A Personal Take on Asexuality and Asexual Awareness Week

Guest blog by Mark McClemont, Technical Services

For Asexual Awareness Week (22-28 October) I’ve been invited by Simon Chandler-Wilde, Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, to write this piece to provide some information for those who might be interested or are, or think they might be, asexual.

What is asexuality? Quite simply: an asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.

Asexual (or “ace” for short) people are quite rare, the most common estimate I’ve seen is around 1% of the population. Based on this there could be 30-40 ace staff members at the University, more amongst the Student population. I’m definitely not the only one here as I met another UoR staff member who is asexual at Reading Pride this year. Another University staff member I met at the same event identifies as pansexual but has asexual friends.

There is an asexual flag:

(There are a growing number of flags in the LGBT+ community – click on “Identities” on My Umbrella’s site, link below.) Black signifies asexuality, grey: greysexuality, white: sexuality and purple (purple is my favourite colour: win!): community. Greysexuals are those who rarely experience sexual attraction and/or only do so in specific situations. For example demisexuals – a subset of the greysexual population – only experience sexual attraction after a strong emotional bond has been formed.

The asexual community itself makes up a spectrum ranging from those who don’t experience any notable attraction for other people, through those who experience one or more non-sexual attractions for others, to greysexuals; these latter could be described as sitting in the boundary area of the asexual community with the wider sexuality spectrum. Non-sexual attractions include aesthetic: attraction to a person’s appearance without it being romantic; romantic: a desire to be romantic with someone, and sensual: a yearning for non-sexual physical contact. I’ve met quite a few asexual people of many types from across the spectrum from aromantic asexuals to greysexuals and, only a few weeks ago, someone who had lost their sex drive and wished to meet and chat to asexual people and another who had looked at the AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network, see link below) site and wanted confirmation that asexuality is actually “a thing”- I was happy to confirm that it is, indeed.

Isn’t asexuality like celibacy? No: a celibate is someone who chooses not to act upon their sexual desires whereas an asexual person doesn’t have those desires in the first place – celibacy is a choice, asexuality is an inherent orientation.

Is asexuality some kind of medical condition that can be cured? Interesting question – in some cases, yes. There are a number of physiological and psychological factors – e.g. trauma, abuse, medications/drugs, hormonal imbalance, hyposexuality (very low sex drive) etc. – that can affect libido and so can render a person, by simple definition, asexual. Asexuality is also a naturally occurring, inherent orientation which people are born with. I was born this way.

Can asexual people fall in love and have relationships? Yes, in fact two of my ace friends, who both identify as homoromantic asexual, got married earlier this year and in a recent media interview revealed that they do everything most people would expect couples to do apart from have sex.

My story? I identify as homoromantic asexual: I find some people of my gender to be aesthetically, romantically and sensually attractive. I would enjoy doing romantic “couple stuff” with someone I fancied but have no desire, at all, to interfere with their reproductive impedimenta (yeugh!) or have my bits and pieces played around with in turn. I can experience arousal but in a separate context such that it doesn’t translate into an ability to be sexual with another person and, yes, I have tried.

I knew I was “different” from quite early, lack of sexual attraction at puberty made me consider that there was something wrong with me. Finding members of my own gender to be attractive was an additional problem at a time – mid ‘70s – when casual homophobia was socially acceptable and being “different” in school was an open invitation to be picked on: I kept my head down. Thinking that I might be gay I socialised on the gay scene for most of the ‘90s reasoning that, perhaps, in the right situation and context something would “click” and it would all make sense. It didn’t: people lost interest, fast, when they realised that there was no sex in the offing – merely confirmed what I already knew inherently. It was about this time that I started to use the term ”asexual” to describe myself and theorised that there must be other people like me out there and just got on with life. On the 14th October 2004 I experienced an epiphany: there, on the front of The Guardian, was an article about asexual people – I spent the rest of the day punching the air chanting “I was right” and a weight was lifted from my shoulders, gone! That and other articles in national newspapers that day were likely inspired by an article about asexuality in that month’s New Scientist featuring an interview with a Californian, David Jay, who founded, with others, AVEN.

I became a member of AVEN in November 2004 and in January 2005 knowingly met other asexual people for the first time – another high point. Knowing what it was like to find out about others like me I became active with visibility and media projects, for a time I was AVEN’s UK media contact and have been on television (daytime telly…), national and local radio (including BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live) newspapers and magazines. I also took part in the Asexuality Conference which took place the day after World Pride in London 2012.

