Email to SAMH regarding Head of Communications and Public Affairs vacancy – 23rd July 2021

Dear Sir/Madam,

Following an exchange on Twitter I am writing regarding the Head of Communications and Public Affairs role currently being advertised by SAMH. In particular, I would like to ask why it is essential for applicants to be “educated to Degree level, or equivalent experience in a relevant field”. Can you explain why a generic degree is essential for this role? What is it that you believe a graduate will bring that nobody else could possibly offer?

As I’m sure you are aware, the charity sector faces significant challenges when it comes to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. In particular, people of colour and those from racialised communities, people with disabilities and people from low-income families are all under-represented within the profession. It is no coincidence that research shows these same groups are also under-represented within Higher Education.

By limiting this role to those who were fortunate enough to go to university SAMH is directly perpetuating these challenges. (We will address why adding “or equivalent experience” doesn’t make this more inclusive below).

The #NongraduatesWelcome campaign is calling on charitable organisations across the UK to drop the discriminatory, outdated and unnecessary use of generic degree qualifications from their job descriptions. I am writing to you today to ask you to consider reissuing the job description for this role without the requirement for a degree qualification because: 

  • Asking for an unspecified degree qualification is likely to constitute indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 the barriers to higher education in the UK mean this indirectly discriminates on the grounds of 4 protected characteristics – age, race, gender and disability. (You can read why this is likely to constitute a breach of the Equality Act here –
  • There is no reason why you need a degree to be successful in this role – This is a skilled job, requiring empathy, communication skills, critical thinking, resilience and strong research skills. Completing a degree course is one way to develop or demonstrate these skills. However, these skills are not exclusive to graduates. Making a degree-level qualification an essential requirement ignores the fact that there are many other ways an applicant could gain these skills.
  • It perpetuates the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion challenges within the charity sector – For example, research by the Chartered Institute of Fundraising shows that the fundraising profession doesn’t reflect the wider community, or the people charities are there to serve. UK Government research shows that people from some BAME communities, disabled people and those from low-income backgrounds are less likely to go to university.
  • It doesn’t help charities to judge candidates – By masking the abilities, skills and experience you are actually looking for you are preventing candidates from making the strongest case to demonstrate why they are the right person for the role. This makes your job harder when it comes to accurately assessing candidates.
  • You are unnecessarily reducing the number of applicants – Recruiting for posts like this is hard! Blocking people from applying simply because – by choice or by circumstance – they didn’t go to university reduces the number of applications even further, with no guarantee that the applications you do get will be any more suitable for the role. You may believe that you would still consider people if they had experience but had not been to university. However, positioning a degree qualification as an essential requirement will deter good people from applying.

You may feel that the addition of “or equivalent experience in a relevant field” mitigates the discrimination of asking for a degree. However, this is still problematic. To demonstrate why, we would urge you to consider the following questions:

  1. How do you define how much experience is equivalent to a degree? Is it the number of years worked? The number of campaigns delivered? The number of CPD hours completed?
  2. How is “equivalent experience” different to the nine requirements listed in the person spec under Experience? If they are the same, do you agree this makes the degree part superfluous?
  3. Given there is no universally accepted definition for equivalence here, what steps have you taken to ensure that everyone involved in the recruitment process is using the same definition so as to ensure a fair process for all applicants?
  4. How do you expect someone without a degree to know if their experience is equivalent? You are asking them to compare to something they have no direct experience of. Do you agree this puts them at a disadvantage?

Under the Core Competencies, Behaviours and Skills section of this job ad you list that the post holder must be “Supportive of Equality and Diversity” and “Challenge inequality and stigma; recognise and respond to the barriers individuals and groups face within society.” This is an opportunity to show that these values are shared by all at SAMH. 

That’s why I am calling on you to reissue this job ad without the discriminatory degree requirement.

And, as this is not the first role at SAMH that we have challenged for using discriminatory generic degree requirements, I hope you will also take this opportunity to commit to not asking for academic qualifications unless they genuinely are required for the job. 

I hope SAMH will act quickly to remove a requirement that has no place in our sector. In doing so you will be joining a growing number of charities who have made this simple change to make their job descriptions – and their organisations – more inclusive. 

Yours sincerely, 

David Burgess 

P.S. If you would like to learn more about the #NonGraduatesWelcome campaign you can read our manifesto at Alternatively, I would be very happy to discuss this further should you wish.