Reflections on the Aurora Women’s Leadership Development Programme

Updated 13 July.

Guest blog from Katherine O’Sullivan (Marketing, Communication and Engagement & Henley Business School) and Helen Bilton (Institute of Education) with intro by Simon Chandler-Wilde (Dean for D&I)

Yesterday we had a reception, hosted by the Vice-Chancellor David Bell (and by Susan Thornton (Leadership and Talent Development Manager) who organises our engagement with this national programme, and by the UEB Gender Champion PVC Robert Van der Noort),  to celebrate the staff  that have been part of the Aurora Women’s Leadership Programme over the last year, and the line managers and mentors who have supported them.

This was a great celebratory and networking event. We finished with some words from David Bell, and also (for the second year running) with reflections on the programme from two of our staff who were part of the Aurora cohort from the year before, namely Katherine O’Sullivan (MCE & HBS) and Helen Bilton (Institute of Education). Below we share via this blog both of these reflections, kicking off with those from Katherine.

To give a little context to Katherine’s participation in the programme let me introduce Katherine briefly.  She is the Recruitment Manager for Europe and Americas at Henley Business School. Currently, Katherine is on a one-year secondment to the Global Recruitment Team in MCE as Country Manager for Central and South Asia. She’s from Boston, Massachusetts, and before moving to the UK nearly three years ago to work at the University she lived and worked for five years in Amsterdam as a lecturer in Cultural Studies.

Here are Katherine’s words from yesterday’s Aurora celebration:

“Hello everyone. Firstly, to the 2016/17 Aurora cohort, I hope that your experience has been challenging, eye-opening and profoundly rewarding as my experience was when I participated in Aurora in 2015/16. When Susan sent around an email asking if any of us would like to say a few words to this year’s group, I jumped at the chance, because it was yet another way I could thank Reading for its support and continued participation in this vital initiative.

When I participated in Aurora in 2015/16, I had only moved to the UK to start working at Reading in 2014; I was also in a non-teaching role. I was completely surprised to have been selected for Aurora because of this. However, I think it speaks volumes that Reading was willing to invest in someone new to the UK, new to the University, and someone in professional services (student recruitment), and sees all of these criteria as a vital part of the community here and worth developing. But being new to the UK, new to Reading, and a former academic who left a teaching role to take on a new career in student recruitment, I was extremely nervous about participating in Aurora. I feared I would be an outsider at the sessions, and that I would be seen as an imposter.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Aurora was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I was able to grow my professional network in the UK by leaps and bounds. I was able to gain insight into other women’s experiences (both British and non-British) in Higher Education in the UK. I was assured by other participants that I had unique and meaningful contributions to add to their conversations—to our conversations!—, and that I too had a place in the conversation about the direction of UK higher education, and that my voice, as both a woman and an immigrant, had an important place in shaping the future.

I found myself growing more confident at work because of this, willing to champion certain initiatives within my team, participate meaningfully in university-wide working groups, and it also gave me the self-assurance to take on a new challenge in a secondment role for a year in another department. Without the support from Reading, from Aurora and from the amazing women I met on the programme, I know I wouldn’t be in the position I am today or have a multitude of options in terms of career development and career progression that I do. The critical thinking skills I learned from the Action Learning Set still inform any professional problem I come across; and from time to time, you may catch me power posing in bathrooms around campus before I have an important meeting or presentation.

To this year’s cohort: although women still have a long way to go where we are equally represented at all levels in business, in academia and in society, you have become another ‘generation’ of Aurora leaders, and I truly hope we can become a critical mass, not only at Reading, but across higher education and beyond. Reading’s 2026 vision is to have ‘a vibrant, thriving, sustainable, global and broad-based institution, responsive to, stimulated by and informing changes in the world around us’. I can truly say that the University’s commitment to programmes like Aurora will certainly give many of us across the university the confidence and voice to help contribute to this vision.”