I consider that visibility is particularly important for asexual people – there will be plenty still thinking that there’s something “wrong” with them in our fairly heavily sexualised society and media. Recently, I was accepted to be a part of this University’s Faces of Reading project (link below) which I saw as a great opportunity for some visibility for University staff and students and that led to, well, this blog: I hope some people find this helpful.

P.S. Sticklers for punishment may wish to know that I’m due to be interviewed for BBC Local Radio covering Coventry and Warwickshire on November 2nd

Useful links:

AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network – resources, information, FAQs and forums): https://www.asexuality.org/

My Umbrella (a Reading-based, volunteer-led support group for the lesser known LGBT+ identities): https://www.myumbrella.org.uk/

Support U (a Thames Valley-based resource service for those needing help with LGBT+ issues – they are ace-friendly and participated in Asexual Awareness Week here at the University in January 2016): http://www.supportu.org.uk/

Faces of Reading (a project highlighting the diversity of staff and roles at the University of Reading): http://www.reading.ac.uk/about/faces-of-reading.aspx

Black History Month

Guest blog by Doyin Ogunmilua (RUSU Part-Time BME Students’ Officer)

[Please join us (and hear more from Doyin Ogunmilua) for a Black History Month Moment of Silence, Monday 2nd October at 1pm, by the flagpole between Whiteknights House and the Library. For other events planned during October see www.reading.ac.uk/diversity/diversity-events-news.aspx]

[Update added 2 October 2017. Please see the end of this blog for the text of the poem Free at Last, a Slavery Remembrance Day poem, which was written and read by Doyin Ogunmilua at today’s Black History Month Moment of Silence ceremony, at 1pm at the University flagpole.]

Introduction: Black History Month in a Summary

Black History Month is a month dedicated to those of black, Caribbean and Asian descent. During the month there is typically a uniting from those of minority backgrounds to celebrate shared histories, differences, traditions and to raise awareness of pressing racial issues. Black History Month is a specific period where people of similar backgrounds can hold events which highlight their talents and achievements while simultaneously pushing political, social and academic agendas. This is often done through a variety of different mediums such as art, film, dance, theatre, radio and social media.

Black History Month is vital in the further learning and education of a new generation of ethnic minorities in Britain. This education acts as a beacon of light on the past, present and future struggles of minorities in the fight for equality and justice.

The History of Black History Month

The event was created in the United States by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 in the hopes of acknowledging black achievements, which is still a priority to this day. It was initially a weekly campaign; “Negro History Week.” While Black History Month is celebrated in the US in February to acknowledge historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, the UK typically marks the event in October in correspondence to the start of a new academic year.

Inevitable questions in the run-up
As Black History Month approaches there are inevitable questions that will be raised such as why it is only celebrated in a month and not a year and why there is no white history month. I have been asked this question in the past and it still intrigues me as to why this is such an issue for some. In response I say, why should there be a celebration of a race and a culture which has been so overly idolised and praised for as long as I can remember? In my mind, there has been a white-washing when it comes to African history, grounded in a deception which runs deep and spans centuries. Black History Month was created specifically for the minority and not for the past-times of those who have never been and so cannot begin to relate.

The relevance
So, as UK Black History Month celebrates 30 years in existence, the question some may ask is if it is still relevant and if it should continue. Black History Walks in an organisation directed by Tony Walker. It provides monthly films and educational walking tours on London’s 2000-year African history. Walker explains that Black History Month was created to “correct the deliberate destruction done to African memories by European misrepresentation.” It is an important month as it prioritises re-informing and re-focusing minds on the true story of minority peoples. It teaches, in particular young people, that we must at times step away from what we are taught on a daily basis and start to question and challenge a status quo which aims to oppress and divide the marginalised.
Amid the increased racial attacks in the wake of Brexit and the ever-present figure of white supremacy in politics, academia and beyond, it is very much a justified campaign of strength and unity which must continue if we are to see further progress.

Conclusion
In conclusion, Black History Month is a great opportunity to celebrate each other as well as acknowledging what divides us. This year’s Black History Month, as well as the ones to come, should not falter in promoting equality and justice and the fight against the deprivation and appropriation of an identity which is rightfully ours.

Postscript: a Slavery Remembrance Day Poem

As read by Doyin at 1pm, today, 2/10/2017, at the Black History Month Moment of Silence event at the University flagpole.

