Chapter 2: Current approach to ethnic representation

Construing means as outcome may overestimate true progression to a more equitable HEI.

21st century is an era of metrics. Measuring and demonstrating impact becomes essential to research publications. This realist “only measurable changes are true changes” perspective dominates how “evidence” is conceived. The same line of logic was applied to promoting EDI initiatives.

We often treat EDI representation as visible representation, as they are more measurable. The aim is to get people of certain membership of a group (e.g., Asian) to attain an ideal proportion in a certain measurement of equity (e.g., promotion). For example, proportion of non-white people on interview panels, international student percentages etc. However, in pushing for a wider visible representation (definition 1) to be achieved, we assumed people who share those characteristics (1) are necessary to represent the groups’ rights (definition 2).

Assumption that AR leads to RR, which in turn leads to Equity
AR is not necessary nor sufficient to attain Equity

For example, in the Sewell report, the ethnic diversity of the police force becomes a target of intervention, with the underlying theory of change that once the (appearance) representation problem is solved, minoritized communities would regain equitable rights compared to their white counterparts. Another example, EDI groups in HEI often require a certain demographic make-up, inadvertently putting pressure on minorities to contribute. This follows the same line of logic that once the EDI group is diverse, the diverse needs will be addressed. There are numerous counterexamples that visible representation do not automatically achieve rights representation, black on black violence, the countless stories about those who made it became the gate-keeper to enter “high society”, hey ho, look at the faces behind UK Illegal Migration Bill 2023.

No doubt, having representation from minoritized groups can be a reflection of underlying change in power structure, equality and resource allocation. But that cannot be the only means of measuring change in our society. As Universities are incentivised to push for different awards recognising their efforts on EDI, when the only outcome measure focuses on superficial appearance representation, we might overestimate our progress to equity.

We need people who can fight for the rights of the underprivileged, and empower the minoritized, such that appearance representation would be the natural outcome of a changed landscape. This is a strong argument for people in power, often White and British, to take initiative. The misplaced emphasis on “measurable” outcomes became a hinderance to progress, as we phantasies for an easily measurable solution. Our current approach to ethnic representation does not promote this vision.

This conflict in apparent progress and on-the-ground experience among ethnic minoritized members of HEI is a source of frustration. I shall touch on this in more detail in Chapter 4.

In the next chapter, I will describe 2 flaws in how ethnicity and ethnic representation is discussed, and hoping to elucidate the power constructs that were so deeply embedded in our social interactions that may slow, or mimic progress in promoting ethnic equality.

* Appearance Representation: A depiction or portrayal of a person or thing, typically one produced in an artistic medium – definition 1.

Rights Representation: The action of standing for, or in the place of, a person, group, or thing, and related senses – definition 2.


Author: joseph lam

On a Part-Time PhD Journey. Reflection on living Academia into a better place. 🇭🇰 Migrant in 🇬🇧

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