Our 2nd speaker from the cohort of 15/16 was Helen Bilton. Helen is currently Associate Professor in the Institute of Education – but one follow-on from her participation in the 15/16 Aurora programme was a successful application for promotion to Professor which comes into force over the summer! She holds various roles within the IoE, across the University and beyond, including as a National Teaching Fellow. Here is an extract from her words from yesterday’s event:

“The Aurora leadership programme that I was very lucky to attend, much like any learning did a number of things. It added lots of new light, affirmed things I knew and reminded me of things I had forgotten. It was good to find that the University believed in supporting someone who was at the time 59, and Aurora isn’t all about young things! It offered the most amazing strategies to analyse issues, and ask questions to help others find their own solutions. These strategies I use with staff and find they work every time. It taught me to give it a go and apply for things with no doubting Tom in my head. But also accepting that failure and mistakes are just part of the journey and are okay and to help others to see errors are a necessary part of the learning journey.

Einstein said you can’t make changes if you think in the same way you always have and Aurora has changed me as it has helped me to think differently. I would advise anyone with a desire to think differently to apply.”

Fellows of the Royal Society are human too

Guest post by Jonathan Gregory (with thanks to Meteorology’s Weather and Climate Blog where this originally appeared).

In early May I was surprised and honoured, as well as happy, to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. One of the best consequences of this so far has been that I was allowed the opportunity to give a speech to members of the department one afternoon at an informal celebration. Actually I had requested this occasion, following the admirable departmental tradition of celebrating successful PhD vivas etc., because I wanted to share with my colleagues some thoughts, which I’m writing down here in case they’re useful to others as well. First among these was to thank those who proposed me for the fellowship, and my bosses of the last 28 years, who recruited me into excellent research institutions and gave me the freedom to work on subjects which seemed useful and interesting to me.

It turns out that FRSs are human too. Nothing has magically changed since my election. There are still lots of things I can’t understand. I’m still worried that I won’t be able to think of enough good ideas. I still feel near to despair about the large number of things I want or need to do at work, and my inadequacy in tackling them. In fact for much of my adult life I have suffered from recurrent depression. Many of the thoughts that cause me difficulties are sometimes described as symptoms of imposter syndrome, which is a fear that you are in a position that you don’t deserve to have reached, and that any moment you might be unmasked as a fraud who has misled people into thinking that you are actually quite clever.

It is probable that some colleagues have similar fears, and it’s good to know you’re not alone. Most people need encouragement, I guess. I value my election as FRS because it’s an external recognition of climate science and the value of my contribution to it, and I’ll try to use this knowledge to help myself when I’m feeling depressed. It’s useful to remind yourself in those circumstances of positive things that others have said, and in fact I’ve compiled a list of them, to look at when in need. Because I know that positive remarks are useful to me, I advocate that we should all offer positive comments to our colleagues, staff and bosses whenever we think they’ve done something good. Positive feedback should not be lagged!

One of my jobs is to make such comments myself. My other important function is to ask questions that I feel stupid in asking, especially in group meetings etc. where there might be others who’d rather like to know the answers too but don’t feel confident to ask. It’s easier for a professor to do this job than a new PhD student, because (presuming that I am actually not altogether an imposter) I can have some confidence that I am not being unusually stupid if I don’t understand something. Actually ignorance is not the same as stupidity anyway. Ignorance is not necessarily a bad thing. Socrates said that he knew nothing except that he knew nothing, and in Nineteen Eighty-Four one of the ruling party’s slogans is “Ignorance is strength.” Maybe that’s going too far, but ignorance can certainly be useful, because it avoids preconceptions. Asking questions when you feel that the answer ought to be obvious, but doesn’t seem to be, can be a way to change people’s thinking. In his book, The structure of scientific revolutions, in which he put forward the idea of paradigm shifts, Thomas Kuhn points out that radical progress is often made by people who are new to a subject, presumably for this reason.

If people seem blank when you explain something to them, it might just be because you haven’t been clear enough, but on the other hand it could be because the subject you are dealing with is not yet properly appreciated, and you’re speaking a new language. If a subject seems unclear and confused to you, it might be because no-one properly understands it, and everyone’s been skirting round it, thinking it’s someone else’s business. So perhaps it would be a good idea to head straight in that direction and see what there is to be discovered, because there may be unknown mountains hidden in the mists of ignorance, and amazing panoramas can occasionally be glimpsed through the gaps.

