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!

 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

By Ellie Highwood

Equality, diversion and inclusion are three terms used frequently and often interchangeably, but are importantly different. Diversity and inclusion can be thought of in terms of cooking. Most recipes require a many different (diverse) ingredients, but the quality of the end dish depends on all the ingredients being mixed together in the right way so that each one contributes to make something better than the sum of the parts (inclusion).

salad

Or, as coined by Verna Myers, “diversity is being invited to the party – inclusion is being asked to dance”.

In terms of our, or other organisations, diversity can be measured in terms of numbers, for example number of women professors, or black senior staff. It is relatively straightforward to set targets to improve diversity. Inclusion is more difficult to measure and manifests itself as “feeling included”, “being part of the team”, “feeling valued”. Also note that a diverse team does not necessarily behave more inclusively.

Equality is the term that has been used for the longest in this area. But what is equality? Equality of treatment? Equality of opportunity? Equality of treatment can be misleading. Yes we want everyone to be treated fairly, but this does not mean treating everyone the same. Equality of opportunity is the most popular term – this recognises that in order to give everyone the same opportunities, we might need to treat different groups differently because of past experiences (i.e. lack of access to information about university) or processes and structures that put a particular group at a disadvantage.

The potential confusion surrounding “equality” is the reason we are a “Diversity and Inclusion” team. However, by focussing on recognising and celebrating diversity, and encouraging and facilitating inclusion, we aim to provide equality of opportunity for all our staff and students.

New year, new diversity blog

Dear colleagues, students and friends

Welcome to the new Diversity and Inclusion blog. We hope you will join us as we talk about what we are doing at the University of Reading to ensure all our staff and students can reach their full potential, and to debate matters relating to diversity and inclusion that are fundamental to not only our University but wider society.

We would love to hear comments and suggestions, and if you would like to write for this blog please get in touch with us via the comments or by emailing diversity@reading.ac.uk

Best wishes

Ellie Highwood and Simon Chandler-Wilde

Deans for Diversity and Inclusion, University of Reading