How Oxford University is using data to empower underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship
The question is not whether a diversity of talent exists, but how do we enable all to move forward in industry, according to Leah Thompson from the University of Oxford
Universities, as international institutions, are often perceived as hubs of inclusivity and diversity.
However, this doesn’t always correlate with the professional world. Universities have a responsibility to commence change on an institutional level, with the intention of changing the face of entrepreneurship globally.
That is why the University of Oxford has dedicated a space to better understand, empower, support, and connect underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship. Our initiative, IDEA (Increasing Diversity in Enterprising Activities), addresses directly the main challenges faced by underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship.
Looking at the trajectories of participants within the university, we can identify pathways, find the common gaps, and then shape our resources... true change can only be made through data-informed decision-making
Working firstly with women, and those who identify as women, we will aim to inspire all positions at Oxford – from students to faculty, staff to researchers – by identifying and finding solutions to institutional barriers and utilising the power of connection with tailored opportunities and support.
To begin, however, we must start by taking the time to understand how different groups move through our university, what sorts of activities they are engaging in, and what opportunities they are taking up.
For IDEA, we have put data at the forefront to learn about our students and staff. Partnering with software platform Inkpath, we are gathering essential data under a centralised system which, as a collegiate project spread across multiple groups and partners, would otherwise be difficult to do. This is essential to understanding how to create an inclusive entrepreneurship environment, and to support students no matter their backgrounds.
The data we generate comes from participants who consent to provide the information, so we know that the information received is from those who would directly benefit from, and engage further with, the IDEA initiative. Looking at the trajectories of participants within the university, we can identify pathways, find the common gaps, and then shape our resources and opportunities around filling these gaps and offering better services to everyone at Oxford. This is essential: as a global institution, we are working actively on being as inclusive as possible, and true change can only be made through data-informed decision-making.
Although the system is still in its early stages, we are already gathering some of the core goals of women embarking on entrepreneurship. In the programme's first year, IDEA had over 200 student and staff sign-ups and almost 1,000 logged activity hours, all of which is helping to shape the activities, support and resources we have begun to offer across our university, for both students and staff.
Such resources include the IDEA Wonder Women interview series, with almost 200 Oxford-linked women profiled on the website, as well as our Peer Mentoring programme (two cohorts involving 28 woman founders and their teams), helping to understand the barriers and challenges, but also identify areas of good practise across the University, for us to tap into.
IDEA have also scheduled a wide list of events since 2021, such as networking workshops, peer mentoring programmes, Q&As with women in enterprise, and pitch events. These will continue throughout the next academic year. With more than 500 attendees at IDEA’s own or supported International Women’s Day events, the quantitative data from sign-ups, attendance and feedback will continue to influence the types of opportunities we offer, commencing a cyclical process to ensure that our initiative remains strictly directed by those we aim to target.
This feedback will also help individual participants with their own engagement and development. IDEA give users valuable insights into what their career trajectory looks like and what they have achieved so far, fostering inspiration and empowerment to take further opportunities within the University and beyond. Equality, diversity and inclusion is a key theme across the university’s Strategic Plan and Knowledge Exchange Strategies, creating huge opportunities for initiatives like IDEA to have a substantial impact.
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