Looking back on 2018

I started writing this blog in August 2018 to make sense, in my own head, of the contradictions and nuances found in the practice of equality, diversity and inclusion research. The end of the year presents an opportunity to reflect upon the ideas outlined in these posts and common threads running through this work.

Above all, I hope that my writing conveys the complexity and messiness of undertaking EDI research, often posing more questions than answers.

I hesitate to say there is a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way to conduct EDI research. However, I have stressed the dangers of collapsing-together equality work and diversity work as this can create confusion about what exactly work aims to achieve.

Work that seeks to increase diversity is not necessarily the same as work that seeks to address inequalities. This difference is particularly important in the context of institutions, where the distribution of finite resources determine what work does and does not take place. Resourcing diversity work at the expense of equality work can be a dangerous decision.

Confusion around what exactly EDI work intends to achieve is also apparent in the misuse of EDI statistical data. Understanding changes to numerical data as a goal in itself, rather than as an indicator of change, can create a fixation with percentage changes at the expense of people’s lived experiences. This is particularly the case with pay gap reporting.

Across posts, I have stressed the value of putting people affected by EDI work at the centre of any project. As much as the terms are not ideal, the relationship between ‘researchers’ and ‘subjects’ has emerged as a recurring theme.

I have explored whether research methods, such as one-to-one interviews, can function as a form of EDI work in themselves when they provide opportunities for subjects to share personal narratives. Alongside potential benefits, one-to-one interviews present huge responsibilities for the researcher, who is granted intimate access into someone else’s world, to take action.

However, the blurring of the line between research and activism is problematic. In another post, I questioned whether EDI researchers should raise the awareness of subjects to inequalities when they do not personally perceive a problem. What should researchers do when there is a mismatch between subjects’ perceptions (‘I wholeheartedly believe my institution operates gender blind promotion policies’) and quantitative data (a disproportionate gap between the number of female applicants and the number of women offered positions)?

As with many of my posts, it is often easier to present questions rather than answers.

Lastly, a clear thread running through this work is the distribution of power and the legacy of unequal structures. Flipping on its head the notion of an equality dividend, this post asked what we learn by framing the problem as an inequality dividend, where we consider what we all gain – at different times and in different contexts – because of the disadvantage of others. Thinking about who directly or indirectly benefits from unequal structures turns the focus from those who have to work ‘twice as hard’, because of their identity characteristics, to those who have to work ‘half as hard’.

These difficult discussions bring to the fore issues of power, privilege and the need for positive action to fix past injustices.

Looking forward to 2019, I want to continue to write and adapt these early pieces into something bigger. My work-in-progress is a larger study of the practice of EDI research, its uses and misuses in modern day Scotland.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to sharing more work in the New Year.

Dr Kevin Guyan is an equality and diversity researcher based in Edinburgh. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Published by Kevin Guyan

Dr Kevin Guyan is a researcher, writer and activist based in Edinburgh whose work explores the intersection of data and identity.

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