Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

Oxford University skips Stonewall Workplace Equality Index review for second year in a row

Oxford’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) report for 2022-2023 has revealed that the University has not submitted an application to Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index for the second year in a row but suggested it intends to in the future. 

Stonewall is a charity organization which describes itself as “a leading organization for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, queer, questioning and ace (LGBTQ+) people in the UK.” It was formerly headed by St Hilda’s graduate and former President of Oxford’s student Union, Ruth Hunt, Baroness Hunt of Bethnal Green. 

A particular focus of the charity is conducting reviews into the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace through their Workplace Equality Index (WEI) reviews. The last time Oxford applied for a WEI review was in the year 2020-2021.

According to Stonewall’s research, over a third of LGBTQ+ in the UK feel the need to hide their identity at work.

One of the 6 main equality objectives of the Equality and Diversity Unit of Oxford is to “consolidate our position in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index”. This objective was approved by the Council on 15 July 2019.

In 2019, the University’s application to Stonewall WEI scored 125.5 and was ranked 76th as one of the Top 100 Employers. However, by 2021 this has significantly dropped to a score of 55, ranking 231st. 

The release of the 2021 ranking coincided with a larger national debate about Stonewall’s WEI, with several UK universities distancing themselves from the charity over fears that the WEI recommendations may contradict new free speech laws.

In the same year, Michael Biggs, a sociology professor at St Cross College, wrote an open letter to the Vice Chancellor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality and Diversity, calling on them to withdraw from Stonewall’s WEI scheme. He stated: “The University should not submit to an unelected organisation which campaigns for a particular political agenda”.

The choice by universities to distance themselves from the scheme has been criticised by equality advocates. Dr Gina Gwenffrewi from the University of Edinburgh authored a 2021 report for the University College Union entitled “the stoning of Stonewall during the new trans panic” and called the campaign against Stonewall “a form of collateral delegitimization of trans rights.”

2021 saw fierce and ongoing debates between transgender right’s activists and free-speech advocates at campuses across the UK. In that year, Oxford’s Student Union officially severed ties with the Oxford Union over its choice to host controversial academic, Dr Kathleen Stock, who had resigned from her teaching position at the University of Sussex following student protests over her comments on the status of Transgender individuals. 

In a statement at the time, Oxford’s LGBTQ society accused the Union of “disregarding the welfare of its LGBTQ+ members under the guise of free speech”.

The EDI’s report states that the University is “reviewing the Stonewall feedback with a view to the University making a submission to a future round of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, and advising how LGBTQ+ inclusion can be strengthened and incorporated into a collegiate University EDI plan”.

The report highlighted the university’s achievements in LGBTQ+ representation and inclusion, including the Annual LGBT+ History month lecture, organized by the LGBT+ Advisory Group.

The report also states the committee’s intention to “increase the levels of satisfaction and inclusion amongst transgender and non-binary staff and students” as part of the Athena SWAN Action Plan for 2024-2025.

“Oxford has convened a task and finish group to help prepare for a submission to a future round of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, subject to Stonewall’s submission timelines,” said a spokesperson from the University.

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys

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