Universities Have Diverse Student Populations. But What About Their Faculties?

UK student populations are more diverse than ever before. In fact, women and minorities are overrepresented compared to the general population. According to official government figures, 72.1% of the Chinese minority group, 48.6% of the black minority group, 54.9% of the Asian minority group, and 40.8% of students with mixed heritage got a place in a UK higher education institution in 2021. This contrasts with just 33.3% of pupils who identify as white.

In terms of gender, the current ratio in UK institutions is 97.75 males per 100 females.

With so much greater diversity in our student populations, we’re often asked whether that same level of diversity is reflected amongst faculties staff.

What do the statistics show? 

When comparing the composition of UK ethnic groups with the latest annual equality statistical report by Advance HE, universities are also starting to make progress, albeit there is still significant room for improvement.

% of Ethnic Group Professors within Higher Education (HE) Institutions:

Although those from the Chinese minority group are significantly overrepresented in terms of professors within HE institutions, individuals from the remaining minority groups are underrepresented across UK faculties and in particular, those identifying as Black are significantly underrepresented. 

Furthermore, members of the Black minority group are considerably less likely than the White ethnic group to be on open-ended or permanent contracts, in senior management positions, in professional roles and on higher salary bands.

However, when expanding the view to all staff employed by HE institutions, the picture improves. 

% of Ethnic Group Staff within HE Institutions

Over the 14-year life of the Advance HE report, the proportion of White staff has decreased from 91.4% to 84.6% whilst the percentage of HE staff that are Black, Asian and minority ethnic has doubled from 8.6% to 15.4%. These groups now make up 18% of academics despite only making up 14% of the UK population. 

Gender and Disability

There is also progress being made on gender and disability criteria within HE institutions.

In terms of gender, inequality is improving. In the 2003-04 academic year, 40% of faculty staff were women, but that figure is now at 46.7%, close to parity. However, there remains a significant lag when looking at professor-level roles with only 28% of these posts being filled by females.   

The number of disabled staff is also rising. In 2010-11, 3.2% of faculty staff were disclosed as having a disability. That figure now stands at 5.5%. However, this number remains significantly below the 21% of working-age adults classified as living with a disability.

How to improve HE staff diversity

The statistics clearly show that HE institutions are making progress in building diverse faculties. However, there is much further progress that can still be made, particularly at a senior academic level in relation to females and the Black ethnic group.

One of the greatest recruitment challenges to overcome in delivering diversity for all sectors is the risk of unconscious bias. Unconscious bias describes the associations we hold, outside our conscious awareness and control. 

It affects everyone but can have a particularly negative impact on recruitment, as a recruiting manager unaware of their own bias can skew their view of candidates. If that bias relates to age, gender, race or socio—economic background, this means they could unconsciously make a decision influenced by false beliefs or assumptions.

However there are a number of tools and initiatives that can be employed within the recruitment process to help minimise the risk of unconscious bias as well as proactively targeting broader and more diverse pools of candidates.

Job Advert Language

The language used to advertise a role can be guilty of unconscious bias, particularly in relation to gender. A previous study by TotalJobs found that the top male-biased words in UK job descriptions are more active and dynamic, whilst the top female-biased words were more passive. 

For example, the most common male biased words in UK job adverts were ‘lead’ and ‘analyse’, whilst the most common female biased words were ‘support’ and ‘responsible’.

The study found that ads with executive/senior job titles such as ‘director’ or ‘partner’ contained language skewed towards male bias whilst role titles such as ‘assistant’ featured more female biased wording.

There are many tools available now such as https://gender-decoder.katmatfield.com/ to check a job advert in order to flag any possible biased language, so these should be used wherever possible.

Blind Screening

A critical way to help avoid unconscious bias during the recruitment process is implementing a blind screening stage. Any good recruiter or headhunter that is committed to ensuring diversity will incorporate a blind screening aspect as an integral part of their process.

Essentially, blind screening entails reviewing advert responses and CVs without names. This helps to ensure an organisation progresses a candidate purely on the merits of their skills, experience, and qualifications. Not seeing an individual’s name helps to ensure any gender or racial unconscious bias is avoided at the pre-interview stages of recruitment.

Psychometric Profiling

The use of psychometric profiling forms an integral part of our headhunting process as it delivers a more objective view of how well matched a candidate is to a role and organisation. It plays a critical part in comparing candidates from an objective perspective.  

Psychometric profiling thoroughly examines the character of the underlying human being and ignores inherited cultural traits, minimising the risk of judging an individual based on their background.   

Staff Training

Ensuring any recruiting members of staff have undergone high level training on unconscious bias will help. For example, utilising the Project Implicit test to increase an individual’s conscious awareness of their bias.

Specialist Publications

Another strategy is to advertise in more niche publications designed for non-mainstream audiences. Mainstream publications, newspapers and even job sites may have narrow followings that don’t reflect the true diversity of British society. 

Applicants from diverse backgrounds may simply be unaware that university job roles are open and, therefore, may not apply.

As well as advertising on dedicated diversity job boards such as https://www.diversity.co.uk/, there are also publications and job boards aimed at specific diversity groups. For example, advertising a role on www.workingmums.co.uk will deliver female candidates and there are a number of dedicated publications aimed at the Black ethnic group where a role could be advertised.

Cross-Sector Reach

Many institutions rely on existing education specific job boards or publications to recruit as they often require previous experience in the sector. This will result in a limitation on the ability to increase the number of diverse candidates due to recruiting from within a sector with a finite number of existing diverse staff. 

As part of the initial recruitment process, HE institutions should focus on the actual skills required to perform a role and therefore challenge how necessary previous experience in the sector is.

As cross-sector headhunting specialists, we’ve often found the best candidates for a role have been identified from outside the recruiting organisation’s sector. There are a significant number of roles whereby the skills set required are transferrable across sectors, and therefore by broadening the advertising to other sectors, a much wider and more diverse pool of candidates can be found.


Whilst there is still work to be done, and we continue to support our clients in this sector with recruitment processes and training to increase diversity, HE institutions have made progress on increasing diversity in recent years.

However, more progress can be achieved, particularly at the senior academic role levels for the Black ethnic group and females in order to achieve equal representation in line with their respective populations.  

Ultimately, HE institutions that better understand the styles and preferences of the available talent pool and who utilise some of the tools and techniques above as a core part of their recruitment processes, will find it easier to attract more diverse academic staff.


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