Diversity and Internationalization

Guest blog by Vincenzo Raimo (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement)  

I’m a passionate advocate for the benefits that we all gain through the internationalization of our universities. Among the reasons that I was particularly keen to rejoin Reading University as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement in 2014, was its very strong and long-standing international relationships and its extensive global footprint. As a student, here in the 1980s, I remember a very international population of staff and students, like we have today, and living with students from a very diverse set of countries including Sudan, Oman, Rwanda, India, Cyprus and elsewhere. Almost 30-years on I’ve been privileged to visit most of these countries and to have met Reading graduates all over the world who, like me, have been profoundly influenced by the international experience they enjoyed as students here.

 

I’m sometimes met by skepticism in my belief in the benefits we all gain through greater internationalization on our campuses – a belief that by bringing students and scholars together from across the world we can share knowledge as well as developing a greater understanding and mutual respect for our fellow citizens of this planet. There are also significant benefits in terms of economic flows and in diplomatic relationships, but most crucially in creating a better and safer world which we can share together.

Internationalization does not, however, come without its challenges: the current challenges at home in relation to government policies, including the immigration and Brexit debates played out daily on our news screens, but also those challenges pertinent to operating as a transnational organization. Here in the UK we are home to more than 16000 students and 3700 staff representing most of the world’s nations, and a large number of the world’s religions and faiths. We need to be supportive of the diverse communities which we welcome to our campuses and ensure that we are sensitive and receptive to their particular needs.

We also have almost 3000 University of Reading students on our campuses and study sites outside of the UK including in South Africa, China and Malaysia as well as growing staff populations in those countries and an increasingly mobile staff travelling between Reading’s campuses.

Among the most significant challenges we face as a transnational organization are the very different legal and cultural environments we encounter in some of the countries to which our staff and students travel and in which the University of Reading is located today. It’s important to stress that while we obviously work within the different legal and cultural environments in which our people travel and in which we are located, our core values and principles as a University community remain unchanged – values of respect, tolerance and freedom of expression.

The University’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy is, as the name says, about being inclusive and welcoming to all people, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or disability. It is about ensuring that our practices do not exclude, marginalise or disadvantage people and that we create environments, as Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has described, in which “students and staff feel confident expressing who they are and what they believe in”.

The fact that we have a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, recognises that we still have work to do at our campuses in the UK to ensure our values are fully embedded. But this work also goes beyond our UK shores. While recognising that we can’t control the experiences of our staff and students away from the University, our campuses themselves, wherever they may be located, must be open and inclusive places. That may mean challenging assumptions and local cultures  – in part this is what universities have always done – but we must also be sensitive to the safety and the feelings of our people within the contexts in which we operate.

To support our Global Engagement Strategy, the University has signed-up as a Stonewall Global Diversity Champion as from 1st June 2017. This will help us to assess more accurately how we are meeting our University Values in our overseas sites, as well as helping us to provide the best possible advice and support we can to our staff and students who are currently working or studying at one of our branch campuses, or considering doing so.

Why are there so few BME staff in leadership positions?

I am used to being a minority in terms of being a female physical scientist. I am less used to being a minority in terms of ethnicity at a Higher Education event. However, last week I attended the BME Leadership in Higher Education Summit run by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE). Around 200 delegates discussed the possible reasons why there has been relatively little progress in increasing the representation of BME staff at senior levels in HE, and shared possible ways to move forward. There were probably about 25 or so who were part of the WME (White Majority Ethnic) group – point number 1 – if we are going to label groups – we need to label ourselves and by doing so acknowledge our white-ness. There are too many interesting topics that were discussed to present comprehensively in one blog, but here I’d like to share a few questions here.