Free at last
by Doyin Ogunmilua

Hands and feet once bound by heavy chains
Black bodies once a white man’s claim
Now-a-days it’s minds in shackles
No rest for the wicked in this superiority game

My enslaved ancestors long dead and gone
Yet their cries still go on
Wringing in my ears, I see their tears
How can I play a game that’s already been won?

I sense their expectation
To fulfil a dream they could not touch
To see a promise come to pass
I admit the weight of expectation is much

And so, the victimisation of minds and bodies prevail
When will they stop killing our young black males?
Herded up like sheep and shot
When once herded up on a ship to rot

Haunted by the blood and tears of my ancestors
They stain the back pages of history
A dirty secret in which they are ashamed
Ashamed of my erased family tree

We were supposed to be strong and free
According to that particular act in 1833
Yet bound and gagged we still stand
Appropriated bodies in high demand

Untold stories hidden in the depths of a cotton field
In the depths of the soul of a young man killed
When will I see that promise come to pass?
So I can finally say I am free at last.

Seeing the B in LGBT

Guest blog by Dr Allán LavilleSchool of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences

Bi invisibility

In 1998, Michael Page designed the Bi Pride Flag to increase the visibility of bisexuals within the LGBT community and within society as a whole. In a BiFlag.com blog, Page discusses the symbolism of the components of this flag:

The pink color represents sexual attraction to the same sex only (gay and lesbian), The blue represents sexual attraction to the opposite sex only (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi).

The key to understanding the symbolism in the Bi Pride Flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real world’ where most bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.”

In the above quote, Page discusses how bi individuals are often invisible within various communities and this has been termed ‘bi invisibility’. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that bi individuals are visible and supported within our society.

Bi visibility

In relation to bi visibility, from 1999, Bi Visibility Day has been celebrated annually on the 23rd of September. There are various events held across the UK (as well as internationally) to encourage and promote bi visibility. This day also highlights biphobia which is the fear or dislike of someone who identifies as bi.

When considering biphobia, Stonewall, the largest LGBT charity in Europe, state that bi individuals suffer from dual prejudice. This is from within the LGBT community and outside of it. This prejudice can lead to mental health problems and risk taking behaviours. Therefore, the aim of Bi Visibility Day is a reminder that we need to address biphobia whenever and wherever we see it.

 

Bi visibility in the workplace

Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers Report 2017 found that only 18% of bi men and 14% of bi women are comfortable being out to all colleagues, managers, and customers or service users. Furthermore, the same report identified that only 23% of bi people could identify a bi role model in their workplace. In summary, this report highlights the need for bi individuals to feel more comfortable with bringing their authentic selves to work as well as having identifiable bi role models in the workplace.

I was fortunate to be funded by Diversity and Inclusion to attend Stonewall’s Bi Workplace Role Models Programme on the 13th of September.

The Stonewall Bi Workplace Role Models Programme promoted a safe space for individuals, including myself, who identify under the ‘Bi umbrella’. The day was very experiential and provided a lot of time to discuss ideas with others who identified as Bi.

Throughout the day we were encouraged to think about our own role models and what it means to be a role model in the workplace. We completed a range of activities that provided us with the opportunity to consider what we can do within our own organisations as a Bi Role Model. We explored barriers to being a Bi Role Model within an organisation as well as potential solutions to this.

One key learning point for myself was that it is very important to be visible as a Bi Role Model at the University. I have taken steps towards being more visible such as being profiled for the Faces of Reading project. As a bi person who has experienced biphobia outside of work, I hope that my level of understanding may be of benefit to others who have/are experiencing the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Engaging Everyone – reflections on Wednesday’s D&I-themed T&L Conference

by Simon Chandler-Wilde

I was blown away by Wednesday’s teaching & learning conference “Engaging everyone: addressing the diversity and inclusion expectations of the Curriculum Framework“. This was lead-organised by my CQSD colleagues, especially Nina Brooke, but as a collaborative effort across the T&L patch, working with the T&L Dean Elizabeth McCrum  and others, and with the RUSU Education and Diversity Officers, Niall Hamilton and Sed Joshi. The venue – the large Meadow Suite in Park House – was excellent – and full to the brim with staff and students from across the University, including regular academics, many from the “Leadership Group”, and very many of the School Directors of Teaching and Learning who have to lead – and cajole – to make change on the ground.

My jobshare Ellie Highwood will blog separately with her take, including local data on attainment gaps, and gaps in BAME representation between the student body and the staff side, that she presented with Sed in their highly interactive presentation in the morning.

