Diversity and inclusion

Exploring equality and diversity using REF2014 environment statements


This experimental project was commissioned by HEFCE to investigate what could be learned about equality and diversity (E&D) in the research environment, based on analysis of the 1911 ‘People' sections of the Environment Statements submitted by HE institutions to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework exercise (REF2014). Using a combination of automated text processing and computer-supported analysis, this found that:

  • HE institutions' focus in E&D was dominantly on gender (and to a lesser extent pregnancy/ maternity), much more than on other aspects of diversity;
    The Athena SWAN gender award scheme was a major focus of what was reported.
  • E&D issues (including gender) were talked about more commonly in the sciences than in other broad research areas.
  • There was linkage between how much attention was paid to E&D in submissions and their REF Research Environment profiles (scores), although no proof that this was causal.
  • There was little quantitative evidence to distinguish genuine commitment to embedding E&D at the level of a submitting unit from effectiveness in completing a good submission.
  • Context was critical - for example, a third of occurrences of the word ‘Athena' were from submitting units that did not have an award but were aspiring or planning to achieve one.
  • This suggests that a combination of metrics and narrative approaches should be used in future submissions on the research environment, and that assessment panels will need to review and assess them both quantitatively and qualitatively.
  • As many E&D initiatives are currently at institutional level, these would be better reported and assessed through an institutional template and/or metrics, in addition to what is reported at Unit of Assessment level.
  • A revised, more structured environment template would be helpful, potentially including a specific E&D section, and ideally more guidance on the types of activities and measures that submitting units should cite.

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Exploring equality and diversity using REF2014 environment statements