  • Is University of Reading ready to move forward on race equality? Public sector organisations tend to be at different levels in terms of their readiness and ability to move forward on race equality. Comparing local government and NHS experiences, these can be classified as:
    1. Resisting – no understanding
    2. Intending – say it’s important but don’t understand the depth of action needed
    3. Starting – have a better understanding of local issues in the context of high level statements
    4. Developing – understand the issues and their aims but need to prioritise
    5. Achieving – clear vision but need to maintain

I would suggest that some of us in the organisation are around the “starting” level, whilst others are closer to “intending”, and some areas may be closer to resisting. In moving forward, there may well be people who have in the past benefited from privilege who find themselves no longer in that position. How do we respond to those people’s whilst sticking to our commitment to equality? Are we ready to have the difficult conversations needed?

  • Are we doing the most effective  “diversity training”? There was much discussion of “diversity training” with the general view being that unconscious bias training can be useful for starting conversations, but more useful in terms of changing culture is bystander training – giving people the confidence to challenge behaviors, and cultural competence (also referred to as intercultural skills).
  • What is the role of the white majority ethnic (WME) group? Here at Reading we have had a strong growth in our LGBT+ Ally network. Is it appropriate to do something similar here – or perhaps better a way of publically acknowledging membership of the Cultural Diversity Group (which is open to anyone who has an interest in race and ethnicity and how these influence staff and students at Reading).
  • What is the role of a “race champion”? Here we were introduced to a 3 stage framework: Stand up (engage), stand together (self-organised groups), stand aside (let the emergent leadership drive the agenda)

But perhaps the question that summed up the day was in fact:

“Why do people who look differently have to perform differently to achieve the same?”

 

Lesbian Visibility Day

by Simon Chandler-Wilde

Today, April 26th, is internationally celebrated in the LGBT+ community and beyond as Lesbian Visibility Day. Stonewall, the UK’s leading representational, campaigning, and support organisation for LGBT+ people and their allies – the University is a Stonewall Diversity Champion – has used today to launch a new video with many lesbian voices advocating the importance of lesbian visibility – and visibility of a variety of lesbian voices and backgrounds and intersectionalities. Here are a couple of stills from the video. These show first Stonewall and mental health advocate Yvonne Stewart-Williams, and then Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s Chief Executive. We’re really excited that Ruth will give our inaugural Wolfenden Lecture next week 4 May at 7pm – booking is still open here.

The voices on this video advocate powerfully for the importance of visible role models across society – and this message is taken up in Stonewall’s publication ‘The Double-Glazed Glass Ceiling: Lesbians in the Workplace‘, with a key recommendation that: ‘Having visible, open lesbian and bisexual female leaders in the organisation reassures lesbian employees that they won’t be discriminated against and encourages them to be out at work.’ The report also advocates strong support for role models, which is why we are so keen to support our LGBT staff financially and otherwise on Stonewall’s LGBT Role Models Programme. Watch the Staff Portal and the LGBT Plus network’s Twitter feed next week for details of funding for 8 more places, or talk for more info to my favourite lesbian and gay role models Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith, the co-chairs of LGBT Plus, who are both graduates of this one-day programme.

Talking this over this evening, my teenage daughter has emphasised to me the importance of visibility of younger role models. She means here role models at School and University  – RUSU and its LGBT+ Society do a great job locally at Reading of providing many role models, not least Nikki Ray our RUSU LGBT+ Part-Time Officer – but, equally, visible role models in the media and in the programmes that teens watch – a great example is Emily in Pretty Little Liars – that make clear that lesbian identities are normal, everyday, and across our diverse society.

‘Using your Voice to Make a Difference’: Jess Phillips MP at the University of Reading on June 1st

Guest post by Madeleine Davies (English Literature): update 20th April 2017, due to the 8th June General Election this talk will be postponed until some time in October to be confirmed.

In Jess Phillips’ recently published book, Everywoman (Hutchinson, 2017), the Labour MP discusses the ways in which female voices are silenced. She declares that this problem has deep historical roots as she observes the male and female gargoyles decorating the central lobby and the committee rooms in the House of Commons: Phillips notes that the men are depicted open mouthed in speech while the women are gagged, their mouths literally covered with stone muzzles (p.56).

