7% as professional and support staff. Across all subject areas, 9.9% of academic staff were listed as professor (90.1% non-professor). It is tricky to find information on what percentage of UK HE staff are ECRs (and I’m writing this relatively quickly!), however based on HESA (2020) data 23.4% of staff were on research-only contracts in 2018/19 (66% of whom were on fixed-term contracts). Although very difficult to draw meaningful comparisons regarding proportional representation here, it seems clear that ECRs are contributing substantially towards EDI activities, while professional and support staff do not engage with (or are not represented in) these activities at a proportionate level.


19.4% of respondents stated that they had a known disability, while 80.6% did not. Advance HE (2019) reported that 5.1% of all staff in UK HE identify as disabled (4.3% of academic staff and 6% of professional and support staff). Notably, disability disclosure rates in UK HE have doubled since 2007/08 when they were 2.8% and 2.2% for academic and professional and support staff respectively, suggesting that disabilities may still be under-reported in HE, but improving. Despite this apparent under-representation, the results of this poll suggest that people with disabilities in academia may be considerably more likely to contribute to EDI-facing activities than those without.

Unfortunately it is not possible to explore intersectionality here as there is no way to correlate individual responses to the different questions in the poll on Twitter, but I would very much like to see this investigated further in the future. I’m also reluctant to interpret the results in any more depth due to the statistics of (relatively) small numbers, but perhaps this can act as a very small springboard to encourage institutions and individuals to think more carefully about how staff are recruited onto committees, how the EDI activities of staff are counted in workload models, and how EDI activities are recognised during consideration for promotion or recruitment. I also haven’t touched on the reasons behind disproportionate representation, be that compulsory workload, expectations of others, or more personal drivers, however I invite the wider academic community to consider this, and consider the role that you can play in working towards an environment where the historically marginalised no longer have to bear the brunt of this “invisible labour”.


Caroline Clason, 9th June 2020



Advance HE, (2019), Equality in higher education: staff statistical report 2019, available at https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/equality-higher-education-statistical-report-2019, accessed 09/06/2020

HESA, (2020), Who’s working in HE?: Personal characteristics, available at https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/staff/working-in-he/characteristics, accessed 09/06/2020

Jimenez, M.F., Laverty, T.M., Bombaci, S.P. et al., (2019), Underrepresented faculty play a disproportionate role in advancing diversity and inclusion, Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3, 1030–1033

Social Sciences Feminist Network Research Interest Group, (2017), The Burden of Invisible Work in Academia: Social Inequalities and Time Use in Five University Departments, Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 39, 228-245


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