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?”

 

‘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.’

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.

 

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.

 

Day to day equality

Visible not verbal equality – less talk more action

(Guest post by Helen Bilton)

Picture this – my dream. A meeting from 12.15 to 1.45 with lunch and refreshments, during which time 15 members of staff eat, drink, talk and consider. Time is up and they need to finish and get on with their work. Naturally, there are plates, cups, food to be cleared up and put to one side so the room is ready for the next occupants. In a work environment that practices what it preaches, everyone gets stuck in and the room is quickly cleared for the next people to use.

But then picture this – the reality. Three women attending the meeting clear away the cups, some even have dregs in, the dirty plates, the curling sandwiches and move tables back into place.

To those others, including all the men and some women standing around (and in the way), while they do that work:

What makes you think you shouldn’t clear up? What makes you think it’s okay to stand in the way while three women clear up after you and around you? Do you consider you are higher beings?  Does your position in the University give you the right to see others clear up after you? Do you even notice others clearing up after you?

Universities profess to be moving in the right direction with equality. But I am not so sure. We have kite markers for Athena Swan but these mean little if some people still openly treat others with such disrespect and disregard.

So really we aren’t putting equality in practice, are we?

In the inclusive environment that we claim to be aiming for, cleaners are not lower than senior management. Executive support are not lower than members of Senate. We all contribute to the success of the University.

So next time you go to such a meeting, clear up! Whether you be male, female, a research fellow or in senior management.

Be visible in your equality.