The silencing of women’s voices is by no means a recent phenomenon but it has assumed a disturbing new manifestation in the digital age. In a particularly compelling section of her book, Phillips discusses online trolling and abuse and she explains ‘dog-piling’ which is a technique used by online trolls to shut down someone (often a woman) who speaks out. ‘Dog-piling’ involves hundreds or even thousands of people bombarding a Twitter account with messages over a short space of time. It is designed to drown out other voices, to intimidate the tweeter, and to effectively ‘block’ the voice.

Phillips recalls a horrifying example of this being used against her when a men’s rights activist made a comment about how ‘he wouldn’t even rape me’. As a statement, this is shocking enough, but what followed is even worse. As soon as the initial comment had been made, Phillips recalls the ‘dog-piling’ attack it initiated:

‘A glance at my twitter feed that day was a bit like reading a sinister Dr Seuss:

I will not rape her on a plane

I will not rape her on a train

I will not rape her in the car

I will not rape her on a star

I will not rape her HERE or THERE

I will not rape her anywhere

I will not rape her on a tram

I will not rape her, MAN-I-AM (pp.215-6)

That sufficient numbers of people required for a ‘dog-pile’ can find this abuse either funny or acceptable in the C21st staggered me. I am not a regular user of Twitter or Facebook, and reading Phillips’ book seemed to confirm my instinct that it might be a good idea to retain this policy.

But as Phillips notes, ‘dog-piling’ and other tactics (including ‘isolating’) are designed to coerce women into silence and she forges a connection between witch-hunts and the contemporary digital world when she notes that the feeling of being the victim of dog-piling is ‘akin to being stood in front of an enormous angry mob waving burning torches and pitchforks’ (p.215).

When women give in to the bullying and absent themselves from social media, the bullies win, so Phillips is firm in her argument that such tactics must not deter women from asserting their voices online, painful though the consequences can be. For this reason, Phillips was involved in the launch of Recl@im, an Internet campaign looking at laws and regulations that could be better used to stop abuse.  She is also involved in #NotTheCost, a campaign led by Madeleine Albright to combat the violence inflicted against politically active women around the world. Phillips’ engagement with this issue is clear – Jo Cox was one of her closest friends.

Phillips does not whine – she takes action and she asks all of us to do the same. She is, I think, an inspiring woman and it does not matter whether you agree with her politics or not. That she is willing to become the voice for all people who have no access to platforms from which to speak, positions her as a woman to be admired.

Jess Phillips is giving a talk at the University of Reading on June 1st. The Vice-Chancellor will introduce her at 6pm, and there will be a Q & A session and a book signing (for Everywoman) following the session. The talk takes place in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre and the book signing will be in the First Floor Foyer (both are in the Edith Morley Building, entrance 1a).

I have invited Jess to the University because I believe that she has a voice that needs to be heard by us all. Our students need fearless role models like her (though Phillips says she feels anything but ‘fearless’).  I hope that colleagues and students from across the University will come and hear Jess and contribute to the debate afterwards. After all, as she states:

‘By demanding to be heard, by dealing with our

imposter syndrome, by being cheerleaders,

doers not sayers, creating our own networks

and by daring to believe that we can make a

difference, we can.’

“Biggest Fight of my Life”: Frank Bruno and Mental Health

By Claire Gregor and Suzanne James  (Student Wellbeing) with an introduction by Ellie Highwood

Sometimes my role as Dean for Diversity and Inclusion feels like doing a giant dot-to-dot picture. There are great ideas and initiatives going on across campus that just need that little extra help to shine. ONe way we do this is by using some funds originally given by the Vice Chancellor, to support projects proposed by staff and students. We recently asked for applications and funded 7 very different activities of which you will hear more over the next few months as they progress. However, I am delighted to be able to share here a review of the first activity, designed and delivered by Student Wellbeing in March 2017.