I’ll focus myself on the sessions run by the conference Keynote speaker, Professor Gurnam Singh, Principal Lecturer in Social Work at Coventry University and Visiting Professor of Social Work at Chester University.

In his afternoon workshop on “Transformative Pedagogy in Action” Gurnam revealed more of his background: this something he advocated, for connecting to the learner, humanising relationships, and sharing vulnerabilities. He described his (extraordinary) academic journey from UFD (his O-level grades) to PhD (Social Studies at Warwick) and beyond, starting with his early rebellious school career in Bradford, truanting in Bradford Central Library (where much of his education happened), the one bright (and memorable) spark at school the lunchtime lectures in Sophocles and classical architecture from “Mr Mitchell” whose passion for teaching and his subject has had a lasting impact.

Talking about research vision on his website Prof Singh describes himself “as an academic activist in that what inspires me both in my teaching and research is the desire to transform individuals and society”. This perspective and motivation came through strongly in his morning Keynote on “Understanding and Eliminating Disparities in Degree Awarding: Challenges and Perspectives“, drawing on his extensive research (and researIMG_0859ch funding) in this area, including his substantial 2011 Higher Education Academy Report “Black and minority ethnic (BME) students’ participation in higher education: improving retention and success“.

This keynote was a wide-ranging and comprehensive account of the problem and possible solutions. In part it was a (welcome) call to arms and polemic, asking which side of history are we on, urging us to work for a different history, that we can be part of the change. He was scathing about a certain sort of (white upper class) elitism, a “particular kind of superiority, not excellence, something else”, the sort we associate with the Bullingdon Club, and about the impact of Trump in legitimising racism and misogyny (while noting that to many Trump had been the social change candidate), and (very much correctly) observed that “we need more in the academy of my sort”.

In this initial part of the presentation he urged work to diversify the academy – with a BME focus but also commenting more broadly – from a variety of perspectives, reminding us that  from an international legal perspective education is a fundamental human right, of our legal obligations under the equality act, of the moral imperative to act in response to inequality, and of the (neo-liberal?) commercial imperative, reminding us of the business benefits of diversity and the widely-cited McKinsey report, and memorably remarking that his own institution “would not exist as a White university, except as a senior management team”. (Of course, this applies equally at Reading.) These are all potential levers for change. Gurnam cited also the TEF (with its promise of  ‘incentives that reward institutions who do best at retention and progression of disadvantaged students through their college years’) as another key lever. (In this space Prof Singh was part of the Academic Reference Group feeding into the October 2016 report “Working in Partnership: enabling Social Mobility in Higher Education” from UUK.) In summary he noted that, through these various drivers disparity in attainment was moving to the top of the agenda – this was certainly true in Wednesday’s conference and in the associated work that has led to our new Curriculum Framework.
Prof Singh then talked quantitatively about the BME attainment gap, particularly % difference in attainment of a “good degree” (2.1 or 1st) between BME ethnicities and white students. He emphasised that significant attainment gaps remain once differences in prior qualifications are factored out, using graphs (see latest available figures above: 2013-14 graduates) published by HEFCE: see Annex G of the September 2015 report. In terms of causes and solutions, he was wide-ranging. I’ll edit this blog and add more once I have Gurnam’s slides in my hand (I have my eye on his “jigsaw” picture summarising all suggested possible actions from his research). But in terms of causes he touched on:

  • lack of role models and “people like me” for BME students across the academic staff, particularly the scandalous position at the most senior levels;
  • white-centric curriculum design and content;
  • drip-drip effects of micro-agressions;
  • issues with assessment, ranging from lack of clarity favouring those with larger social and cultural capital, with the resources and networks to find out what the assignment really means, to suggestions that we abandon degree classifications altogether (as we have at PhD level);
  • structural disadvantages: socio-economic, living a precarious existence, impacts of large commuting distance.

He finished his keynote with a call to arms that was really the theme of the whole day; that inclusion and social justice are not just desirable but an absolute moral and economic necessity, and this means we have to mainstream our efforts in attacking attainment gaps  – precisely the point and spirit of our new Curriculum Framework.

 

 

Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 2017: the results

I’m blogging following the release yesterday by Stonewall of the results for its Workplace Equality Index 2017.

