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.

 

Being an LGBT+ Ally – Hear it. Stop it.

#NOBYSTANDERS

Guest blog by Rachel Helsby, Vice-Chancellor’s Office  

Having been fortunate to one of the first colleagues to go on the first Stonewall Allies programme back in the summer, I was keen to attend the official launch of the University’s LGBT Ally scheme on February 10th.

So what is an ally? Very simply, it is a term used to describe heterosexual people who believe that lesbian, gay and bisexual people should experience full equality in the workplace. They recognise that it’s not just the responsibility of gay people to create a workplace culture that is inclusive of everyone and they take action to make a difference.

With Ellie Highwood, Diversity and Inclusion Dean as host, the well-attended event kicked off with the Vice-Chancellor talking about his personal reflections and commitment to being an ally. As University Executive Board champion for LGBT+, his central message was that allies actively champion full work place equality rather than just being passively accepting. As allies, he also challenged us to regularly reflect on what we’ve done to put equality at the very heart of what we do at work.

We then heard the personal and very moving stories of Deb Heighes, LGBT+ Network Co-Chair and Nikki Ray, LGBT rep for RUSU.

Deb talked about how tough things had been for her friends and her as gay teachers in the era of Section 28, how things have improved for now that she is, and I quote, ‘professionally gay’. She mentioned that allies are now the ‘icing on the cake.’

Nikki spoke about the challenges still faced for her as student, how little gestures can make a big difference and how her straight friends have become her biggest advocates, by supporting her at RUSU LGBT+ events.

Last but by no means least, we heard from Peter Chamberlin, a lecturer in Maths and fellow LGBT+ Ally. He talked about his motivation to become an ally – inspired in part by his wish to ensure that his four children grow up in an environment where they could be who happy whoever and whatever they are.

He talked about the practical things we could do as allies including:

  1. Being visible – making visible our commitment to the LGBT+ community, by displaying for example LGBT+ Ally plus postcards, wearing rainbow laces or lanyards; and
  2. Being informed – through attending the various events and training, including the next Stonewall One-Day Allies Programme; and
  3. Making a personal commitment not to be a bystander. He spoke about a really helpful approach to tackle bullying and teasing language in the workplace – known as the UHT approach a framework which can be adapted to any given situation:

“I UNDERSTAND why you said this and that you didn’t mean any harm.

HOWEVER, this language/behaviour is not appropriate and is offensive…

THEREFORE, I respectfully ask you not to do it…”

The event ended with many of us signing our own pledge to not being a bystander – a powerful and visible commitment to standing up for fairness and kindness. Hopefully we will start to see these personal pledges dotted around the University – I am proud to say that there are already a few in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office!

So what does it really take to bring about change?

Guest post by Santosh Sinha, MCE

 Strong self-awareness, a desire to see and do things differently and a good sense of humour. These were my three takeaways from the session on promoting diversity in universities by Professor Tom Welton on Wednesday.

 The session was part of the events planned during LGBT History Month on the campus.

 Professor Welton is the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College London and a very engaging public speaker. He didn’t come with a presentation, but was quite obviously prepared for the conversation he wanted to have – a conversation that involved sharing his own experience, encouraging others to share their experiences and making the point that each one of us can contribute to making the University more diverse and inclusive.

 He thinks fairness is not a strong enough reason for people to take action on diversity. “I say this because since before anyone in this room was born, it has been clearly palpably unfair that some people have obstacles put in front of them that other people don’t have, and we haven’t taken action”.

 In his view,  the objectives that allow individuals to benefit along with the group and the institution are more likely to result in action. When he was appointed the Head of Chemistry at Imperial in 2007, the starting point was to create a department where the best and brightest chemists from Europe wanted to work, where the best and brightest chemists wanted to study and where research funders wanted to spend their money.

 “Diversity wasn’t a part of this, but when we looked at how close we were to achieving our first objective – of attracting the best and brightest chemists – it was obvious that our staff profile did not reflect that. And so we had a reason to act.”

 The changes that followed over the next five years resulted in Chemistry department at Imperial receiving a Gold Athena SWAN Award in 2013 – one of only four university departments in the United Kingdom to do so.

 “The best part is that the changes were owned by the entire department. They knew that is what was required to attract the best and the brightest. So, it wasn’t a change imposed from the top.”

 Professor Tom Welton’s key advice to those aiming to promote diversity and inclusivity is to do exactly that. “Make sure the idea for change is owned by the department. If everyone can benefit from these changes and it can lead to better outcomes for students and the institution, people are more likely to take action”.

 And these actions don’t need to be big necessarily. He strongly believes in leadership being exercised by anyone at any level in an organisation, and demonstrated this by asking those attending the session for just one thing they could change to make their area more inclusive. I have to say there were quite a few good ideas that came about as a result.

 So, is that it? All in favour. Job done. Award received. “No, the award is just a lump of plastic. Recognition is important, but the actions that you are taking to make your Department more diverse and inclusive is far more important”.

 

 

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.

How would you describe our students?

At the Curriculum framework conference on 25th January 2017, it was a delight to present with Sed Joshi, Diversity and Inclusion Sabbatical officer from RUSU on the topic of “How well do we know our students?” We gave staff a quiz, presented facts and figures about our students from the Annual Diversity and Inclusion Report, and discussed what we are doing to try to make our staff body look more like our student body. Video testimonies from students told us why this was important and also what made them feel included.

But it’s always good to try new technology, and we decided to adopt something I learnt from the Association of Science Educations conference – an evolving word cloud. So, we asked 73 participants for 3 words they would use to describe our students, and via Mentimeter, got this (Size of words indicates how many times that response was made):

 

Perhaps given that we were primed by being in a session about diversity it is not a surprise that the largest word is diverse! What would you add?

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

Crafting mental health

depression-photo-2By Ellie Highwood

The increase in demand for support for mental wellbeing in universities is well documented. A recent YouGov report suggested that 1 in 4 university students suffer from mental health problems, whilst the Guardian has a series of articles suggesting that staff are still reluctant to disclose mental-health problems and that mental health problems affect up to half of staff in academia. Whilst the reasons behind these considerable numbers are complex and challenging, and universities, including ours, have support services in place, any preventative action we can take as a community, however small, can only help.

20161201_091700Being involved in creative activities, either alone or together with others, can, for many, enhance mental well-being or indeed aid recovery from mental illness. I am something of a crochet addict, and when I heard about Mind’s campaign to raise funds by holding “Crafternoons” I wondered about organising something but felt it would be too much for me to do. Having mentioned it in passing to some of our Executive Support team, I was surprised and overwhelmed when a couple of weeks later they announced that they had decided to organise one for me! And so it was that just before Christmas we filled the Vice Chancellor’s office with craft supplies provided using donations from the senior management group, and invited everyone to an hour of crafting and cake.

Around 50 people dropped in during our “opening hours”. As well as IMG_4565crocheting and making decorations for our MIND Christmas tree, we had a tombola, sold home-crafted bird boxes and mini-stockings donated by staff and their families, talked and laughed a lot. I now know that one of our Pro Vice Chancellors makes fantastic banana cake, and that colouring is a surprisingly popular activity that appeals across all genders, ages and occupations. Perhaps a University of Reading colouring book is in order?

Many of the attendees commented that it was great to do something really different during the working day, and that they were surprised by how they felt after doing something so obviously creative for even a short time.

A huge thank you to everyone who got involved, mentioned us on Instagram, and especially those who organised it. Let us know if you would like to see more events like this!