Frank Bruno MBE visit and University Mental Health Week Activities

This project, organised and run by Student Wellbeing, used a national event, University Mental Health Day – whose theme was ‘Active in sport’ – to raise awareness among students of the links between mental and physical health. The theme had a positive message that appealed cross-gender, to all ages and ethnicities and resonated with a general ‘look after yourself’ message.

Funding was provided by a grant from Diversity and Inclusion Deans to pay for a high profile speaker (Frank Bruno, MBE), who is a strong and positive role model coming as he does from a BME background and who has publicly spoken about his own personal mental health struggles. Frank was invited to address the students at a specially organised ‘A conversation with’ lunchtime event.  An additional activity was developed so that Frank appeared for a Super Circuits event at the Sportspark prior to this, to maximise the publicity opportunities that his visit afforded.

 

Using this speaker opened up conversations among students about the relationship between mental and physical wellbeing. It inspired students to put steps in place to include activity in their lives, to support their mental and physical health.  It increased awareness of mental health difficulties and provided social contact activities that were open to all. The ‘In Conversation with ‘event also provided a high profile positive focus for the University of Reading’s Mental Health Day, during which a number of other planned activities took place.

Project Highlights:

  1. 230 staff and students attended ‘In Conversation’ in Van Emden lecture theatre
  2. 140 students and staff attended Super Circuits event at Sportspark
  3. Over 800 YouTube hits on ‘Biggest Fight of my Life’ Video uploaded on 2/03/2017
  4. 111 views of full interview and q and a session in 5 days
  5. 75 entries to Instagram competition: some individual images receiving in excess of 400 ‘likes’
  6. In Conversation Event Livestreamed via Facebook
  7. Multiple positive publicity opportunities generated promoting Reading as a university concerned about mental health issues
  8. Nearly £500 raised in 2 days for two charities: Sport in Mind and the Cameron Grant Memorial Trust

Legacy

  1. Visible presence on campus to show that the University ‘cares’ about student and staff mental well-being.
  2. Promotion of Student Wellbeing to hard-to-reach target groups.
  3. Professionally produced Counselling & Wellbeing video clip which can be uploaded to provide permanent resource via web pages and Blackboard

 

Engaging UofR students in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Guest post by Dr Madeleine Davies, Department of English Literature (SLL)

At an International Women’s Day event I organised this week, colleagues and students listened, learned and debated as our inspiring colleagues delivered talks on a range of topics. Our large room was filled almost to capacity and there was laughter, solidarity and reflection as Professor Clare Furneaux, Dr Brian Feltham, Dr Orla Kennedy, Professor Rachel McCrindle and Dr Mary Morrissey delivered passionate, research based speeches on topics including Women in Engineering, gendered relationships with language, women and weight, the meanings embedded in Hillary Clinton’s ‘likability’ issues, and the relevance of Jeremy Bentham’s model of the Panopticon in relation to discriminatory mechanisms.

This is an annual event and every year I am staggered and impressed by our students’ level of engagement with issues of equality. Since the Noughties, there has been a persistent narrative around the political apathy of the younger generations; journalists have mourned the gap between politically engaged parents and their politically disengaged offspring. The problem with this position is that it too easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: because we expect apathy, we cease to try to engage, and we then create the very ‘apathy’ of which we complain. The consequences of this were seen in the Brexit referendum and are felt also in a too easy acceptance of unequal pay, unequal status within the workplace, and unequal parliamentary representation (we should not be distracted by the fact of a female PM when 455 male MPs significantly outnumber 195 female MPs).

The student-facing UofR International Women’s Day event challenges this narrative of assumed apathy and political disengagement. It reveals that we only need to use our creativity to tap into our students’ deeply-felt commitment to issues of justice and fairness. This generation of students is more nuanced, less thoughtlessly discriminatory, and more reflective than we probably were ourselves at their age. In ‘Writing, Gender and Identity’ seminars, for example, my Part 2 students interrogate binary positions with skill and sensitivity, and in their activities in equality, diversity and inclusion campaigns, they take direct action. Some of our students in English Literature have gone on to manage new education networks in developing areas of Africa; they have worked for penal reform organisations; they have become the leader of the Women’s Equality Party (Sophie Walker is a graduate of French and English); they have held banners at Women’s Marches bearing the legend, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel – not a template!’. I am proud to say that our graduates practice what we preach: we must make sure that we do the same.