The headline is that we’ve made significant progress, increasing our University of Reading ranking from 204 out of 415 submissions last year, to 168/439 this year. Perhaps more importantly we’ve increased our score from 39% last year — which sounds poor, but was last year’s average across all submissions, and the average score across the Education sector – to 51% this year. To put this in context, the Top 100 in the WEI – and it is this group that Stonewall celebrates publicly – achieved 62.5% and above, with an average of 74%.

Regarding our own sector, we know at this point that 46 (of approximately 160 UK universities) submitted into the Stonewall WEI this year, and that 12 universities are in the Top 100, with Cardiff (23), Swansea (31), De Montfort (39), and Manchester Metropolitan and Manchester University (joint 41) in the Top 50. Sir David Bell, our Vice Chancellor, committed us publicly in February last year, as one of our staff Diversity and Inclusion targets, to achieve a Top 50 ranking in the WEI by 2020. This is certainly a challenging goal, but one that I see as entirely achievable with hard work and commitment collectively – and we need to learn from our very successful University colleagues elsewhere!Stonewall_WEI_2017

Taking a step back, does any of this matter? Is this ranking, indeed the WEI as a whole, important to us? Is it related to the experiences of our LGBT+ staff and students on the ground?

An important part of the answer to this question is that our participation and progress in the Stonewall WEI is valued by our own LGBT+ staff. We surveyed on this point to our LGBT+ staff through our LGBT Plus staff network in March last year, asking whether it is a good use of our time to submit into the WEI each year, and the feedback was resoundingly yes. This, by the way, was a non-trivial question. It is a significant piece of work to make the submission. The pro forma we complete probes in detail across nine areas of our work, asking questions about our Policy, Training, Staff Network Group, All-Staff Engagement, Career Development, our Line Managers, our Monitoring, Procurement Practices, and our Community Engagement — see my earlier blog for what exactly they are interested in. And in addition to the pro forma we submitted a portfolio of 91 pieces of evidence, and ran the standard Stonewall all-staff survey.

A second answer to this question is that it seems to me, having had the experience now of leading our 2017 submission that went in last September, that the Stonewall WEI and the probing questions it asks focuses our thoughts and activities on exactly the things that we should be thinking about and doing anyway. I’ve written previously about the actions that we took in advance of our submission last year, that have led to the improvement in our score, but briefly these included lots of useful work and activity, for example consultation with our LGBT Plus network on changes to policy, allies training for our staff (with some emphasis on senior management), new development opportunities focussed on our LGBT+ staff (role model and leadership training), and our first ever UoR presence at Reading Pride.

So where do we go now in terms of hitting our Top 50 Target by 2020, and before that reaching the publicly visible and celebrated Top 100 by 2019? Well, we have our results now but not yet our detailed feedback which we will get at our feedback meeting with Stonewall at the end of Feb (and I will blog again after that). Also, we know that the WEI methodology will change somewhat for the three year period 2018-20. The details are not published yet, but we do know that there will be more emphasis on supporting our Trans staff, and more emphasis on how employers work with their customers, which for the University sector means support for and joint working with our students (we have good relationships with RUSU to build on). So the way ahead is not completely clear yet.

However, we do already have plans and actions in place. In particular, we are kicking off work on updating our guidance for and about our Trans staff and students. We are planning for more substantial engagement with Reading Pride (2nd September) and other community engagement, including our first annual Wolfenden Lecture to be given by Ruth Hunt, the CEO of Stonewall, in the year that is the 60th anniversary of the Wolfenden report, and the 50th of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act and its legalisation of homosexual sex. We have more allies training planned, and are starting to think through work on supporting our staff and students working globally.

But there is much more to do and think about. To drive this work forward we have created a new LGBT+ Action Plan group, with substantial representation from the LGBT Plus staff network, including its Co-Chairs Deb Heighes and Calvin Smith, plus on the student side the RUSU Diversity Officer Sed Joshi and its part-time LGBT+ Officer Nikki Ray, with the first meeting just before Christmas. This group is tasked with developing (and monitoring the implementation of) a programme of actions that ensures that the University is, and is perceived to be, nationally leading in the welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment that it provides for LGBT+ staff and students – and explicitly the action plan developed should also take us to our target of Top 50 in the WEI by 2020.

Across the University we will welcome and need wide support and involvement in the actions we develop, and in the staff and community engagement events that we run. A great way to stay in touch and get involved is to join the LGBT Plus staff network as an LGBT or as an LGBT Ally member, and of course we will blog again here regularly on an LGBT+ theme!

Simon Chandler-Wilde, Dean for Diversity & Inclusion