Equality and diversity in employment relations: do we practise what we preach?

Jane Holgate, Sue Abbott, Nicolina Kamenou, Josie Kinge, Jane Parker, Susan Sayce, Jacqueline Sinclair, Laura Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The pursuit of equality and valuing of diversity are central tenets of much organisational thinking and public policy development. However, in this current age of austerity we are witnessing a number of existing and proposed “fairness initiatives” feeling the sharp blade of a cost-cutting axe. This paper is a reflexive response that aims to examine a piece of action research in the field of industrial relations. It aims to take the professional UK association, the British Universities Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA), as a case study and consider how issues of equality and diversity have been viewed by the organisation both in theory and practice. Using a framework which acknowledges the need for multiple levels of analysis (macro, meso and micro) and which argues for an intersectional approach, the paper seeks to detail the measures adopted by BUIRA so as to augment its organisational responsiveness to various equality and diversity concerns. It also provides an insight into how the authors, as equality and diversity academics, reflected on the process of creating policy through their own research activities. A further aim of the paper is to highlight the scope and character of equality and diversity initiatives undertaken by BUIRA, and to discuss some of their implications for its membership – both now and in the future. Design/methodology/approach – What began as a simple policy piece of research developed into a multi-method, quantitative and qualitative, action-based project. It also became a reflexive study of how and by what methods research is conducted. A quantitative and qualitative survey of BUIRA members was followed with interviews with past-presidents of the organisation. Historical data in the form of a comprehensive 2010 retrospective on BUIRA were also consulted. Findings – The authors' empirical material was analysed with reference to a theoretical framework that acknowledges the importance of intersectionality at all levels of analysis. The study's findings are discussed in relation to macro, meso and micro influences and reference is made to how these three levels intersect in examining views and perceptions in relation to equality and diversity within BUIRA. The main findings are that while BUIRA as an association has acted to combat perceptions that it is dominated by older White men who prioritise traditional elements of industrial relations (IR), this view still persists for some of the membership. The membership survey indicated that it was female, younger or less established academics in particular who held this view, suggesting that in challenging inequalities within the IR academic community BUIRA may still have a way to go. Practical implications – A key implication is that representative organisations such as professional associations need to consider equality and diversity aspects that reflect the membership they serve. This has been acknowledged as fundamental in both workplaces and trade unions and now requires similar commitment from professional associations. Of course, the scope and character of initiatives are also context-sensitive, as reflected by non-linear progress in equality initiatives undertaken by these and other organisations. Originality/value – The research offers an analysis of equality and diversity within a professional association which is an under researched area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-339
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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