At a fascinating CQSD training event yesterday, there was much discussion about how we could develop our students’ capacity for critical thinking. As I listened to our students debating at the IWD event, I understood that they have the ability and the desire to think critically, particularly about issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. It is up to us to connect with them in workshops, lectures, student forums, and extra-curricular events as we work to develop the next generation of citizens and professionals who may finally be able to produce that most elusive goal, a more equal world.

 

Feedback on our Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2017 submission

by Simon Chandler-Wilde

I’ve blogged before about the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and Reading. On the LGBT Plus network’s blog I’ve talked about what is involved in a submission and talked about why – encouraged by our LGBT Plus network – we think being part of this charter mark is really worthwhile. Then last month on this blog I reported on the results of our submission into the Stonewall WEI 2017, resulting in our best marks ever and our best ever placing at 168 out of 439 submissions, compared to 204/415 last year.

In that last blog I promised an update after our face-to-face feedback meeting with our client manager Jessica James from Stonewall. We had that meeting on Tuesday, Jess meeting with me, Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith (Co-Chairs of the LGBT Plus staff network), and Alison Hackett and Yasmin Ahmed from HR. Jessgave us a breakdown of our marks and a comparison with other employers, and feedback for two hours on where we did well and where we can improve.

The 1st picture above summarises our rank over the last three years, and our score this year and how this compares with averages over:

  • all submissions;
  • all submissions in our Education sector (mainly universities but also a few further education);
  • the Top 100 submissions.

We have made significant progress from last year, both in our score (up from 78 to 102), and in our ranking in the sector (up from 27/54 to 22/56). To get into the Top 100 we would need to make the same improvement in score again – this year the Top 100 had scores of 125 and above – and we would need a further significant improvement to hit the Top 100 average. (The University’s target is to be in the top 50 by 2020, so roughly the Top 100 average.) To avoid any complacency, its worth noting that we have to make some improvement each year just to stand still, as more employers enter each year and scores get better – overall average was 78 last year and 85 this year, while Top 100 average has increased from 143 to 148.

OK, so where did we do well and where is there room for improvement. Well let me start with a sample from the Staff Survey that Stonewall carries out electronically across all the employers who enter the Stonewall WEI – and Jess says our response rate was comparatively good, with 452 responses, of which 62 from LGBT employees, 390 non-LGBT.

The above tables are what the survey has to say about the experiences of our LGB staff (there were too few responses from trans staff for Stonewall to give us any data back). The above data I think speaks for itself. The lower table is very encouraging compared to elsewhere, except that our LGB staff are rather less comfortable declaring sexual orientation. There is work for us to do on encouraging declaration of sexual orientation on employee Self Service for all our staff, and in understanding why our LGB staff feel less comfortable than elsewhere in declaring. Our current sexual orientation declaration rate at 60.7% of our staff is low compared to many other employers, though hugely higher than this time last year.

The upper table suggests that we have more to do to make our LGB staff feel comfortable about being out at work. But I’m hopeful that our recent efforts on recruiting visible LGBT+ Allies – and I spotted over 20 LGBT+ ALLY postcards on office doors in my own department earlier this week  – plus our efforts to encourage visible LGBT role models, and to make senior UEB and Leadership group LGBT role models and allies visible, will have an impact here.

My last table summarises in what areas we did well, and where we have significant room for improvement. There is a very positive story in policy – though even there we have work underway, not least HR leading a major update of our trans policy and guidance with much consultation to come in the next few months.

Equally we have done very well in the line managers section, in the information we push out to the leadership group (and ask to be pushed out to line managers further down), that our criteria for promotion to higher grades value commitment to diversity and, for our academic staff, explicitly value leadership in D&I and significant roles in staff network groups, including LGBT Plus. It was also very positive that we have School-level diversity KPIs, and that a number of our line managers, including in the Leadership group and UEB, have undertaken Stonewall role model or allies training, or have been very visible as LGBT role models. We have also done well on all staff engagement.

