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The importance of recognition: Guardian Diversity awards

David Ruebain considers a turning point for the sector.

Last night was a big night for ECU as we took an unusual step for our organisation. For the first time ever we sponsored an award, supporting the inaugural Diversity Initiative category at the Guardian University Awards 2014.

The awards is for ‘an HR initiative that makes meaningful steps towards enabling a more diverse staff body (academic and/or administrative) and champions the case for equality in HE’.

Last night was also a big night for the three shortlisted institutions, the teams and individuals involved in developing the initiatives, who have painstakingly built support for their ideas and worked to make them a reality.

After much panel deliberation I was pleased to present the award to Kingston University for their project Mainstreaming equality, diversity and inclusion into academic career progression but even for the teams that didn’t come away with the award, they can take a moment to feel proud of their efforts and savour that their achievements will be recognised by a wider audience.

You can find out more about the work of all three finalists in the Guardian University Awards ideas bank.

But tonight’s awards mark an even bigger moment for equality and diversity in higher education. It is the moment when diversity takes its place as a core activity for universities alongside best practice in such vital areas as teaching excellence, research, student experience, employability, fundraising, international work and business partnerships.

This award says loud and clear that diversity, equality and inclusion are part of the core mission of universities, and the higher education sector as a whole. To many this is not a new concept – and the three shortlisted submissions from Keele University, Kingston University and the University of Sheffield, all show a deep understanding of the importance of staff diversity for their institution’s strategy and performance.

But ECU’s involvement in this award aims to have a wider impact. It is not enough to preach to the converted, to focus only on the people who have already realised the benefits of diversity to their wider success.

I see the award as an opportunity to encourage other institutions to take those steps forward and nominate themselves for next year. It is an opportunity to show how it is both possible and necessary to embed diversity in top-level strategy. It is an opportunity to illustrate to those senior managers who don’t see the relevance to their mission that their peers and neighbours not only see diversity as relevant, but vital.

After all, in the higher education sector nothing quite sharpens the mind as much as reputation and a bit of healthy competition. A prestigious national award can go a long way to attracting and retaining talented, committed staff.

I personally would encourage institutions to nominate themselves for this award next year and am looking forward to reading their submissions already.