There is a lot of room for improvement in several areas, but particularly training, the work of our staff network group (which only formed in 2014), and community engagement. In these three areas we have the largest gaps between our scores and the maximum scores, and also between our scores and the Top 100 average.

On training we are frankly at a relatively early stage as an organisation in diversity and inclusion-related training, though with some bright spots in our training around recruitment and selection, in some of our induction training, and in our work on unconscious bias. We know we have much more to do here, much planning and implementation, and to be fair have only just in the last few months recruited a significant people development team who are leading on thinking through, with input from the Deans for D&I and others, what our training provision should be in the D&I area. Some work is kicking off already, e.g., very relevant to Stonewall concerns, work on Bystander Training, but we have further reflection to do on the many detailed Stonewall comments in this area, jointly with people development and our LGBT Plus network.

Related to the Staff Network Group category there is more that we can do in many areas if we can find the resource within the network and within the University to support the work of the network, and both of these should be possible. The network group, having been formed only in 2014, does a lot of good work already, but possibilities for further development include:

  • involvement in mentoring or reverse mentoring – but this needs work on our mentoring opportunities at University level which I know is underway in the people development team;
  • collaboration with other network groups, e.g. Women@Reading, our Cultural Diversity Group;
  • initiatives, seminars and events addressing more of the L – G – B and T, and addressing intersectional issues: an example pushing in this direction was the excellent event in LGBT History Month last month with Jane Traies on her research work with older lesbians.

On community engagement, while we have already upped our game, e.g. strong use of social media, Uni/RUSU presence at Reading Pride, collaborations between MERL and Support U, LGBT Plus engagement with the LGBT STEMinar, our hosting a new Thames Valley LGBT+ Workplace Network, ideas for doing more include training for staff in supporting LGBT students, consulting with our LGBT students on their needs (and action on this is in train), doing LGBT-focussed recruitment and media work, taking more of a leadership role within our sector or with our partners, and supporting campaigning or training to tackle hate crime or homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying.

So, overall, very encouraging progress, and a lot of constructive feedback on what more we can do. I look forwards to working with staff and students across the University, but especially the LGBT Plus staff network, the RUSU Diversity and LGBT+ Officers, our VC as the UEB LGBT+ Champion, and our new University LGBT+ Action Plan Group, with the goal of making Reading one of the most supportive and inclusive of workplaces for our LGBT+ staff and students.

International Women’s Day Talk and Debate on Equality

Guest post by Madeline Davies

Human rights matter to everyone and the principle of equal rights is key to its definition. International Women’s Day is an annual opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the world, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the inequalities that stubbornly persist.

With the election of Donald Trump, International Women’s Day has particular resonance this year. On Wednesday 8th March, senior academics from across the University will be giving talks in Palmer 102 on a range of issues connected with equality. Dr Madeleine Davies is hosting the evening, and she will be introducing Professor Clare Furneaux who will be discussing women and language, Dr Orla Kennedy who will be talking about women and weight, Dr Brian Feltham, discussing the internalisation of harassment and discrimination, Professor Rachel McCrindle, discussing women in male dominated industries such as Engineering, and Dr Mary Morrissey who will analyse the construction of Hillary Clinton in the recent US election campaign.

Following the talks there will be a debate led by members of the audience. This has been lively and fascinating in previous years and staff members have enjoyed talking through the issues with our students.

You don’t need to be female or to identify as a feminist to enjoy this event; as we’ve seen on the women’s marches across the US and the UK following President Trump’s inauguration, equal rights is a deeply-felt and fundamental principle held by men and women of all races and faiths. Come and debate the issues with us and celebrate how far women have come and discuss how far we still have to go.

The debate will be held on Wednesday 8th March 2017, Palmer 102, 6-8pm

For further information please contact Dr Madeleine Davies, Department of English Literature, m.k.davies@reading.ac.uk, tel ext 7001.